As always, there are important storylines, but ones that can easily be rewritten by Daniel Synder’s pocketbook in a year or two.
There are the obvious storylines, (see: The Quarterback), the mysterious storylines (see: The Coach), and the defensive storylines (see: The Learning Curve) to tell about the 2009 Washington Redskins.
Jason Campbell is in a contract year, one that could very well determine whether he is the Redskins' quarterback of the future or will roam the NFL for the next few years as a backup.
It seems unfair to boil down the success or failure of the team to Campbell’s progression, but the Redskins were two different teams last year.
When Campbell and Portis and the Redskins' offense were clicking, they went 6-2 and averaged over 20 points and over 340 yards per game. As Portis wore down and the offense line struggled, Campbell began to struggle as well.
Campbell's stats in the first half: 66.1 completion percentage, 1,754 yards, eight touchdowns, zero interceptions.
Campbell's stats in the second half: 59.1 completion percentage, 1,491 yards, five touchdowns, six interceptions.
These numbers are nothing new: Campbell's Jekyll and Hyde impression. That’s why expectations for him are all over the place—from Cade McNown to Donovan McNabb.
But underneath those numbers are some positives. Campbell was great in the fourth quarter of close games. When the game was within seven points in the fourth quarter, Campbell had a quarterback rating of 100.4 and threw three touchdowns to no interceptions.
Campbell only had one red zone turnover last year and performed well against the blitz, posting a 90.5 quarterback rating.
But none of that may matter.
In 2008, the Redskins' offensive line allowed 38 sacks, which was 22nd in the league and well above the league average of 32.4 sacks allowed.
But without right tackle Jon Jansen and little quality depth anywhere else on the offensive line, it may not be up to Campbell whether he succeeds if he doesn’t have the time to throw.
In addition to questions along the offensive line, the Redskins are struggling to find Campbell weapons in the receiving corps.
Antwaan Randle El will play in the slot this year alongside Santana Moss, so the Redskins need to find someone else to be the Z receiver on the outside.
Whether it’s Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly doesn’t really matter. As long as they get any production from one of those two second-year receivers, Campbell will be better off.
Campbell’s fate is closely tied to the fate of head coach Jim Zorn, and whether both, either, or neither of them will be back next year.
Zorn is entering his second year with the Redskins, which is a long tenure measured in Daniel Snyder years.
The decision on whether or not to bring Zorn back after this year will depend on how the season goes and who’s available.
Zorn is solely responsible for the progression of Campbell and the effectiveness of the offense. If the offense struggles again this year, despite that Greg Blache’s defense is amazing, and the Redskins fail to reach .500 and the playoffs, Zorn will be out.
Any record above .500 and a run at the playoffs will likely save Zorn, who seems like a great practice guy, a great quarterbacks coach and teacher of the game, but a below-average in-game manager.
What may be Zorn’s saving grace is that he’s Snyder’s guy. Snyder plucked him from obscurity as the Seahawks quarterbacks coach.
But names like Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Mike Shanahan may leave Snyder salivating.
The Learning Curve
The only new starter on the defense, besides the $100-million man, is rookie linebacker and defensive end Brian Orakpo.
Orakpo is slated to be lined up at left outside linebacker on first and second down, and then as a down rusher at defensive end on third down.
Orakpo showed his rushing ability in the first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. He showed that his combination of speed and power moves will translate well to the pro game, and he should accumulate between four and six sacks this year on third down alone.
While there is no question about his ability to rush the passer on third down, his ability to fall back into coverage as a linebacker could be a huge hole in the Redskins' otherwise stout defense.
The Redskins may be able to hide Orakpo in zone coverage, only making him responsible for a portion of the field. But, if he has to get out and play man coverage—especially against a tight end like Jason Witten, or a running back like Brian Westbrook—he will get burned.
Orakpo is likely to be slow in play recognition in coverage as a linebacker and be a step behind on most plays. It seems that a realistic expectation for the upcoming season is that he will be a glorified third-down specialist who happens to play on the other downs as well.
With London Fletcher as a mentor, Orakpo should have a shorter learning curve than most, but he won’t be able to fulfill the heroic expectations thrust upon his broad shoulders.