The 2009 Washington Redskins look eerily familiar to the 2008 version, which, depending on your perspective, can be a good or a bad thing.
The optimist says that they are returning a defense that has added two key pieces in free agent tackle Albert Haynesworth and LB Baby Freak (which is what he will be called in this space) Brian Orakpo. The defense was already very good in a lot of ways, and will have CB DeAngelo Hall for a full year with a chip on his shoulder.
Quarterback Jason Campbell also has something to prove, with the team trying to trade for Jay Cutler and draft Mark Sanchez. He is also in a contract year, which pushed Haynesworth to a tremendous season last year. The team started 6-2 last season, and if they can recall that magic, they should be in good shape, maybe 10-6 or 11-5 shape.
The pessimist says that they still have Jason Campbell, and there is a reason that they tried to replace him. Clinton Portis is a high mileage back, and Ladell Betts is not an adequate replacement should Portis go down, or simply wear down.
They have no receivers beyond Santana Moss, TE Chris Cooley only scored one touchdown all year, and, despite the 6-2 start, they finished 8-8. Oh, did we mention the fact that they play in the toughest division in football?
On defense, yeah, they were ok, but they produced very few turnovers. If DeAngelo Hall is so good, why were the Raiders so eager to let him go? Orakpo is a beast, but he is playing a position that is new to him. How will he handle covering the likes of Jason Witten, Kevin Boss and Brian Westbrook?
Jim Zorn is a lame duck. Unless he wins the Super Bowl, you know Triple J (Jerry Jones Junior, Dan Snyder) will be throwing wads of cash at Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden next year. And they are not winning anything. The pessimist has them at 5-11 or 4-12. If not for the defense, it might be even worse.
The realist knows that the truth is somewhere in between. Here is the realist’s preview.
Offense. Now entering his fifth season, Jason Campbell has never been in the same offensive system for two years in a row, until now. He will benefit greatly from the rare continuity that Head Coach Jim Zorn brings to the table. Zorn’s positivity is a big plus, but being undermined by the owner negates it to a large extent. (“No, you can’t suspend Clinton Portis; I don’t care what he says to you.” Triple J didn’t really say that. Not to my knowledge, anyway.)
Portis is a beast. He is still an elite back in this league that is capable of going off for 200 yards on any given Sunday. With the return of LG Derrick Dockery from the sixth circle of Dante’s inferno, er, I mean, Buffalo, and LT Chris Samuels coming in trimmer than he has been in a long time, the offensive line looks to be improved after being decimated by injury in the second half of last year.
Look for Portis to have a big year, as, well, he really is the best choice they have on offense.
The receivers are relatively nondescript. TE Chris Cooley is a Pro Bowler who needs to figure out how to get into the end zone more. WR Santana Moss is a good player, but there is a significant drop off after him. Antwaan Randle-El is listed as the second receiver, but it will really be second-year man Malcolm Kelly. Randle-El is more of a slot receiver, and should get some Wildcat type looks as well.
Bottom line? This offense will be very good on the ground, and in the air is a huge question mark. If Campbell can keep the turnovers to a minimum, it could be pretty good.
Defense. This is truly the strength of this team. The defense last year was fourth in the league in yards allowed, and sixth in scoring. Their issue was with turnovers.
Their turnover differential was zero. Yes, 0.0, good for 17th in the league. For a team with a stated desire to win championships, that is not good enough.
The line is better on paper with the addition of the $100 million man Albert Haynesworth. But as Skins fans know all too well, the game is not played on paper.
The knock on Haynesworth is that he plays well only when he has incentive to do so, such as, being in a contract year, like he was last season in Tennessee. Thus, the $100 million question is, will he continue to play at a high level, or will he be content with the money and go back to taking plays off, of which he has been accused in the past?
New LB Brian Orakpo was an amazing DE at the University of Texas. But he is being asked to transition to play a new position, strong side LB. While he certainly has the physical ability to do so, he is being asked to make this change at the game’s highest level. He has looked phenomenal in preseason when rushing the passer, but that is what he does.
We will find out early about his cover skills as the team opens at the Giants and Kevin Boss.
The secondary will be great. Period. CB DeAngelo Hall feels disrespected around the league, and has said that he feels like he is starting over with something to prove. Given a full offseason and training camp in this system, he will have a big hand in changing that turnover ranking.
CB Carlos Rogers is now two years removed from shredding his knee and is also in a contract year. Look for him to force his share of turnovers as well.
FS LaRon Landry is a star in the making. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache expects Landry to get at least six interceptions and more.
"Creating turnovers for us," said Blache when asked what his goals were for Landry. "Having six-eight picks. Some devastating plays where he's got some of these highlight kind of hits and breakups on the ball, and at the end of it him taking a trip to Hawaii as a Pro Bowl safety as opposed to being an alternate."
No pressure or anything, LaRon. Oh, and Greg, the Pro Bowl is in Miami this year. Just so you know.
The special teams are nothing special, no pun intended. They won’t win many games, but they won’t lose many either.
The pick. If the Redskins were in another division, say, the NFC West, they would be the clear cut favorites and looking at 11 or 12 wins. But they are in the NFC East, and they have a brutal schedule, particularly in the second half. Another late season collapse will lead to a 7-9 record, a last place finish, and both Jason Campbell and Jim Zorn being shown the door.
Mr. Gruden? There’s a Dan Snyder on line one for you.