"They have Joey Galloway starting for them!"
This was the cry coming into the 2010 season. While the rest of the league are experiencing something of a youth movement, with young quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman being molded into future big time players, wide receivers like Dez Bryant, Austin Collie and Mike Williams (the one that plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) starting to step up and make plays, and second year running back Arian Foster leading the league in rushing, it felt like most teams were getting younger, not older.
Yet coming into the 2010 season, the Washington Redskins seemed to be the opposite. With few draft picks and a somewhat weak free agency class, the 'Skins seemed to go the opposite route.
The entire league collectively scratched their heads as veteran running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were added to the squad to back up the equally aged Clinton Portis.
Roydell Williams spent the entire 2009 season off the field before signing with the Redskins in the offseason. Likewise, wide receiver Joey Galloway signed with the Patriots in 2009, but was inactive due to lack of production and trouble learning the offense, which lead to his release. He was picked up by the Steelers, but didn't make much of a difference. Still, he was signed to the Redskins as well. Jammal Brown won a Super Bowl ring as a Saint, but he did so watching on the sidelines before he was traded for, leading to fan concern that he wasn't durable enough.
The Redskins faithful were scratching their head. To them, it was a case of the "Same Ol' Redskins" blues--bringing in free agent guys who were past their prime and couldn't produce elsewhere that were bought in. Watching division rivals like the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys continue to get younger while their team aged before their eyes seemed baffling and frustrating.
If you know anything about Mike Shanahan, you'd know the reason for this; he wants dependability. Youth is only as good as the people who are on the team. Malcolm Kelly has all the tools, but can't seem to stay healthy. Devin Thomas couldn't grasp the playbook. And Jason Campbell (still young for a quarterback at 28) may have had the talent, but he didn't have the ability to be the quarterback otherteam needed.
A staple of Mike Shanahan's two Super Bowl wins was the mix of veteran talent that people deemed past it's prime, coupled with unheralded, late round draft picks who stepped up big for the team. The 2010 Washington Redskins seemed to follow the same template.
While youth was great, dependability meant more. And in the older veterans, that's what Mike was searching for.
No one expected that as the season went on, the team would actually manage to get younger, and that dependibility would pop up amongst the youngets.
The stars of the preseason were undoubtedly undrafted rookie wide receivers Brandon Banks and Anthony Armstrong. Still, at the start of the season, Banks was on the practice squad, and Armstrong seemed to be splitting snaps with Galloway and Williams
At 5'7" and 179 pounds (which is probably pushing it), it's not hard to realize why Brandon Banks showed up to Redskins try outs as an undrafted free agent, despite his blazing speed and strong years at Kansas State. He earned himself a cult following after returning a punt to the house against the Bills in pre-season. But a couple muffed punts and fumbles left questions in people's minds that he'd ever be a solid player. Still, Shanahan reportedly fought to keep Banks around, and he ended up being on the practice squad to start the season.
"Double A" Anthony Armstrong graduated from West Texas A&M and bounced around the Arena Football League, the Intense Football League (which no one even knew about until Armstrong made the team) and landed on the Miami Dolphins practice squad before ending up on the Redskins practice squad. Mike Shanahan has said multiple times that he was astonished by Armstrong's speed and knowledge of the game. Santana Moss has even said he was surprised Anthony Armstrong was never given the opportunity to start, given his skill.
Running back Ryan Torain was originally drafted in the sixth round by Coach Shanahan when he was with the Denver Broncos. His first start for the Denver Broncos would unfortunately be his last, as he tore his ACL after his leg was rolled under his body. The next season, Shanahan was fired, and Torain had to fight for a job on the team.
He didn't get it, and spent an entire year away from the game.
Graham Gano signed with the Baltimore Ravens after the 2009 NFL Draft, but was passed over and waived. He spent the rest of the season playing in the United Football League, scoring the field goal that won the Las Vegas Locomotive the first even UFL Championship.
Trent Williams was the first round pick for the Washington Redskins in the 2010, tasked with protecting the Redskins first franchise quarterback in years, Donovan McNabb. He's had a total trial by fire, as through the first six weeks he's had to contend with the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney, and Mario Williams, and will now have to deal with Julius Peppers. He's performed as admirably as any rookie tackle who's had to face almost ever premier outside linebacker or defensive end could and then some.
As the season rolls on, these men have stepped up and made it clear that their is youth and talent on the Redskins squad. After the release of Larry Johnson, Ryan "Rough" Torain has impressed. The best game of his career was against the Colts, going for 100 yards and two TD's with an average of 4.2 yards per carry--his game was the most yardage the Skins have gained in a game running the ball since 2007.
Brandon Banks is averaging 22.7 yards on kick off returns--it would be even more if it didn't seem like every time he busted a huge return it was called back because of a big time penalty.
And if ever there emerged a number two receiver, it's Anthony Armstrong. Armstrong has made plays on special teams, he's made huge plays on offense, and he's ascended the depth chart, taking the place of Roydell Williams and becoming a full time starter. No longer can defenses zero in on Chris Cooley and Santana Moss--Armstrong is quickly turning into a big play guy that teams have to defend against.
I haven't even talked about everyone, either. At 26, LaRon Landry is playing like a man possessed, racking up 63 combined tackles. Undrafted rookie Keiland Williams looks to be a legitimate third down back, able to block in passing situations and catch the ball out of the back field--he caught his first touchdown versus the Colts. Kory Lichtensteiger has looked solid in his time as a center. Running back Chad Simpson had a big time 32-yard return. Kareem Moore has forced and created turnovers in four out of six games. (One of which he didn't play in). And Brian Orakpo somehow managed the almost unfathomable task of not only sacking Peyton Manning, but forcing a fumble as well.
Make no mistake about it; the Redskins have youth on their team. The young guns have begun to step up and worked their way into the fold, either due to unfortunate injuries or just good old fashioned hard work and solid play. Coach Mike Shanahan regularly praises his young guys (not that the vets don't get their due as well).
With an eye towards the future, the Redskins will only continue to get better. With a solid core of vets behind him, the youth have gone wild in DC. And fans of the burgundy and gold couldn't be happier.