A year removed from making the post-season on the wings of Sean Taylor's memory, the 2008 Washington Redskins once again became the forgotten team in the NFC East.
Though the Redskins have been known to make numerous free agent acquisitions in attempts to "buy a championship" there big free agency move this offseason was one that could legitimately do so.
With Jim Zorn entering his second year as head coach, returning offensive lineman, young wide receivers and a young secondary can the Washington Redskins return to the glory days of the early '90s? Let us examine if they can.
The starter entering the season should be Jason Campbell whom at one point I downright disliked. Campbell has a rocket of an arm and—despite what some Skins fans think—has shown signs of being a good signal caller.
Campbell hasn’t shown signs of being a game-winner yet but last season he took steps as a decision maker through realizing the importance of the checkdown and ball management; the key aspects of being a “game manager”.
While he may have been a little too over-reliant on those aspects last season what really impressed me about Campbell was how he handled the off-season. Campbell kept his mouth shut, behaving professionally this offseason, rather than complaining and moaning about the Skins attempting to make moves for Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez.
It was his cool and collected demeanor that makes me believe that Campbell is ready to prove his front office wrong with an impressive year and then use that to hit free agency.
Backing up Campbell is veteran Todd Collins who was brought over in 2006 with then offensive coordinator Al Saunders to help the fellow quarterbacks with the adjustment to Saunders’ system.
Collins is a veteran that understands his role perfectly. He realizes that it’s not his job to win a Super Bowl for this team, but merely to be an adequate replacement in the event of an injury to the starter.
Collins had to do just such a thing in 2007 and performed admirably which is why I feel he could step in and do the same thing this season should the need arise.
The final member of the quarterback stable is former collegiate standout Colt Brennan who I am still high on. While Brennan doesn’t look to get any playing time as a Skin in the immediate future, I believe that he has the potential to play quarterback in this league.
The backfield in D.C. begins and ends with Clinton Portis. What is impressive about Portis is something that numerous people do not realize; he is only 27 years-old. Such a relatively young age means that, despite a decent amount of carries throughout his young career, he still has years left for wear and tear.
Portis is a franchise focal point that averages 1,586 yards from scrimmage per season which is usually accompanied by at least 10 touchdowns. That is a Hall of Fame pace. Sorry Brandon Jacobs and Brian Westbrook, but Portis is the best back in the division.
Though only 27 years-old Portis tends to rack up a lot of carries each season. The problem here is that this can be viewed in one of two ways; either Portis is simply that good or his backups can’t hold a torch to him.
Listed second on the depth chart for the past four seasons is Ladell Betts. I like Betts, who had a nice 1,500 yards from scrimmage season in 2006 when Portis went down but at this point that year remains to look like a fluke.
Following that season many felt there would be a halfback controversy or a runningback by committee type deal, but neither ever matriculated and the reason is because Betts is an adequate role player and nothing more.
The third halfback on the depth chart is my cousin’s longtime favorite Redskin Rock Cartwright. Cartwright hasn’t received a considerable amount of carries since 2005, but that is not where he does his damage.
Cartwright is on the team because of his kick return abilities which are excruciatingly underrated around the league. While I know my opinion isn’t of importance to the Redskins’ coaching staff, I feel that Cartwright should be utilized more in the offense if at all possible due to his big play potential.
Finally rounding out the backfield is all-purpose fullback Mike Sellers. Sellers has been regarded by some as the league’s best fullback because he is a great lead blocker as well as a good pass catcher and a fine runner.
Sellers is the consummate package that you would want at the position and he and Portis combine to deliver such a high score for the Redskins’ backfield.
Offensive Line: 8/10
The Skins offensive line is what it is thanks to third overall pick in 2000 Chris Samuels. Usually when a tackle is picked that high in the draft they either boom or bust with no middle ground and Samuels has certainly “boomed”.
Samuels is a rarity in this league; an offensive tackle who plays a prominent and irreplaceable role in his offense’s success. Sure no offense can function without a competent left tackle, but the Redskins cannot run the ball or throw it effectively without Samuels in the lineup.
Samuels is easily the best run blocking left tackle in the league but it’s not as if he is just a good run blocker; he’s never been anything worse than a good pass blocker outside of his rookie season and an injury shortened 2003 season.
Speaking of injuries, Samuels has played in 136 out of a possible 144 games since joining the Redskins. That is the type of consistency you need at the position.
Lining up next to Samuels is a familiar face that he hasn’t seen in a while…former teammate Derrick Dockery. Dockery left for a huge contract in Buffalo much to the chagrin of Redskins fans that felt that Dockery was not worth the money.
In hindsight it appears that they were right. Dockery went on to have two very mediocre years in Buffalo in which he was rarely involved in the running game. Now that he is reunited with Samuels the Redskins look to have one of the better run blocking left sides in the NFL. However, there still looms the question of whether or not Dockery can protect Campbell from getting creamed.
Manning the middle is longtime center Casey Rabach on whom numerous opinions are split. Some people feel as if he is an underrated—if not elite—center that never gets his due while others feel as if he is the weaklink on the offensive line as of late.
Honestly, I don’t know which side is correct but I feel that Rabach is a good player. Now that Rabach has the familiarity of the two guards from a one-time elite trio surrounding him I expect him to have a commendable season.
Next on the line is the ever consistent Randy Thomas who is a good run blocker with nice size but the numbers and metrics will not show you that. The Redskins don’t like to run in between the tackles and it harms how some see Thomas, but when they do he sure can get a driving block on the defender. He is about as disciplined of a lineman as there is in today’s league.
Finally is Stephon Heyer who wasn’t drafted by any teams in the league but picked up by the Skins in 2007. Heyer has started 12 games over that span due to the injuries suffered by former standout Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels and seems like more of a stop-gap than a permanent solution, but you never know how these things will turnout.
Something of note is that former No. 4 overall pick Mike Williams— who hasn’t been in the league since 2005 – could battle for this spot, though the likelihood of him winning it is minimal.
Receiving Corps: 7.5/10
Its amazing that the Skins could invest three second round picks in last year’s draft on receiving options and still have such a pathetic receiving corp. The best options, as far as the receivers go, are Santana Moss at the flanker and Antwaan Randle-El at the split end.
Moss is a guy who always has big play potential but aside from his 2003 and 2005 campaigns he’s been nothing more than a glorified split end.
Antwaan Randle-El on the other hand was never expected to be an amazing receiver, but has played decently for both the Steelers and Redskins especially as a gadget play specialist.
However he does not possess the skillset to be a great split end in this league. The problems that these two receivers contain are part of the reason as to why the Redskins invested picks in Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas last year.
While there is no denying the amount of talent that Kelly and Thomas have, if I have said it once I have said it a million times; talent doesn’t mean anything until actualized.
Unfortunately for Redskins fans I do not see the talent of these two players being actualized in the near future. While the rule of thumb is that it usually takes three years for a receiver to adjust to the NFL, Kelly and Thomas looked lost last year and don’t look ready to impress in my opinion which is why I feel that they will eventually lose out their roles to veteran D.J. Hackett who has worked with Jim Zorn in the past while in Seattle.
It would be awfully foolish of me to mention the Redskin passing game without mentioning its best target… h-back/tight end Chris Cooley. Cooley is a zany character off of the field and perhaps this is the reason that Cooley doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves.
Whether you want to classify him as a tight end or an h-back, Cooley is one of the tops at the position. He has nice soft hands and knows how to find the hole in the zone better than any tight end in the league in my opinion.
Cooley’s backups include perennial blocker Todd Yoder and athletic second year player Fred Davis. Neither looks to dethrone Cooley any time soon. While I haven’t been impressed with Davis at any point in his young career I do feel as if the Redskins can utilize him much in the way that Martellus Bennett is used in Dallas.
Defensive Line: 8/10
This unit was completely average in 2008 and so the Redskins’ front office realized that if their team was to succeed this upcoming season it needed to generate pressure from the defensive line.
As a result they went out and got the biggest difference maker in the league in Albert Haynesworth and turned him into “the million dollar man” as he has been dubbed around the league.
There is no denying what Haynesworth can do when motivated but was he really motivated by his son or was he motivated by contract years? The answer to this question is all too vital to the Redskins’ success. Additionally, can he stay healthy for the first time in years?
The man looking to benefit most from the presence of Albert Haynesworth is defensive end Andre Carter. Not quite a stout pass rusher but not a bad one either, Carter looks for “Big Al” too take numerous double teams for him to allow him to rush the passer one-on-one.
Carter is very similar to Haynesworth’s former teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch—though slightly inferior against the run – and is merely two years removed from the second best season of his career so it isn’t out of the question for Carter to have a career year.
Rounding out the defensive line are a bunch of old veterans; all of which I was a fan of at one point in their careers. The first of these players is Cornelius Griffin at the tackle position.
A mainstay of the NFC East during his entire career Griffin is a solid role player who loves the game and will give his all. He and Haynesworth combine for a pretty darn good tackle duo.
Lining up next to Griffin are long time players Phillip Daniels—who returns from a knee injury in 2008—and a guy who was, at one point, my favorite Jacksonville Jaguars in Renaldo Wynn. Neither figure to be dominant pass rushers, but both will contribute as much as they can predominately through run defense.
Linebacking Corps: 8/10
Leading the way here is the ever-underrated London Fletcher who is long overdue for Pro Bowl and All-Pro nominations. Fletcher consistently wracks up tackles and is very stout in coverage which is why the coaching staff trusts him enough to line up in man coverage on any and every halfback in the league.
Fletcher was formerly an adept blitzer at the position and with Haynesworth clogging the holes in the middle this upcoming season it is very possible that he will once again be utilized much more often as a pass rusher this season.
Playing the SAM and WILL are 13th overall pick Brian Orakpo and the much underrated Rocky McIntosh. Orakpo—if I remember correctly—was a 4-3 collegiate defensive end that was projected at his collegiate position or as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
Orakpo, instead, is playing the SAM in Washington and will have more responsibilities than to pass rush. Only time will tell if he will be strong at the position.
Opposite of him is McIntosh who is secretly one of the better coverage linebackers in the league. He’s an adept tackler and plays the WILL more like a SAM but he is still a good player.
The strength of the team on the defensive side of the ball is the secondary which has three first round picks invested into it in DeAngelo Hall, Carlos Rogers and Laron Landry.
DeAngelo Hall was exposed for the completely average corner that he has been for most of his career in Oakland but once he was in Washington he channeled the best play of his career. Washington Redskins’ coahing personnel and fans all believe that he can have the best season of his career this season.
The No. 2 cornerback is Carlos Rogers who the fans are high on as well. I, however, am not so sold as he is very talented but inconsistent in my opinion. When he’s playing at a high level he is a very physical cornerback who can fluster a lot of the receivers in the league. When he isn’t playing at a high level, however, he is the easy choice to throw at.
The other first rounder in the secondary is Laron Landry who Redskins fans will tell you that their defense cannot function without. That is because he is the focal point of the Redskins’ Cover Three defense in which he remains the deep safety with the predominate coverage responsibilities.
His abilities are akin to the way that Chris Hope was used in 2004 and 2005 while playing for the Steelers and allow teammate Chris Horton to roam around like Troy Polamalu did in those days.
Horton looked to be a seventh round steal last year for the first half of the season but he quickly faded. The question now is whether or not he can manifest his skills over an entire season.
Additionally you have to wonder if he can become a true playmaker that isn’t in the right place at the right time because the play deemed for him to be there but because his instincts told him to be there.
Rounding out the secondary is standout nickel cornerback Fred Smoot who could start on a number of teams. While Skins fans may disagree on Smoot there is no denying that when he is one he plays at the caliber of a starting cornerback which is why he is a top five nickel cornerback in this league.
Another person that many will disagree with that I feel should be watched for is Byron Westbrook—brother to the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook—who was merely a practice squad player last year, but has looked impressive to me.
Jim Zorn has a nice resume but I do not know if I believe him to be a good head coach yet. In addition to this their coordinators aren’t exactly mouth droppers. Blache is very good but one questions whether or not he is elite.
He seems to know how to utilize his players to the best of their ability and with his former defensive line coaching background hopefully he can bring out the potential on the defensive line. As far as offensive coordinator Sherman Smith is concerned I am very unimpressed and feel that he does not know how to truly utilize his players strengths.
This is the main thing holding the team back as they have talent on offense but just cant seem to utilize it.
Prediction: 7-9 to 11-5
This team is going to win games because of its defense; that is obvious. However, if Zorn and Smith can utilize the immense amount of offensive talent that this team has than they could surprise many. They’re very fast at all the skill positions on both offense and defense and have a nice offensive line.
However, Jason Campbell could very well hold them back if he doesn’t take a big step this season. As stated with the other teams there is no way that one of the teams will sweep the division.