One year ago at this exact time, the Washington Redskins were a team trapped in turmoil, and it was only getting worse.
Franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III was still recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery, preparing to don a 17-ounce knee brace for the duration of his second season. And there was a perception that the relationship between RGIII and then-head coach Mike Shanahan had soured, something that was exacerbated by comments made publicly. In fact, Griffin had to state publicly, not once but twice, that there was no rift or power struggle between him and his head coach, which is far from ideal.
Juxtapose those mental images with these real ones...
As the 'Skins yuk it up with detective Rust Cohle himself, you get the sense there's been an attitude shift in Ashburn.
It helps that, for the first time since he was drafted 25 months ago, Griffin is no longer under a microscope. He's not the savior with an anvil on his shoulders like in 2012, and his right knee is fully healed this time around.
"The storylines don't all lead back to me and that's fine," Griffin said this week, per ESPN.com. "It's about 'we.' It's time for us. We got a new coach. We have new additions. All the guys are here doing great things."
It also helps that Shanahan and his son are gone. It appears as though this team lost faith in that duo as the 2013 campaign spiraled out of control, so it was time for big changes and fresh faces.
Fresh faces like new head coach Jay Gruden, who has displayed nothing but excitement about his new offense and its leader. Fresh faces like Jason Hatcher, the veteran defensive tackle Washington stole from the division rival Cowboys who has already been talking up this defense.
And of course, fresh faces like DeSean Jackson, who was poached from the division rival Eagles. The three-time Pro Bowler immediately makes life easier for Griffin. A "little nick" to Jackson's hamstring is about the only bad news coming out of Redskins Park these days.
Hatcher and Jackson are on board because the front office actually had money to spend this offseason. Salary cap sanctions were no longer handcuffing owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen during free agency, which gave them the ability to properly address areas of need.
That's part of the reason everyone seems happy right now in D.C.
Does top pass-rusher Brian Orakpo want to be lassoed by the franchise tag? Of course not. But Orakpo refuses to pout and won't hold out. From The Washington Post:
"Once I signed on the dotted line, I don’t have to be here. I could still [stay away] like the majority of NFL players do when they [get tagged]. But nothing in my DNA wants to do that. I love my teammates. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity."
And Orakpo has also gone out of his way to praise the addition of second-round pick Trent Murphy, per ESPN.com, despite the fact Murphy could be his replacement down the line.
Griffin himself is making positive changes. He has spoken about the importance of having a full offseason to work on his game and get acclimated to the offense, which is something he missed last year.
"Robert is able to be comfortable," Santana Moss told USA Today. "When you're not comfortable, you can't go out there and be yourself. I don't know whether it's the knee brace or him just being able to practice with us more. ... If you can't play this game comfortable, it's impossible for you to have confidence that you can do the job.
"You can see a more confident guy, especially in his legs," Moss added. "I just hope we have a season to remember. ... I feel like we have the team to do that. I hope we put all that other (drama) stuff behind us."
From ESPN.com's John Keim at last week's organized team activities:
But in practice Thursday, Griffin held the ball higher—at the top of the numbers. He also threw with a more narrow base. He likes doing this because he feels more free, giving him the ability to bounce the pocket a little better. Not every quarterback throws with the same base, much like not every hitter uses the same stance at the plate.
Griffin also was throwing more over the top; less windup. So the ball came out a little quicker. He was not always accurate, but he was not off as much as he was, say, last summer when coming back in training camp. And keep in mind that even as a rookie in practice Griffin would have off days throwing the ball.
Regardless, Griffin’s fundamentals were more consistent than they were during the season.
I know it's only June, but right now the good is kicking the bad's ass. That's encouraging for those who suffered throughout 2013, starting the moment Griffin tore his ACL and LCL in a playoff loss to the Seahawks.
It's almost hard to believe this cheery team is the same one that recently had its mascot blasted by half of the United States Senate, but the 'Skins aren't letting the name debate become a distraction. That's the way it should be.
It goes to show how quickly NFL teams can go from bad to good and good to bad. I mean, this is a team that went from worst to first and back to worst in the NFC East over a three-year span. And though no games have been played yet, there's a real chance that Washington could recover from a three-win season and get back to the top of the division in 2014.
Frankly, though, that's the only way the Redskins can sustain this feeling. Everything's good when you're winning, and everything sucks when you're losing. The 'Skins have to deliver on the field this fall, or they'll risk falling back into that dark hole.
Right now, there's little reason to believe they won't bounce back in a big way.
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