This is a strange time of year for the gridiron obsessed. Free Agency has dwindled to a trickle and the occasional second (third?) tier signing. The NFL Draft is a memory. Training camp is still a couple months away. It would be easy, if one was to allow it, to lose sight of the seismic shift that has taken place in the world of the Washington Redskins.
At the very top, Daniel Snyder is still the owner. Beyond that, however, not much remains of the previous administration ... or even the previous several.
Departed, unlamented de facto general manager Vinny Cerrato, tragi-comic symbol of the dysfunction that has befallen the storied Redskins brand since Jack Kent Cooke died in 1977 ... gone. In his place, Bruce Allen, legacy, son of former Redskins Hall of Fame head coach George Allen.
Allen may not be a reputation superstar quite on the level of the Indianapolis Colts' Bill Polian or even Baltimore's Ozzie Newsome, but is generally respected both in and out of the game. He is, in short, the "real GM" Redskins fans loudly and consistently have called for over recent years. This transition is also the biggest surprise in recent years - no one saw Cerrato's departure coming.
Former head coach and quasi-granola Jim Zorn, as likable as they come but clearly not ready for the big headset handed to him two years ago ... gone. In his place, Mike Shanahan, future first-ballot Hall of Fame head coach.
Yes that Mike Shanahan. he one with the two Super Bowl titles. The list of NFL head coaches who have won two or more Super Bowls is special enough: Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Belichick, and Mike Shanahan.
Know who has won two in a row?
Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Bill Belichick ... Mike Shanahan.
If the words "Mount" and "Rushmore" don't at least flit across your mind, they probably should.
There are those who seek to diminish Shanahan's accomplishments and credentials by reciting the "never won one a Super Bowl without John Elway" mantra. Well, no he didn't. But in the 10 years he coached Denver after Elway retired, he went 91-69 (.569), had eight winning seasons ,and made the playoffs four times ... with the likes of Brian Griese and Jake Plummer.
But those are just numbers. The real value in a coach with the kind of credentials and reputation Shanahan brings to the table has already been amply demonstrated by the steady stream of comments from current Redskins players about the new attitude at Redskins Park. This isn't the standard lip service stuff players play any new head coach either ... anyone tuned in to the stories coming out of Ashburn all have heard the difference.
Bottom line, Shanahan is the real deal. His players know it, and every bit as importantly, the teams his Redskins will face will know it.
Oh and by the way, Elway never won a Super Bowl with Shanahan either.
On the other side of the ball, the Gregg Williams/Greg Blache "bend but don't break until the game is on the line" defensive philosophy ... gone. In its place, Jim Haslett and the controversial (at least among fans) decision to switch from the traditional 4-3 defense the Redskins have always run to the 3-4.
No one knows yet if the switch will result in measurable improvement, but one thing is sure - it will be different. If philosophically Williams/Blache were about containment; Haslett is about aggression:
"Just the unknown of where you're coming from, who's blitzing, who's not blitzing. You can just do so many things out of it that you can't do out of a four-man line. Now, if you got great four-man line people, then you play that." He adds, "There's no reason you can't go 3-4, 4-3. I've played in both, coached in both, been successful in both. I think its just the type of players you have. I think the cornerstone of the team on defense is Brian Orakpo. He had 11 sacks last year, rushed 200 some times. In this defense, we'll rush 600-700 times."
Both systems can work and fail, spectacularly. Whether the Redskins can overhaul their 4-3 roster in time to field a successful 3-4 in 2010 will be one of the keys to how well the early Shanahan years go. Personally, I'm on record a Haslett skeptic. But given the totality of the circumstances at play, I am taking a wait-and-see attitude. I figure two years ... by the end of 2011, we'll know if Shanahan's choice to lead his defense was the right one.
And then of course there is the small matter of the single most important player position in all of professional sports, the NFL quarterback.
The Redskins have started ten quarterbacks over the past 10 seasons alone: Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins, and Jason Campbell. None of them will ever be confused with the man who will start opening day in 2010: Donovan McNabb.
There is an entire generation of Redskins fans who have never seen legitimate Pro Bowl level NFL quarterbacking in burgundy and gold. Unless McNabb's skills fall precipitously off the table between the end of last season (3,553 yards, 22 TD, 10 INT, QB Rating 92.9) and the beginning of 2010 - and there is no reason to believe that will be the case - that is about to change.
But I'm not going to try to convince you of that, at least not today. Instead I am simply going sit back and watch. If I'm proven wrong this fall, I'll say so. But I don't think I'll have to.
None of this guarantees a winner in 2010, of course. It's still going to be the first year under a new regime.The Redskins are still a team coming off an ugly 4-12 season. And this is still a franchise that has had more than twice as many head coaches (seven) in the past 17 years as it has playoff appearances (three). So let's not get ahead of ourselves. If the epic turnaround in the Washington Redskins fortunes is going to happen, common sense suggests it will probably take a couple of seasons to gather steam.
It's May. It's quiet. Training camp is two months away and opening day not until September.
But my god man ... what an epic offseason this has been.
With that, I'm out of here for a while (again).
Left Washington Friday morning for Dallas (nice place to visit, wouldn't want to be a football fan here) to meet my brother, pack up a U-Haul, and head out Sunday morning bright and early on a 1,377 mile cross-country trek to West Yellowstone, Montana. His new summer cabin is finished and in need of furniture, household and outdoor fun stuffs, and serious libation stock. Plus there is serious hiking to be done.
We're the men for the job.
Back in two weeks ... unless a grumpy grizzly (you try sleeping four or five months without waking up hungry and irritable) says otherwise.