Fans who support their favorite sports team use each offseason as a springboard for hope.
"This year is going to be different because..."
This offseason, the hope among fans is stronger than ever despite a dismal 2013 season. Another new head coach is in the fold. A speedy new receiver was acquired after being released by a division rival. And the franchise quarterback? He's healthy again.
So what should Redskins fans realistically expect in 2014? Let's examine both Washington's ceiling and its floor, realizing that the truth likely lies somewhere in between.
Ceiling (Best-Case Scenario)
Amid all the drama and turmoil during last season's 3-13 campaign, it's easy to forget that the Redskins were 10-6 and actually won the NFC East in 2012.
The cupboard isn't bare, either.
On offense, new head coach Jay Gruden will employ a Pro Bowl running back in Alfred Morris, two electric wide receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and one of the NFL's best young tight ends, Jordan Reed.
Success in 2014, though, starts and ends with Robert Griffin III.
Griffin's masterful rookie season ended with an emphatic thud when he tore ligaments in his knee during the NFC Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks. The injury forced him to spend all of last offseason rehabbing rather than taking the field with his teammates and progressing as a quarterback.
Now 100 percent healthy, Griffin has spent the past six months doing the things necessary for his team to win in '14—things he wasn't able to do at this time last year.
Whether at Redskins Park or in Arizona, RG3 has made it a point to build chemistry with his offensive teammates. He lost that bulky knee brace which no doubt hindered his in-game performance last season. He's also proven to be an astute new disciple of Gruden, as the head coach told NFL Media reporter Albert Breer:
He picked up everything effortlessly. He works hard at it, he studies it, he understands the position and he's willing to learn and willing to take coaching.
He wants to be the greatest. And he knows he has a long way to go, which is refreshing from a guy that's had a Heisman Trophy and as much publicity as he's had. He knows he has work to do, and he's willing to put in the work. That's [sic] strikes me as ... I just wasn't expecting that.
Perhaps most importantly, Griffin has been able to impose his will as the undisputed leader of the team. That wasn't possible last offseason when he was stuck getting treatment on his knee instead of leading by example on the field.
Really, it's simple: If the 2012 version of Griffin re-emerges this season, the Redskins could be in for a magical run—especially if the other two phases show up.
On defense, the Redskins made a few key free-agent signings, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and veteran safety Ryan Clark. Still, continuity was the theme of the offseason.
Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley and DeAngelo Hall, among others, were all brought back. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and secondary coach Raheem Morris were also retained from former head coach Mike Shanahan's staff.
Earlier this offseason, Hall implied to ESPN 980's Inside the Locker Room that Shanahan may have prevented Haslett from running the defense he desired (via The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg):
Defensively man, I just feel like we played so bad last year, we've got some unfinished business to definitely take care of. I'm excited after talking to Haslett about the possibility of him being able to just run his defense without anybody in his ear telling him what to call or what not to call. So I'm really excited to see Haz unleash his full arsenal of play calls.
Gruden's decision to keep Haslett and Morris makes sense. Both worked with him at previous stops, and both have experience as a coordinator and a head coach. The sense is that Gruden will allow Haslett and Co. to run the defense with autonomy, something that may not have been afforded under the previous regime.
As for the special teams, it has nowhere to go but up in 2014. Last season, the Redskins ranked last in the NFL by a mile, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
|Worst Special Teams Units in 2013|
|Green Bay Packers||-16.4|
|Pro Football Focus|
Learn more about about PFF grades.
In response, general manager Bruce Allen signed and drafted several players this offseason who are expected to be quality contributors on special teams. Washington also brought in Ben Kotwica, previously of the New York Jets, as the new special teams coordinator. Kotwica, a West Point alum, could be the disciplinarian needed to turn the porous unit around.
Let's also not forget that one-year turnarounds in the NFL are not uncommon. Remember the 2007 Miami Dolphins? They followed up their disastrous one-win season with an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance in 2008.
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs, behind new head coach Andy Reid, won 11 games—a nine-game improvement from their 2-14 campaign the season prior. Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles claimed the NFC East at 10-6 last season. Philly won only four games in 2012.
The mystery surrounding a new head coach presents game-planning challenges for the opposition, especially early in the season. Heck, even Jim Zorn won six of his first eight games.
A fourth-place schedule doesn't hurt, either. Add in a healthy quarterback, a rejuvenated defense and an improved special teams unit (it cannot get worse), and it wouldn't be a shock to see the Redskins win double-digit games and the NFC East.
Ceiling Record: 11-5, NFC East Champions
Floor (Worst-Case Scenario)
Of course, with every positive outlook there's a flip side. Redskins fans would be naive not to acknowledge it.
Washington was 0-6 in the NFC East last season. In 2014, it plays all four teams in the NFC West, the best division in football. Washington has gone 0-3 against NFC West opponents the past two seasons.
Gruden is an unknown commodity as a NFL head coach. How will he manage the game? The clock? Challenges? When times get tough, will the players look at him as a leader or a rookie coach who is in over his head?
Defensively, Washington has an improved pass rush, but there are legitimate depth concerns in the secondary. Hall and David Amerson are a formidable tandem at corner, but their backups are the often-injured Tracy Porter and rookie Bashaud Breeland.
At safety, Ryan Clark will be a vocal leader, but his best playing days are behind him. Brandon Meriweather is an illegal hit away from a lengthy suspension. Second-year player Phillip Thomas is a wild card after missing his rookie season with a foot injury, and Tanard Jackson hasn't played football since 2011.
Then there are the questions on offense. Last season, the O-line allowed Griffin to get pummeled, especially up the middle.
Can the Redskins rely on guard Chris Chester to have a bounce-back season? He must if Griffin is going to run the offense effectively. Newly signed guard Shawn Lauvao also struggled last season with the Cleveland Browns, most notably as a run-blocker. Washington could turn to rookie guard Spencer Long if either Chester or Lauvao underperforms.
Tyler Polumbus' up-and-down play at right tackle is another question mark. His backup is rookie Morgan Moses, who has a ways to go before seriously being considered a starter.
Above all, Griffin must be able to excel in the pocket, something he didn't do last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Griffin handled the blitz well but graded poorly against a traditional pass rush (minus-7.0). His grade was even worse when pressured (minus-10.2).
Part of that inefficiency can be attributed to his lack of mobility and the ineffectiveness of his linemen. Still, Griffin needs to show that he can stand in the pocket and fire. Leaning on short throws or his legs to get out of harm's way will stunt the offense's growth.
And lastly, the elephant in the room for NFL teams is injuries. They're impossible to predict. Yes, every franchise will endure them, but some will be luckier than others. An injury to one or more impact players could derail a season.
But even in a worst-case scenario, it will be virtually impossible for the Redskins to repeat the misery that was 2013.
Floor Record: 5-11, Fourth Place in the NFC East
All team and player information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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