Heading into 2009, the Washington Redskins are a team with realistic playoff expectations. Similar to the majority of the teams in the NFL, the Redskins players, coaches, front office, and fans believe the team is close to being a Super Bowl contender.
The Redskins offseason was eventful as usual.
Owner Daniel Snyder dug deep into his pockets—again—signing Albert Haynesworth, Deangelo Hall, and Derrick Dockery to large contracts. The Skins also selected Texas standout Brian Orapko to bolster a pass rush that was lacking in 2008.
Jason Campbell was the center of attention, despite his humble attitude and calm demeanor.
Snyder and VP of operations Vinny Cerato tried to acquire Jay Cutler from Denver, and various reports had them attempting to trade up to select Mark Sanchez in the draft.
But both attempts failed, and now Washington has their quarterback with one year left in his deal and no immediate plan for the future.
In 2008 the Redskins started hot with Campbell—who was quickly becoming one of the better young quarterbacks in the league—at the helm.
Campbell had eight touchdowns, zero interceptions and a QB rating of 93-plus in six of those starts. He and new head coach Jim Zorn looked like a match made in heaven.
Along with the passing game, Clinton Portis was back to his old form. He gained 944 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns in the first eight games.
He looked healthier than he had in the past few seasons, and his pass blocking was down-right nasty. The Redskins had two potential MVP candidates leading the way in their new West Coast offense.
The defense was ranked in the top five, never allowing more than 27 points all season.
Despite a lack of forced turnovers and sacks, Greg Balches' defense was the classic bend but don't break unit. Relying on middle linebacker London Fletcher and a stout secondary, the defense was adequate through the whole year.
Unfortunately the offensive line fell apart in the winter months, Portis stopped finding holes, and Campbell was not being protected.
After a 6-2 start, they finished 2-6, losing at home to Pittsburgh, Dallas, and the New York Giants, capped by embarrassing road losses to Cincinnati and San Francisco.
For the 2009 version of the Redskins to succeed, a few things need to be fixed or should have been fixed.
First, the offensive line that self destructed was not addressed in the draft. Dockery will be a nice addition at left guard, replacing the aging Pete Kendall, but every other position is just a year older.
Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas are both in their mid 30s and coming off of off-season surgeries. If the Redskins want to make a playoff run, they will need a healthy offensive line.
They also will need the three passing targets they selected in the 2008 draft to turn into real contributors.
Devin Thomas had 15 catches for 120 yards. Malcolm Kelly registered just three catches for 18 yards, and tight end Fred Davis tied Kelly with three receptions for 27 yards.
All three of these players have to increase their production for Zorn's offense to click. Santana Moss is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver, and Chris Cooley is as solid a tight end as there is in the league.
Either Kelly or Thomas needs to supplant Antwan Randle El as the team's second receiver. Davis needs to emerge—at least in the red zone—to help an offense that struggled inside the 20s all year.
The offense needs an injury-free offensive line and a revitalized receiving corps to threaten defenses over the top and give Clinton Portis more running room.
Turning back to defense, the unit should shine in 2009.
The unquestionable strength of the team is returning almost off its starters. A secondary consisting of Hall, Carlos Rogers, LaRon Landry, and Chris Horton is Super Bowl caliber.
The linebackers are missing a piece at weak-side linebacker, but Fletcher is a hall-of-fame talent in the middle and will hold the unit together.
Up front Orapko, Haynesworth, Cornelius Griffin, and Andre Carter should stop the run well. Veteran defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn will most likely play run downs with Orapko will play strong-side linebacker on those plays.
In order for the Redskins to exceed expectation, they will need their aging offensive line to stay healthy.
Orapko and Haynesworth need to become playmakers on defense, specifically in regards to hitting the quarterback.
The final piece to becoming a real playoff threat is the maturation of Campbell and coach Zorn. Opposing defenses figured out Zorn's play calling late in the year, and he has to adjust on the fly to in order for his team to become a top-10 offense.
A new kicker and punter could help Washington win a few of those close division games that always seem to come down to a field goal.
Shaun Suisham had one of the worst kicking percentages in the NFL last season. I for one, would not want Suisham kicking a 45-yarder in order to win a playoff game.
Expect a 9-7 season from Washington
Their offensive line will break by November once again, and Jason Campbell will not have enough time to make plays. Instead of drafting depth along the line, Snyder & Co. will blame Campbell and probably pray for Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford in the 2010 draft.