Fact or Fiction for Washington's Biggest Offseason Question Marks
There are many question marks surrounding Washington prior to the 2014 season. Having a new head coach and offensive coordinator will do that.
However, not all of the concerns will turn out to be justified. Some of them even seem a little far-fetched now. It's a contradictory time of year when everything is a drama to the media and the fans refuse to believe anything worse than a 9-7 record will befall their team.
Since we've reached the dark of the offseason before training camp, let's go through a few of the concerns here and decide whether they're justified.
Robert Griffin III Won't Return to His Rookie of the Year Form
It's that simple.
Luckily, things seem to be on the rise, with John Keim noting for ESPN that Griffin's mechanics look smoother, and his release is both higher and quicker. While it's impossible to know how that will translate to a regular-season game with a defender in his face, it's nevertheless an encouraging sign.
The removal of the brace has to be good for the young signal-caller. Regardless of how he tried to play it last year, it was clearly bothering him. Having that freedom of movement should allow him to gain confidence in his knee and concentrate on getting better as a player.
Mark Bullock compared Griffin across the 2012 season to his 2013 campaign for The Washington Post and found noticeable differences. The quarterback's coaches will have no doubt shown him the same footage, so it's reasonable to expect better this year.
There are still things to work on, obviously.
Chris Russell commented for ESPN 980 that Griffin's ball placement has been off in minicamp, and there's still the matter of how well he will protect himself when running.
It seems to be heading in the right direction, but it's perfectly natural to allow some doubts to creep in. We haven't seen him play for real yet.
Jay Gruden Can't Make the Transition from OC to HC
If you were going to be harsh on Jay Gruden, you could say that he has no excuses for failure this year. While that may sound unforgiving, it's not that far from the truth.
He went out in free agency and got the players he wanted. He revamped the coaching staff the way that he way wanted. His franchise quarterback is at full health and has had a full offseason.
If Gruden's team performs below expectations, a lot of the questions will be directed at his coaching and play-calling.
There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic this year. Gruden has brought a new energy to the squad, and all reports suggest that the players are responding. His coaching choices have been applauded, too, particularly that of Brian Baker, the outside linebackers coach.
When the team buys into the system, that team usually finds a way to succeed. However, it's a long season, and there will be times when Gruden's abilities will be questioned. It's up to his players to get him out of it.
Verdict: Fiction. While there will be growing pains, Gruden has already revitalised a team that looked dead and buried by the halfway point of last year.
Alfred Morris Won't Succeed in the New Offense
Alfred Morris excelled in Mike and Kyle Shanahan's one-cut scheme and established himself as one of the most reliable backs in the league.
Even with Griffin out of sorts last year and the Shanahans abandoning the run, Morris still exceeded 1,000 yards and did it with the humility we have come to expect from him.
When looking at the blueprint for the Washington offense, I wrote in a previous piece that the power schemes Gruden ran in Cincinnati would suit Morris well. His vision is his best asset, and having a lineman as his lead blocker will only be to his benefit when hitting the hole.
Any doubts about Morris are misplaced. He's proved himself enough.
The Special Teams Won't Be Any Better Than Last Year
Well, it can't really get any worse, can it?
Special teams were such a disaster in 2013 that I genuinely took to leaving the room when the units took the field. Some things are just too painful.
The introduction of Ben Kotwica as special teams coordinator has brought with it a coaching method that sounds so simple, you wonder why every team isn't doing it. Tarik El-Bashir outlined the new system for CSNWashington:
As Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica worked with his units during OTAs and minicamp, one thing stood out: he wasn't the only coach doing the teaching.
Wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard and running backs coach Randy Jordan tutored the returners. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris instructed the gunners on the finer points of punt coverage. And linebackers coaches Kirk Olivadotti and Brian Baker showed players how to take better pursuit angles and tackle.
It's utterly essential that Washington gets better on special teams, and everyone certainly seem to be taking it very seriously. From Gruden and the veterans down to the rookies, everyone seems committed. This is another example of the team buying into the new coaches, which just couldn't be said about Keith Burns last year.
Verdict: Fiction. It's understandable that the concern is there, but the pieces are in place for a big jump in 2014.
The Secondary Is Still the Team's Biggest Weakness
The additions of cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Ryan Clark demonstrate that the defense still lacks some leadership, especially with the retirement of London Fletcher.
While Clark immediately assumes the role of starter, the onus will be on second-year pro David Amerson to cement his place as the second corner behind DeAngelo Hall.
Amerson showed flashes of real potential last year and, unlike the majority of Washington's players, actually got better as the year went on. His game-turning interception for a touchdown against the Raiders will remain the highlight, but his skills in coverage noticeably improved, and he demonstrated a real awareness for how the play was going to develop.
Clark has been vocal in minicamp so far, coaching up his corners as to what to expect and leading adjustments prior to the snap. This was pointed out by John Keim for ESPN and mentioned as being crucial to young guys like Amerson and Bashaud Breeland.
Keim noticed an improvement from Brandon Meriweather, too, who also raised his standard of play as 2013 drew to a close. The addition of Clark will allow Meriweather the freedom to play his natural game, as long as he can stay on the field, anyway.
Verdict: Fact (just). The secondary remains the area of concern for the defense, but yet again, Gruden has taken positive steps to impact its development. It's too early to tell, obviously, but the hope isn't quite so blind this year.