Washington Redskins: 5 Encouraging Signs Going into the 2012 Season
As September moves closer, the anticipation grows. The offseason has been busy for the Washington Redskins, and it has provided some much-needed discussion topics during this lull in the football calendar.
There has been a great deal of words written about the team's activities and Mike Shanahan's draft decisions—as well as seemingly tracking Robert Griffin III's every move and utterance.
While these could all be counted as encouraging signs, this article will look at a few of the more subtle developments in the team, and why they bode well for the coming season.
Mike Shanahan Has Stayed True to His Vision
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Going into the offseason, Redskins fans were clamoring for a quarterback. Too many times had the defense kept them in games, only to have their efforts thwarted by the leader of their offense.
Mike Shanahan had staked his reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck, but they couldn't carry that weight. He shouldn't have provided such a memorable quote to the press, but he was correct to not reveal what a lot of people were thinking: There wasn't a quarterback in that year's draft whom he felt was worth pursuing.
There was no chance of getting Cam Newton, and Shanahan didn't want Blaine Gabbert. Andy Dalton may have ended up going to the Pro Bowl, but going into the draft there were concerns about his pocket awareness and ability to make multiple reads.
Instead, Shanahan traded down and finished with 12 draft picks, all of whom contributed to the 2011 campaign. Not only was this necessary in the wake of the Dan Snyder/Vinny Cerrato debacle, it also showed that Shanahan was unwilling to bow to external pressures.
The 2012 draft showed that if he finds a player he believes to be worthy, Shanahan will make the move.
In 2012, Robert Griffin III was that player, and Shanahan wasn't willing to risk losing him. It was a move that a lot of people judged to be a last throw of the dice, but that ignores the fact that Griffin is a better fit for Shanahan's offense than any other offense in the NFL.
NFL coaches are hired to make hard decisions, and Shanahan makes them. He stood up and declared Griffin to be his guy, then he declared him the starter. He trusted himself and his board when he took Josh LeRibeus, and again when he took Kirk Cousins.
After Snyder had finished playing fantasy football with the draft picks, the one thing the Redskins needed from their new head coach was a plan, and Shanahan's determination to follow it has been admirable.
With a little bit of luck, the results should be next.
The Players Are Buying In
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As I mentioned in the previous slide, Mike Shanahan arrived in Washington with a five-year plan and is intent on seeing it through. The difference with this year is that the players are now starting to see the bigger picture.
John Keim reported that Moss was "a little out of shape last year," but he showed up to OTAs this year having lost 15 pounds and looking dedicated. Keim also reported that Kyle Shanahan has been very impressed with Moss, calling him "one of the premier slot receivers in the league."
It's not just Moss, either. All the players are eager to contend and are aware of the areas in which they failed to perform last year. Chris Russell reported for ESPN-980 on a conversation Shanahan had with his offense:
What we do during these practices, you know, we’re emphasizing the red zone or we’re emphasizing third down and one. And as you go into a practice, and I sit with the football team before hand, we talk about the different situations that will come up in the game and... one of those is the red zone.
You work all the way down field, everybody is tired, that is where the concentration level has got to kick in. You know we weren’t very good in that area in offense last year, and we scored a touchdown on the first play, and we have a running back that steps offside. We talk about how that’s the difference between winning or losing during the game.
He knows what he wants from his players, and they are responding with the commitment that is required.
This could easily be attributed to the hope that Robert Griffin has brought with him, but it goes deeper than that.
The way that Shanahan is building the team inspires confidence, and the response from the team so far is an indication of the faith that they have in him.
There Is Healthy Competition for Roster Spots
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Looking through Redskins message boards, there is a lot of debate about who is going to make the final 53-man roster. This is a good sign, as it means that there are multiple players who could serve the team at their respective position—something that could not be said last year.
With the return of key players from injury and suspension, the roster suddenly has the potential to be a competitive force. Jarvis Jenkins will alleviate the lack of a second-round pick this year, and he is already getting his teammates excited.
On Jenkins, London Fletcher said (h/t Mike Jones, The Washington Post):
He’s a big kid, athletic, can make plays for us and rushes the passer. He worked hard. He rehabbed hard. . . . For us, having him now as part of the D-line rotation is only a strength for us. It’s like adding another draft pick this year.
And Brian Orakpo seconded that: “He looks great. He’s full strength now. He’s making plays and I’m excited to play next to him.”
Although there is still the matter of an unproven secondary, the Redskins are seeking to erase the memories of last year's injury crisis by having players learn multiple positions in that area—which gives the illusion of depth among a group of players that could be considered a short-term patch for a long-term concern.
The additions of Chase Minnifield and Jordan Bernstine showed that Mike Shanahan continues to plan for the future of his secondary, but the addition of Raheem Morris and his free agents illustrates that the draft picks are not ready to become starters just yet.
Predictably, I also have a concern about all this promise.
If Morris manages to coax the secondary into a unit this year, it could be difficult to keep him in Washington. After admitting that he was offered the Vikings' defensive coordinator job, it's likely that another team could make him a similar offer if he succeeds in 2012.
The Playbook Is Wider
Despite Mike Shanahan's ringing endorsement of them, there was only a certain amount that Grossman and Beck could do.
The drafting of Griffin gives Kyle Shanahan more options when planning his offensive strategy, which can only be beneficial to the team.
There were reports from OTAs that Griffin was taking nearly all of his snaps under center, but he needed the practice in that area, having come from a spread offense at Baylor. However, it also makes sense to include some of the plays that Griffin ran in college, for familiarity reasons and in order to keep opposing defenses honest.
Mike Shanahan intimated that he would be molding the offense around Griffin, so look for misdirection plays that utilize the running game, as well as play-action passes that aim make the most of Griffin's deep-ball accuracy.
The receiving corps adds to this variety, with Pierre Garçon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss and Josh Morgan offering multiple options for both coach and quarterback.
Garçon and Morgan can switch between the roles of 'X' and 'Z' receiver, sending a confusing message to defenses and allowing for larger gains. If he can take advantage of this, Garçon in particular can use his speed to get behind cornerbacks and make big plays.
There Is Genuine Belief Among the Fans
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The fans of the Washington Redskins have been through a lot—humiliating defeats, an owner that invites ridicule with every move and the senseless death of one of their brightest stars—but they remain fiercely loyal, filling up FedEx Field and praying that maybe this game will be the one that sees the team turn the corner and make a playoff run.
If there are any fans that deserve some success, it's Redskins fans.
There is always optimism ahead of each year, but this year it is actual belief. Everyone has seen what Griffin did in his senior year at Baylor, and the excuse that he did it against inferior defenses still doesn't detract from his talent.
He is that rare thing: a true dual-threat quarterback, blessed with accuracy in the pocket and track speed out of it. The fact that he can replicate that accuracy while throwing on the run only adds to his value.
Griffin rightly remains the center of the franchise, but the acquisition of complementary players rather than big-name signings indicates that the franchise is heading in the right direction.
NFL.com seems to be coming around as well, now ranking the Redskins in the top 10 in all four of its league categories.
It might not be a playoff year, but at least it will be an exciting one.