ASHBURN, Va. – On Thursday morning, about the time the Washington Redskins were supposed to be filing out the back door of the team headquarters for the short walk to the practice field, they instead were headed out the front door and into the parking lot.
With no buses available on short notice, the players had to pile into their own vehicles and drive themselves to a suburban gymnasium a few miles away to hold practice.
All because of a little snow.
It's an arrangement that's far from ideal. A gym floor is no substitute for a regulation NFL practice field, and the extra travel time added a kink to the coaches' meticulously planned schedule as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Redskins are one of 10 NFL teams that don't have an indoor practice facility, a problem that's coming to a head now that Mike Shanahan is the coach.
"We'll get that resolved in the future," Shanahan said after returning from the gym, located inside a fitness center three miles from the Redskins' facility. "It's not perfect right now relative to the places to practice. We'd like it better and we'll work on it in the future."
The fact that the Redskins don't have an indoor practice place, popularly known as a "bubble," has been something of a curiosity in recent years. Ex-Redskins Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs didn't want one — he preferred practicing in the elements — but Shanahan is averse to sending his players out in the rain. Or when it's so cold that the field is frozen. Or, as the players found out Thursday, when an inch or two of snow is expected.
Washington and Cincinnati are the northernmost NFL teams without indoor digs. The other eight are Carolina, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Arizona, San Diego, Arizona, Oakland and San Francisco. The D.C. area doesn't usually get much snow during football season, but heavy rains can be a problem.
Thursday marked the fourth time this season that Shanahan has moved practice indoors — two have been in a hanger at Dulles International Airport and two have been in the gym — and on Wednesday he held practice on the team's hard, old-style artificial turf field because the grass fields were frozen.
"It definitely does hurt the timing of things," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "You run some new routes and stuff, and we haven't been able to do it full-speed yet. Hopefully we'll get to do it before Sunday."
Redskins Park was state-of-the-art when it opened in the outer suburbs in 1992 — Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie once toured the place to get an idea of what kind of facility to build for his Eagles — but it's now well behind the times with its small weight room and other antiquated player amenities.
Owner Dan Snyder has a spend, spend, spend reputation when it comes to free agency and coaches' salaries, but he's also been known to lay off employees and pinch pennies. A bubble would require a significant financial investment, complicated by the fact that much of the Redskins' land sits on a floodplain.
But Snyder has hitched his wagon to Mike Shanahan, giving the two-time Super Bowl winner a five-year contract worth $35 million. If Shanahan wants a bubble, he's probably going to get it.
"He's asked me what I think that we need," Mike Shanahan said, "and he's very aware of my thoughts. Obviously you want the preparation you need to get ready for a game. It's a priority, for sure.",
If the Redskins lose to the Cowboys, the skewed practice regimen will be cited as a contributing factor. Of course, the opposite will be the case if Washington wins.
"The last time we worked inside on a Thursday, we won the game," Mike Shanahan said, "so maybe it'll be a positive. That's the way I look at it. You deal with the elements. Sometimes the guy upstairs says, 'Hey, maybe you're practicing a little bit too hard, a little bit too long, and you need to slow down a little bit.' So hopefully it works out in our advantage."
Notes: A day after Mike Shanahan tried to be coy about whether Donovan McNabb would remain the starting quarterback, Kyle Shanahan appear to lay any such doubts to rest. Kyle Shanahan said the preparation this week is "no different than last week" as far as the quarterbacks are concerned. ... The only player not to practice was DL Kedric Golston, who has groin and elbow injuries.