This article is the third in a series of articles I have decided to write. Each article presents the five biggest questions for each team in the NFL. This article goes to the Washington Redskins, the surprise playoff team last season.
1. Can Clinton Portis stay healthy and produce?
Clinton Portis, the Redskins' starting halfback, is known to have a history of injuries. During his six years in the NFL, he has only played in three full seasons.
Portis has proven that he is one of the league's premier backs, rushing for 1,500 yards in three seasons, while having only one season where he did not rush for 1,000 yards. He has also scored 10 or more touchdowns in four of those seasons.
However, the last two seasons have not been good to Portis. He has missed eight games and rushed for only 1,785 yards, an average of 4.2-yards per carry. These numbers may not seem too bad, but compared to Portis' high performance in his first four years in the NFL, he is not performing to his full potential.
I personally think Portis could see fewer carries this year, considering Jim Zorn is a quarterback coach. If we learned anything from the preseason game, he has incredibly accurate quarterbacks. Between the three quarterbacks that received minutes, there were two incomplete passes and no interceptions.
However, Washington ran the ball 31 times. Portis could see a similar season as last year if he stays healthy.
2. Can the receivers help Jason Campbell improve?
We all know that Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El are two of the NFL's most inconsistent receivers.
For example, Moss had 1,105 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 74 receptions in 2003 when he played for the Jets. The next season, he put up 45 receptions, 838 yards, and five touchdowns, which qualifies as slightly over half of what he did in 2003. He only missed one game in 2004, so it's not like he missed significant playing time.
For another thing, Chad Pennington only missed three games in 2004, as opposed to the six he missed in '03. Moss happened to do the same thing in 2005 and 2006 with the Redskins. So is it Moss's turn to start producing again? Nobody knows.
The tight-end group has proven itself. Chris Cooley put up wide-receiver-like numbers with 66 receptions, 786 yards, and eight touchdowns last season. Fred Davis, his rookie backup out of USC, always impressed me when he played. The two receive the ball extremely well.
Turning back to the wide-receiver situation, the two players behind Randle El and Moss are rookies. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly were at the top of the wide-receivers class in the 2008 Draft, but rookie receivers rarely make a huge impact.
I think with Jim Zorn as the head coach, this team will focus a lot on the receivers this offseason and preseason. Expect better production out of Moss and Randle El. Cooley should put up similar numbers to last season, and expect Thomas and Kelly to have their days.
3. Is Jim Zorn ready to be a head coach in the NFL?
Jim Zorn came into the Redskins' organization after Joe Gibbs retired in January. Zorn came in with no experience as an NFL coordinator, let alone as a coach.
I, like many, was shocked at the news. I wondered, "Who the heck is this guy, and what did he ever do to get the gig?"
Well, Zorn has been an assistant in the coaching and professional ranks for about 20 years now, working with quarterbacks including Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks and Charlie Batch in Detroit (who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers).
Zorn won his preseason matchup with the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, but didn't reveal too much about the Redskins, besides the fact that his quarterbacks played very well.
Becoming an NFL coach probably has an extreme learning curve, as opposed to being the quarterback coach. However, I think the Redskins will compete in every game they play this season, although they shouldn't expect too much too early.
This team has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. In a few years, they could compete in the NFC.
4. Will they sink in the NFC East?
The NFC East is the toughest division in all of football, in my opinion. Several others would agree, or place it second behind the AFC South.
The Philadelphia Eagles believe they have a chance to take the spot of the Redskins, thereby sinking them into last place.
The Redskins split the series with the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles, proving they know how to beat all three of them.
Looking at the Redskins' and Eagles' schedules, they play nearly identical opponents. The main differences are that the Redskins play the Saints and the Lions, while the Eagles play the Bears and the Falcons. The Eagles have a slight advantage there, but I'm not sure if it's enough to make a difference.
Given the Eagle's health woes the last few seasons, I'm going to take Washington in a close one for third place. However, whoever does take third place will probably not make the playoffs.
5. Will Jim Zorn make Jason Campbell reach the quarterback's full potential?
This year, Jason Campbell will be learning his seventh different system in eight seasons, stretching all the way back to his college years
Hopefully, seven different systems in eight seasons won't mess Campbell up. Let that sink in for a minute. Seven different systems. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have put up with a lot, but that is one thing that neither of them can say they've dealt with.
Campbell put up decent numbers last season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. He also has a strong running-back corps at his disposal, lead by Clinton Portis. Additionally, Campbell has a top tight end in Chris Cooley, and (occasionally) a good receiver in Santana Moss.
Zorn made Hasselbeck, Batch (before Ben Roethlisberger), and can certainly make Jason Campbell. I think that, in a few seasons, Campbell could be a top 15 or maybe even a top-12 quarterback in the NFL, and possibly higher. The sky's the limit for Zorn and Campbell.
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