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Redskins open three-day, player-run minicamp at secret locale

Instead of coach Mike Shanahan, the authority figure at the center of the post-practice huddle was the head of the group formerly known as the players' union.

Instead of burgundy and gold uniforms with numbers, the 41 players on the field wore basic T-shirts and shorts. Several rookies -- 10 of the 12 draft picks showed up -- simply wore something with the name of their college on it.

Instead of Redskins Park, the venue was a Virginia high school field whose location had to be kept secret so that fans wouldn't try to crash the practice and disrupt the school day.

Yet some things were the same when the Washington Redskins gathered Tuesday morning for the opening of a three-day player-run minicamp. For one thing, the rookies were a bit nervous -- and a bit overwhelmed.

"Last night, I couldn't sleep, I was so ready to come out here," said fifth-round draft pick Niles Paul, a wide receiver from Nebraska. "As soon as I started to feel more comfortable, (quarterback John) Beck would draw up some more plays and put me back in an uncomfortable zone. It was definitely a learning experience."

The minicamp already has more flow and organization than the two-day camp the players put together last month in their effort to stay sharp and maintain camaraderie during the NFL lockout. Tuesday morning's session went for 90 minutes and combined a number of individual and team drills, with linebacker London Fletcher leading the defense, center Casey Rabach shepherding around the offensive linemen and fullback Mike Sellers handling the running backs.

"The last time we got together, it was, 'OK, how do we run this?' " Beck said. "Now we know. Now we know the structure that we want to have, so now we can go off that structure and increase tempo, increase plays and get more out of it."

But it's still not the same. Afterward, Beck pointed out that Redskins practices are filmed in great detail. He wished he could have the chance to go back and review the workout to see if his footwork was correct or if he misread the coverage on a particular pass route.

"We've already missed so many regular practices," Beck said. "In an ideal offseason, we would only have 2½, three weeks left. We've already botched the first four weeks."

About 25 to 30 players attended last month's lockout workouts, but three significant developments have taken place since then:

» The NFL held its draft, giving the veterans 12 fresh faces to contact. All the draftees were present, except second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins and sixth-rounder Aldrick Robinson.

» When the lockout was briefly lifted, before being reinstated, players managed to have a few hours with the coaching staff to receive new playbooks. The veterans have since been sharing the playbooks with teammates and the draft picks.

» The court fights have dragged on, making the end of the lockout appear nowhere in sight. It was more imperative than ever to get together and do something constructive.

"You can look at a piece of paper and the Xs and Os all you want," said defensive back DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick from Nebraska. "But with the live experience, you're going to be able to pick it up that much more."

Once again, the players had to supply their own equipment. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander handled much of the logistics, making sure everyone had a hotel room and a rental car. There was even a sponsor -- the real estate company run by defensive lineman Kedric Golston. One thing they still don't have is insurance in case of injury.

"Thought about it, tried, but any time you mention professional athletes, it gets really pricey," Alexander said, "and it's not like I'm going to get reimbursed for it. We want to be competitive, but don't be stupid. Laying off balls, don't pull on jerseys, protect each other, and I think we're doing a good job of that."

The surprise guest was NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who answered players' questions for about 15 minutes after practice. Players said Smith didn't say much that was new but mostly gave a timeline of upcoming important dates as the lockout makes its way through the courts.

Smith also urged the players to stick together through the uncertain times. He didn't speak to reporters.

"I think it's very important for the players to hear from the De Smith," tight end Chris Cooley said, "and to hear what we have going on."

The Redskins' two biggest newsmakers from last season -- quarterback Donovan McNabb and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth -- again stayed away. Neither is expected to remain with the team for very long once the lockout ends.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a Redskins practice without some sort of quarterback drama. Beck and Rex Grossman, the two quarterbacks who were present, both say they are preparing to be the starter next season, even though Beck hasn't played in a regular season game in four years and Grossman is a free agent.

"I feel like I played well at the end of the year and would like to continue that," Grossman said. "Everybody should want to start. You get to this level, you think of yourself as a starter, and he's doing the same thing."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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