Game of Inches: The Washington Redskins' Major Issues Coming Into 2009

Jack AndersonSenior Analyst IMay 24, 2009

ASHBURN, VA - MAY 1:  Albert Haynesworth #92 of the Washington Redskins runs through drills during minicamp on May 1, 2009 at Redskins Park in Ashurn, Virginia.   (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Ok, so Dan Snyder has finished off his annual spending spree. Holes have been filled, problems solved.

Pass rush: check. The Skins oft-criticized inability to pressure the QB has been remedied with the addition of Albert Haynesworth, gem of the 2009 free agent class.

Add in draft superman, Brian Orakpo and boom! One Madden cliché later, the ‘Skins now possess a respectable front four.

Secondary stabilization: done deal. Deangelo Hall is back in the fold and Carlos Rogers will start opposite him.

Oh, if only success on paper translated to the playing field. Unfortunately, as we in DC know from long experience, it doesn’t.

Snyder made some important upgrades, but his team still has some major problems, mostly on the offensive side of the ball.

How many times will we anxiously wait for secondary receiving targets to emerge? Will this finally be the year where we see all that potential in Jason Campbell turn into actual production on the field?

However, the biggest concern is a rather big one. In fact, it could mean the difference between making the postseason and packing up for the offseason by New Year’s Day.

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Yes, the O-line is another year older and yet again the ‘Skins have done very little to patch it up.

Is There A Right Tackle In The House?

Jon Jansen was once a powerhouse at right tackle, but injuries have taken their toll. Jansen is a shell of his former self and there is little behind him.

Stephon Heyer impressed in 2007 and appeared to have a bright future. However, he regressed in 2008 partly due to injuries. The coaching staff continues to rave about him, and Heyer might end up being the Redskins’ best option on the right side.

Mike Williams was signed before the draft to compete for the RT position, but he must first get his weight under control. During his two-year absence, Williams’ weight ballooned to 450 pounds. He’s just below 400 now, working towards 370.

Williams’ work ethic was questioned throughout his first stint in the NFL. He has the talent to play in the league, but he lacks drive and has struggled with a bad back.

However, if he can manage his weight and focus all his energy into being a true presence on the line, Williams possesses the size and ability to contribute.

Protection wasn’t Washington’s strong suit in 2008. They ranked fourth from the bottom in sacks allowed with 38. That was largely due to injuries and age.

If the ‘Skins want to protect Campbell they will need to find a consistent option at right tackle before they break training camp.

In addition, Washington could shore up the protection with some help from the tight ends. Chris Cooley is a strong physical blocker who can chip and take on extra defenders in the box.

Protection is the biggest concern, but the defense is also searching for a standout to fill the remaining open spot in their front seven.

Left Side…Strong Side?

In training camp, Washington will look to sort out the situation at strong side linebacker.

Marcus Washington was released in wake of several injury-plagued seasons. His departure leaves the position up for grabs.

The initial replacement was thought to be third year man HB Blades, however the addition of Brian Orakpo through the draft might shake things up.

Blades is football smart, but lacks size and the speed to cover ground from an outside linebacker position. He has experience at OLB from last season and yet is better suited to the middle linebacker position.

Orakpo is a freak athlete who can apply pressure and make plays. He ran a 4.63 forty time, proving he has the speed to play linebacker if needed. Whether he will possess the instincts at a position he is unused to is another question.

Washington has been trying him out at strongside LB on first and second downs, and then moving him to his natural DE position on third downs. The change may be risky as it could leave Orakpo overwhelmed at his transition to the NFL.

So the ‘Skins have to gamble either way. Orakpo has the upside, although switching him would take away from the front four’s pass rush and could hamper his ability to make the biggest impact possible.

With some refinement, Orakpo would have the skills in coverage to play strong side and he would provide an edge rusher from a two-point stance.

The Skins haven’t had this in years. It would add a unique element to the defense, throwing in a wrinkle for opposing offenses.

Blades won’t be lights out at OLB and he will struggle to matchup against certain targets in the passing game. Still, he knows the game and will hold his own against the run. 

If he wins the position, strong side linebacker will be a weakness, but one the defense will hope to overcome due to the star power of the remaining ten players.

Failure on the strong side isn’t what the coaching staff would like to see and neither is a repeat of last year’s horrific special teams play. This year the ‘Skins may have some answers.

Not-So-Special Teams: Coming Off A Down Year, The Redskins Third Unit Looks To Bounce Back

Washington struggled in almost every aspect of the special teams game last year.

Shaun Suisham lost confidence midway through the year and couldn’t connect on field goals over 40 yards consistently. In 2008, he went 26-36 on FGs and 25-25 on extra points.

He went 12-20 from 40+ yard FGs and missed some important kicks throughout the year. That’s an issue for the ‘Skins because they don’t give themselves many scoring chances and play every game by a close margin. They need a kicker who will convert over 80 percent of his attempts.

The front office brought in Dave Rayner this offseason to push Suisham. Rayner hasn’t played a full season since 2006 where he went 26-35 with the Packers.

He has a strong leg, which is a plus especially on kick-offs. However, Rayner’s inaccuracy doesn’t help in the placekicking department.

Unless one of the two gets their act together, the kicking game may yet again be a mess in 2009.

Punting, so often a weakness for the Redskins has been remedied. The signing of former Indianapolis Colts punter, Hunter Smith, signals Washington may have a year where they control the field position game.

Smith averaged 44.2 yards a punt, which is a marked improvement from Ryan Plackemeier’s 41.5 avg. He put 23 punts inside the 20-yard line; that’s six better than Plackemeier.

Most importantly, Smith had a net average of 38.8 yards per punt, tied for 10th in the NFL. Plackemeier was third from the bottom with a 33.3 net avg.

Keep in mind that Smith posted these stats on just 53 attempts with the dynamic Colts offense. That was 23rd most in the NFL and well below Plackemeier’s 66 attempts.

So punting is improved instantly with the Smith signing, but on the flip side, the punt return game is still shaky.

Antwaan Randle El continued to languish at the bottom of every punt return category and no replacement is imminent.

Dominique Dorsey was signed in the offseason, but is a longshot to make the roster. He starred as a returner in the CFL and if he hopes to make in the NFL, he will need to duplicate his performance from up north in the preseason.

Santana Moss is a threat and will most likely return key punts in 2009, but on the whole, expectations are low for the return game. This will hurt field position and prevent the return game from providing much of a spark.

Unfortunately, the Redskins often overlook key weaknesses; this year is no exception. Hopes are high that the upgrades will overcome and disguise the holes. It’s up to the coaching staff to bring it all together.

Only time will tell if their efforts pay off.