Washington Redskins 2011: Are Fans in for a Youth Movement?
At the beginning of the 2010 season the Redskins boasted the NFL's oldest roster, at an average of 27.33 years old. This year's super bowl champion Green Bay Packers were in the bottom half of the league in age, being the 19th oldest roster at 25.88 years.
Teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2nd youngest) and the Philadelphia Eagles (4th youngest) both finished with 10 wins this season and are expected to compete for their division titles and possibly an NFL crown next year.
The Redskins have made a number of off-season moves that show that the Redskins may finally be embracing the youth movement that has been sweeping the NFL for the past several seasons, but obviously it is a bit too soon (lockout, cough, cough) for us to know just what direction Shanahan will take the team this year in terms of age.
Youth at Running Back
Arguably the second greatest running back in Redskins history, Clinton Portis is no longer in the Redskins future. With his departure the Redskins turn to young running backs, Ryan "Pain Train" Torain and Keiland Williams. Torain showed flashes of brilliance as a punishing power back and is only 24 years old, while Williams has shown the ability to proficiently fill a role as a third down back.
Needless to say it appears that the Redskins are going the youth route at running back. Shanahan is famous throughout NFL circles for his ability to pick out little-regarded running backs and turn them into stars (Terrell Davis would a prime example) and may be able to find a speed back in this year's draft to complement Torain and Williams, only bringing more youth to the Redskins backfield.
Youth at Offensive Line
When Chris Samuels announced his retirement due to lingering neck injuries after the 2009 season, Shanahan immediately turned his attention to rebuilding the offensive line. In the process, players such as first round draft pick Trent Williams (22), Kory Lichtensteiger (26), and Will Montgomery (28) assumed important roles up front. If a replacement for the aging Casey Rabach finally emerges, look for the Redskins offensive line to mold into a solid young unit.
On the opposite side of the spectrum the Redskins picked up OJ Atogwe, the ball-hawking safety formerly of the St. Louis Rams. Atogwe has proven to be a master at forcing turnovers but his age (29 years old) brings him precipitously close to the 30 year old mark, an age when many players bodies begin to break down.
This year's draft does not appear to be very strong at safety (no pun intended) and as such Atogwe can fill the gap for a number of seasons before the Redskins find a true starter.
Youth at Defensive Line
Last year the Redskins went out and signed Maake Kemoeatu despite concerns of a ruptured achilles that had forced him to miss the entire 2009 season. Needless to say, "KEMO" as he is known did not look like the same player that he did in years before. At 32 years old and with his best days behind him, do not expect to see Kemoeatu become a centerpiece for the Redskins at nose tackle, instead the Redskins will most likely turn to the draft for a young (and less beat up) titan to clog the middle.
My two favorites? Phil Taylor out of Baylor and Kendrick Ellis of Hampton.
The Old Man in the Middle
Channing Crowder knows a number of things about the world. 1. Italy looks like a boot. 2. London Fletcher is not from London (Apparently one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities has no black citizens). Another thing that he would do well to learn is that Fletcher remains one of the NFL's most underrated linebackers, only making two Pro Bowls as an alternate.
Fletcher is smart, driven and a great team player, however I don't know if any one has considered him young in about ten years. Not many members of the 1999 Rams team (The Greatest Show on Turf if you've been living under a rock since Bill Clinton was in office) are still playing in the NFL. However, given the locker room presence he brings to the team, not to mention his level play, I would pay to see Fletch suit up in the Burgundy and Gold if he was 50 years old. At a very spry 35 years old Fletch has a couple of good years left in the tank, but word is that Perry Riley is looking like he could be a future starter for the 'Skins (long as he isn't on special teams I'm happy). Look for the 'Skins to continue to look for young talent to complement "RAK" "The Freak" Orakpo.
The Redskins thought they had brought youth to the Redskins wideouts when they drafted both Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas with second round picks in 2008. Devin Thomas is currently languishing with the New York Giants after being released by the Redskins and the PANTHERS. Kelly spent the season on IR and for all intents and purposes has as much chance of making the roster as any undrafted free agent.
Santana Moss will be a Washington Redskin next year. If I am wrong I promise to show up to the next Redskins home game dressed up in a pink Superskin outfit and somehow get on TV. (If you don't know who Superskin is, he's a crazy guy who goes to all 'Skins home games in a full burgundy and gold spandex super hero costume, I'm pretty sure that he would jump in front of a train if it meant the 'Skins would win a super bowl.)
Moving on, with Moss (31 years old) back, he will most likely be accompanied by second year player Anthony Armstrong. I love Armstrong, he's got great hands and good speed but he also happens to be the oldest second year NFL player I've heard of at 27 years old. The Redskins desperately need a youth at the wide received position. If Kelly once again manages to disappoint (he will) perhaps Shanahan will turn to the draft for a young speedy guy to fill the role as slot receiver.
If he doesn't, Terrance Austin may get the chance to finally use those afterburners as the Redskins slot man.
The 'Skins Will Get Younger at Fullback
A picture can say many things. This picture says that Mike Sellers remains a beast despite being 35 years old. A punishing monster of a fullback, Sellers has been clearing holes for running backs for 12 seasons after leaving Walla-Walla Community College, but the physical toll exacted by the position dictates that at some point a fullback's body will simply break down.
Sellers remains a strong and powerful fullback but I personally felt that he looked a slower and was less able to explode into running lanes as he was in years past. Look for the 'Skins to pursue a young fullback in the later rounds or undrafted free agency. If not, Logan Paulsen (24 years old) may see action at the fullback position.
Look for the Redskins to continue to phase out older (and more injury-prone) players in favor of younger guys that can help build a solid foundation on which the Redskins will build.
I've said it a number of times, because I know how Redskins fans can be. Every year we say that the Redskins are rebuilding and that it's going to be a tough season. That is until August rolls around and unrealistic expectations begin to emerge.
The Redskins will not make the playoffs this year. Most likely they will only win six games. What matters far more is that they continue to bring in young players, build some semblance of continuity and provide a foundation from which future years of success can emerge. The only way to do that is to pursue young players that can grow and learn together.
So Shanahan and company here's looking at you. I don't care if we get blown out every week this season, just don't try to fix the team in a fortnight. Bring in young players and let them make mistakes. Let them blow coverages, forget assignments. Correct them and improve them. Rinse and Repeat.