Washington Redskins fans really only need one reason to be optimistic as preparations for the 2012 season get underway in Ashburn, Va. this week. I'll start with the patently obvious, and then I'll throw in two bonus factors for merry measure.
1. Robert Griffin III is Expected to Become the Team's First Franchise Quarterback Since Joe Theismann
It's not as though the Redskins haven't had their share of quality quarterbacks over the years, but there's been a shortage of them the last couple of decades. And while Mark Rypien and Theismann and Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen were good enough to spoil 'Skins fans for much of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the expectations for RG3 go beyond that group.
We're talking Sammy Baugh here, people.
There are optimists, and then there are those who believed that guys like Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell or Donovan McNabb could lead the Redskins to their fourth title.
You can't win with only an elite quarterback, but you absolutely can't win without one. And while the price paid for Griffin causes some (myself included) to fret, he undoubtedly increases the franchise's chance of creating new glory days.
Griffin isn't technically a No. 1 pick, but he's viewed that way regardless. He and Andrew Luck were both considered to be worthy of being selected first overall, and the 'Skins gave up two first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up a mere four spots to draft the Heisman winner from Baylor.
We're only days into the offseason program, but RG3 is already being wrapped in acclaim from teammates. His presence alone might have been all it took to keep sturdy starting linebacker London Fletcher around for the 2012 season.
There is a chance Griffin flops. As a fan of success stories and new legacies, it pains me to write that as much as it pains 'Skins fans to read it. But it's a reality.
No one knows. But if he pans out, he has the power to dramatically change this franchise's path for decades to come.
Nothing generates optimism like a uniquely talented rookie quarterback with a sky-high ceiling and a Heisman résumé set to take the reins from the get-go.
2. The Supporting Cast Is Good Enough to Help Griffin Win Now
Remember, it was the offense that was the real problem in Washington last year. So you'd think Griffin would be diving into the shallow end in year one.
That's not the case at all.
The team added two quality wide receivers—Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan—in free agency, both of whom should get significant playing time and free up veteran Santana Moss to make plays. In recent years, Moss was burdened with being the only receiver on the team who knew how to play American football, but it's a different story now.
With Garcon and Morgan adding a presence in the prime of their careers, Moss, who struggled in 2011, could have more freedom to produce if he can stay healthy. Griffin and stronger complementary weapons could help the 32-year-old experience the same sort of career revival that Cam Newton brought to a 32-year-old Steve Smith in Carolina last season.
Plus, tight end Fred Davis is back from a four-game drug suspension and about to hit his prime. Ditto for left tackle Trent Williams (on both counts). It wouldn't shock me to see either of those players in the Pro Bowl in 2012 (assuming there is one).
With the addition of Newton alone, the Carolina offense improved from dead last in football in 2011 to fifth in football in 2012. Even if Griffin doesn't pull a Newton as a rookie, a solid inaugural campaign with those weapons could be enough to boost the 'Skins from 26th offensively last year into the top half of the league in 2012.
3. The Defense Can Bring Heat
There have been clues that the Washington pass rush can do big things. Would you believe that, according to Pro Football Focus, Brian Orakpo had just as many quarterback pressures as Von Miller on six fewer snaps in 2011?
Orakpo's yet to register more than 11 sacks in a season, but he's only 25, and he'll start to take down more quarterbacks as his peers gain steam. The 'Skins were still 10th in the NFL with 41 sacks during the regular season, and Ryan Kerrigan, who had 7.5 sacks as a rookie last year, should only get better in his second season.
And then there's second-year defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who has a dangerous combination of size and speed and will add a jolt to the front seven after missing his entire rookie campaign due to injury. Put it all together, and this is a team that could make a run at 50 sacks.
I'm not gonna lie, the Redskins are still likely to finish in the NFC East basement in 2012. But it looks as though they have the right pieces in place for long-term success, which is reason enough to be optimistic that progress will be made in the short term.