The Washington Redskins roster is comparable to Swiss cheese. Although it appears appealing after a quick glance, numerous holes emerge upon further inspection.
The most prominent and exploitable weakness occurs along the offensive line. Arguably the team’s biggest area of need heading into the offseason, the o-line was barely addressed in free agency and not at all in the NFL Draft.
Having guard Derrick Dockery back is a welcome addition, but he is the only newcomer that can be expected to make an impact on this season’s roster. Unless, of course, Mike Williams loses 100 pounds and reverts back to the collegiate form that made him a first round pick in 2002. Fat chance, pun not intended.
The o-line, which includes 30-somethings Randy Thomas, Chris Samuels, and Casey Rabach, are old and injury prone. They wore down halfway through last season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t do it again this time around. The line is a declining group of veterans without much backup, and an injury to any one of them means the run game and pass protection will be taking a big hit (pun partially intended).
Another hole on the offensive side of the ball is the lack of a possession receiver. Much has been made of whether or not Santana Moss is a true No. 1 wideout, and if Antwaan Randle El is a capable No. 2. While Randle El is certainly more fit for a gadget-type role and not an every down player, putting him in the starting lineup is not the primary problem with the team’s aerial attack.
The Skins haven’t had a big target in the slot since Rod "50/50" Gardner, and they haven’t had a big receiver with decent hands since Michael "Stephen Davis is my punching bag" Westbrook. This weakness is exposed during stalled drives in the red zone or failed third down conversions where a wideout taller than 5’10” would come in handy.
The lack of a possession receiver is still hurting the team a year after drafting three pass catchers in the 2nd round. Malcolm Kelly has the ideal size to fit the bill, but injuries have thus far prevented him from getting on the field. Devin Thomas saw spot action late in the season, but was inconsistent and unprepared according to coaches.
If Kelly can’t stay healthy, teams will continue to take Chris Cooley out of 3rd down situations. This will force Campbell, known more for his arm strength than accuracy, to use more precision when threading the ball into tight spots in coverage.
The lack of depth at certain positions on defense could cause a step back for what is, at least on paper, an improved version of last year’s unit. The linebacking corps, minus a declining Marcus Washington, is now without a proven starting outside linebacker. As for the other two starters from last season, London Fletcher is past his prime and Rocky McIntosh is just a year removed from knee surgery.
Though the addition of DT Albert Haynesworth should ease the load on Fletcher, it’s hard to ignore the fact that his numbers and production have declined in each of the last four seasons. H.B. Blades filled in admirably last year, but ideally he would remain on special teams.
The team attempted to fix this issue by selecting two linebackers in last month’s draft, Cody Glenn and Robert Henson. But Executive V.P. of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato’s success with late round draft picks is about as bad as his acting. Who knows if either will even make the Week 1 roster.
The overall talent level of the club has been upgraded with the offseason additions of Haynesworth, Dockery and Brian Orakpo, among others. Yet the wealth is not spread evenly over the roster, and this results in a big drop off talent-wise between the starters and backups. Should injuries occur, the Skins will attempt to plug holes with former draft busts and unproven rookies.
It will be hard for a team with a win-now philosophy to do just that if it must rely on so many inexperienced players. But that could be the story of the 2009 Washington Redskins. Unlikely postseason bliss for the team that resembles Swiss.