For most of us, the 2011 season in DC was just another sad entry in the Redskins' depressing anthology.
It marked the second year in a row that coach Mike Shanahan failed to even sniff an NFC East crown and has now left many fans wondering if Dan Snyder has failed to yet again assemble a staff capable of engineering a playoff berth.
It's a classic case of "what's next?" syndrome, and it's permeated through Redskins nation almost as aggressively as "Linsanity" did across the rest of the country.
Football, like anything else, is cyclical. No one team stays good forever, and no era, however legendary or dreadful it may be, lasts. With that in mind, we need to look at the Redskins' 2011 season as a necessary step on the road to improvement.
Last season, as much as any in recent memory, shed a great deal of light on the problem areas concerning the Redskins roster. Of course, it also highlighted the Redskins' sources of strength in equal measure.
Look at the quarterback play in 2011. It was deplorable. Rex Grossman earned himself no new fans and excelled at turning the ball over so much so that when he did manage to display some ball security, we collectively raised our eyebrows.
Then, there's John Beck, and honestly, the less we say about him, the better.
As the draft approaches, it becomes increasingly clear that going after a quarterback is priority No. 1. There's no time to sit idle and toy with the idea of sticking with Grossman for another and casting him aside in favor of another veteran stop-gap. There's no debating what the 2011 game film so definitively spelled out.
The Redskins must draft a the quarterback of the future in 2012.
The defensive secondary as well should see marked improvement in 2012. This, again, isn't really a point of debate. It's a matter of necessity. With LaRon Landry's future as a Redskin as uncertain as it as and DeAngelo Hall looking more like a matador than a play-stopping corner, the need is great for a playmaker to emerge.
Don't look for Reed Doughty or Josh Wilson to pick up the mantle. They're not it.
There are good options in this year's draft class, so don't be surprised if the Redskins go after a quality corner in the second or third round.
Not that everything the Redskins did on the field was paltry or inconsistent. There were bright spots, believe it or not.
Look at linebacker, for instance. First-year man Ryan Kerrigan had a heck of a coming-out party in 2011. As good as he was, there is no reason to believe that he'll continue to improve on into 2012. In addition, Brian Orakpo is a force, and despite a bit of a drop-off in the stat column this past year [because of increased double-teams], he will still demand a great deal of respect from offensive linemen.
Throw in the fact that ageless wonder London Fletcher plans on returning to anchor the middle of the field, and suddenly, the Redskins seem to be ready to field one of the best linebacking corps in the NFC East.
Running back also figures to give the Redskins a huge boost in 2011. Even behind a thinned-out offensive line, Roy Helu, Jr. looks like the running back of the future. He's explosive, has great straight-line speed and even demonstrated a little ability to power through defenders.
While Tim Hightower remains a question mark due to his knee injury, Evan Royster worked his way back onto the active roster and could provide some inspired play next season in a back-up role. The important thing is that the Redskins are young at running back, and the upside is potentially tremendous with Helu in Royster.
In summary, the Redskins got younger almost across the board in 2011. Youth means time, and time means the opportunity to build newer, stronger foundations. Youth is an enviable trait for a roster to have, and it raises the ceiling significantly for the amount of improvement the Redskins muster in 2012.
If we're looking for something to tip the scales, though, and find a lone, all-encompassing truth that will mean the difference between a successful 2012 season or a disastrous one, then all one has to do is look at Mike Shanahan.
It's no secret that the 59-year-old Illinois native is a perfectionist. So, one can imagine that the past two seasons in Washington have not sat well with him or his son Kyle.
That's why year three is zero hour for Shanahan and his plan to reverse the Redskins' fortunes.
Nothing motivates like being under the gun. For those of you who don't believe that Mike Shanahan isn't facing mounting pressure in light of having to answer to Dan Snyder, do yourself a favor and look at the tenure of the last four Redskins coaches.
Notice a pattern? Dan Snyder and his staff are a fickle bunch, and year three typically presents a do-or-die scenario for whoever is coaching.
So the million dollar question, then, is whether or not Shanahan can turn it around in year three.
I think he can, and will.
As I said before, all cycles reach a breaking point. In the Redskins' case, the weight of all the negative energy that has come to define the team's modern area will collapse in on itself at some point.
By drafting a quarterback (RGIII, preferably) and addressing key areas on the depth chart, including the secondary and wide receiver, be it by draft or free agency, the Redskins will have all the available tools to change their stars starting this summer.
It will take conviction, of course—a near lethal dose of it. It will be up to Shanahan to marshal an increasingly youthful team to pull together right off the starting block. He needs them to; this city needs them to.
Washingtonians and all those belonging to Redskins nation dispersed across the country have seen enough. This, right now, is the time to get it right.
2012 will be a successful year simply because there's no other option. As far-fetched as it sounds, sometimes, the greatest accomplishments are born out of desperation or an aching desire to set right everything that has continued to go wrong.
There's still much yet to be decided through the draft and free agency. There's nothing that can be done on the field before all the pieces are assembled and the jersey numbers are occupied.
In the meantime, Mike Shanahan can start spreading his gospel of "now or never."
Veterans such as Chris Cooley, Jamal Brown and London Fletcher can act as his disciples. It, like any philosophy meant to inspire change, might be hard to stomach at first, and for the younger players who are either preparing to get drafted or are just fresh off their rookie seasons, such a guiding maxim might seem too daunting.
But the expectations need to be at an all-time high. The urgency needs to be palpable. The 2011 season should be remembered, and the 5-11 win total should be hung up and burnt in effigy after each practice.
There's nothing left now but to set out and do it. For Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen, Dan Snyder and the guys in uniform, there's nowhere left to go but forward.
Remember, this is all a cycle. 2012 might just be the first big step towards the upswing.