10 Reasons to Believe in the Washington Redskins in 2015
In some social circles, Washington Redskins fans are notorious for boasting overconfidence in their team before every season.
And the Redskins are notorious for losing.
This year should be different.
Washington is trending in the right direction, getting rid of old habits such as overspending on free agents and giving up on coaches after one year. The team added a valuable member to the front office in general manager Scot McCloughan, which has led to a remarkable free-agency period and draft class.
McCloughan's personnel upgrades have provided quarterback Robert Griffin III with everything he needs to have a prolific season. Still, RG3's success depends solely on his mindset and preparation.
With head coach Jay Gruden back to improve on last season's dismal performance and upgrades to nearly every position of need, the Redskins are poised to compete for a division title and a playoff spot in 2015.
Here are 10 reasons to believe in the 'Skins.
New General Manager Scot McCloughan
For the past few decades, the Washington Redskins have overspent on free-agent busts and made many bad decisions on draft day. This offseason, owner Dan Snyder decided to bring in someone to help fix those annual mistakes.
Enter Scot McCloughan.
ESPN The Magazine's Seth Wickersham called McCloughan the NFL's best talent scout, and fairly so. McCloughan played a role in building multiple Super Bowl teams: the Seattle Seahawks of 2013 and 2014, the Green Bay Packers of 1996 and 1997 and the San Francisco 49ers of 2012. He has two Super Bowl rings, one with Seattle and the other with Green Bay, and was influential in drafting some of the game's biggest stars today.
Those stars include Frank Gore, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson.
Who better to fix Washington's scouting woes than the guy who built the last three NFC champions?
McCloughan has already drastically improved the Redskins. He signed proven veterans in free agency to solve the team's defensive troubles and led one of the best drafts in the league, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (via John Keim of ESPN.com).
One thing is certain: The Redskins team that takes the field in September will be a much improved version of the team that finished 4-12 in 2014.
McCloughan's personnel prowess should make head coach Jay Gruden's job easier, too.
Bill Callahan Brings Experience to Offensive Line
In another smart and necessary move, the Redskins added Bill Callahan as the team's new offensive line coach.
The Redskins used to have one of the best offensive lines in the history of football, back when the squad was called "The Hogs" and John Riggins was following blocks into the end zone in Super Bowl XVII. That group is long gone, though, and Washington has had a subpar offensive line since Joe Bugel, the Boss Hog, retired in 2010.
Bringing in Callahan was the best move the Redskins could have made. A proven leader with recent success, Callahan has coached for the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys since 2008. He helped develop well-known players such as Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson in New York, as well as the offensive line in Dallas that blocked for DeMarco Murray during his league-leading 2014 rushing campaign.
The new Boss Hog has plenty to work with in Washington. Left tackle Trent Williams is a perennial Pro Bowler, and the team has bolstered the rest of the group through the draft and free agency the past two years.
Callahan hasn't wasted any time changing the culture in Washington. "We don’t sit down and take a knee and watch special teams anymore,” center Kory Lichtensteiger told Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda last week. "He’s got a good tempo, and he’s a very intense coach. We’ll definitely get better if we don’t die first."
If Callahan fixes the offensive line problems in Washington, the entire offense will benefit. Running back Alfred Morris will have more holes to run through, RG3 will have less pressure to throw the ball and Jay Gruden will have an easier job calling plays.
Expect Callahan to pay huge dividends for the Redskins.
A Heavily Improved Offensive Line
Bill Callahan was the first upgrade to Washington's offensive line, but even great coaches need talent with which to work.
The Redskins have had an inadequate offensive line for years now, which partially explains why quarterbacks have struggled in Washington. Last season, Washington's offensive line allowed 58 sacks, second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to NFL.com.
For comparison, the Redskins allowed just 33 sacks in 2012 when the team won the NFC East and reached the playoffs.
After this offseason, though, Washington fans can breathe a sigh of relief.
The Redskins finally addressed their offensive line issues, and this year it was not with late-round draft picks or underwhelming free agents. Washington used the fifth pick in the NFL draft to get Brandon Scherff, a talented tackle from Iowa who will play opposite Trent Williams.
Washington also drafted Alabama guard Arie Kouandjio in the fourth round and South Florida center Austin Reiter in the seventh round. Both players will compete with veterans Kory Lichtensteiger and Shawn Lauvao for playing time.
It is not a stretch to say Scherff could be Washington's best addition since Williams in the 2010 draft. Scherff will, if everything goes as planned, fill a void at right tackle that has been filled by "Band-Aids" since 2008, as the Washington Post's Mike Jones put it.
The only question on the offensive line now is at right guard, where coaches will rely on Kouandjio or second-year player Spencer Long. Chris Chester, who has played the position since 2011, was released on May 27.
Even with uncertainty at right guard, Washington fans can be confident their offensive line will be better in 2015 than it has been in years.
Now that the Redskins solidified their offensive line, there will be more opportunities for RG3 to get the ball to his plethora of offensive playmakers.
The Redskins were stacked at their offensive skill positions before this offseason even started. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, two of the best receivers in the league, play out wide while Andre Roberts operates from the slot.
A young but talented Jordan Reed can block and catch passes from the tight end spot, and Alfred Morris runs for 1,000 yards each year from the backfield.
That collection of talent probably would have been prolific last season if RG3 was healthy and playing well and the offensive line was what it is now. Still, the Redskins made additions in this year's draft that promise to bolster the Washington attack.
Washington drafted Florida running back Matt Jones and Duke receiver Jamison Crowder in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. Jones has already shown his versatility in OTAs, according to Jay Gruden. Crowder brings more speed and quickness to an already-explosive receiving corps and called himself a natural kick returner in an article by Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda.
Washington fans already had plenty of reason to believe in the team's offensive playmakers, but now it seems imminent that the offense will have an explosive and productive season.
Expect another stellar season from Jackson and Morris. Gruden will find better roles for Garcon and Reed, and Jones and Crowder will inevitably provide a complementary spark to the attack.
Even with so much talent, Washington's offense will only be as good as RG3 allows it to be.
RG3's career in Washington so far has been nothing short of sporadic.
First, he leads the NFL's best rushing offense all the way to an NFC East title and a playoff berth in 2012. Then he blows his knee out. Then he has a miserable sophomore campaign. Then he starts his third year strong, gets hurt again, misses time and is not the same quarterback when he returns.
But despite all of those ups and downs, RG3 has the opportunity to lead the Redskins for another year.
He will be much more mature this time.
RG3 has made changes to his life outside of football that are signs of major growth and maturation. Nowadays, he is spending his time becoming a better player and caring for his newborn daughter rather than filling up commercial space and updating social media on each of his workouts.
And his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts gave those fans a place to voice their frustrations toward the disgruntled quarterback.
Though he is not completely removed from social media, RG3 has dialed his updates back significantly. Between February 12 and May 21, the quarterback tweeted just twice.
Both were about his new daughter, Reese Ann Griffin.
Between his shifted focus and his new duty as a father, Washington fans can be sure Griffin has grown up tremendously since last season. Whether that will make him a better player on the field is uncertain, but he is undoubtedly sprinting in the right direction.
New Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry
As much as RG3 has struggled the past two seasons, the worst part of the Washington Redskins has been the defense.
In December, the Redskins agreed to part ways with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. That move was necessary considering Washington's horrendous defensive performance last season. The team was No. 20 in the league in yards allowed and No. 29 in points allowed with 27.4 per game, according to NFL.com.
Despite a questionable resume that includes a winless season in Detroit, Barry seems to be the right man for the job in Washington. He's an intense and excited guy, which will fit perfectly with how Jay Gruden approaches the game.
And he doesn't care what anyone thinks.
In a radio interview in January with San Diego's 1360 Xtra, Barry said, "I don't feel pressure, I apply pressure." He also said he was "jacked out of my mind" and "fired up" to start his time with the Redskins.
Barry plans to keep the 3-4 defensive scheme in place, which seems to fit with Washington's personnel. His biggest challenge will be developing Washington's inside linebackers, including last year's starters Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley.
It seems fitting that Barry, a linebackers coach for more than 15 years, came to Washington to solve the team's biggest remaining problem on defense.
Squeezing production out of an underwhelming inside linebacker group is his most obvious challenge. Aside from that, though, Barry has plenty of talent to work with on the rest of the defense.
A Deep and Talented Defensive Line
The Redskins have had trouble with consistency along the defensive line ever since Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels were released in 2011. Since then, the team has had a number of disappointments, including Adam Carriker, Barry Cofield and the $100 million man, Albert Haynesworth.
Those problems should dissolve this season after the Redskins bolstered their line in free agency and the draft.
In March, Washington signed veteran free agents Ricky Jean-Francois, Stephen Paea and Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, and released Cofield and Stephen Bowen, another underwhelming performer. The Redskins already had former Pro Bowler Jason Hatcher at defensive end after signing him a year earlier.
After strengthening the defensive line, the Redskins drafted outside linebacker Preston Smith in the second round to compete with Trent Murphy for the spot opposite Ryan Kerrigan. Washington will count on one of those players to impress in training camp and earn the job, which was vacated by Brian Orakpo this offseason when he signed with the Tennessee Titans.
This group should be the most productive the team has had in recent memory. The combination of Hatcher and Knighton up front will torment opposing centers and guards, while Kerrigan and either Smith or Murphy will apply pressure on the edge.
Count on Washington to have a dominant run defense and an improved pass-rushing unit thanks to the team's offseason additions.
An Upgraded Secondary
Along with addressing the defensive line, Washington added talent at defensive back.
The Redskins had serious issues in the secondary last season because of injuries and a lack of depth. Veteran DeAngelo Hall tore his Achilles in Week 3, then tore it again about a month later while in his kitchen getting pizza.
Bashaud Breeland, a then-rookie who showed promise but had trouble with assignments at times, was forced to start in Hall's place. Washington was forced to play David Amerson and Tracy Porter more than the two deserved, and both struggled immensely to keep up with opposing receivers.
The Redskins allowed more passing touchdowns than any other team last season with 35.
However, the Redskins fixed that problem this offseason.
All three players will likely start for the Redskins next season. Culliver will compete with Breeland and Hall for a starting cornerback spot, but all three will spend plenty of time on the field regardless. Johnson and Goldson, both big hitters with high potential, will fill safety positions that have not been productive since LaRon Landry and Sean Taylor played together in 2007.
Aside from those additions, the Redskins also signed free agent Justin Rogers and drafted Kyshoen Jarrett, who had a knack for making big hits and intercepting passes during his time at Virginia Tech.
It is unclear whether Washington's revamped secondary will play well together. The group has proven talent, though, and with Pot Roast and Jason Hatcher pressuring the quarterback, the secondary should not have too tough of a job.
Experience and Cohesion
The Redskins were right to give RG3 another chance to prove he can run Jay Gruden's offense. After all, he has only been running it for one season.
Rarely do quarterbacks succeed during their first year in a new offense. The best in the game are guys who have spent years in the same system: Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Tom Brady in New England, Drew Brees in New Orleans.
Not only will RG3 have another year to sharpen his knowledge of Gruden's offense, but he will also have better cohesion with some of the teammates who were new to the team a year ago. That includes key components of the offense in DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, as well as third-year tight end Jordan Reed, who has been riddled by injuries throughout his short career.
Gruden said in a press conference last week that he expects RG3 to have a better grasp of the offense during his second year. "With playing in the same system for the second year, usually, the second year, you have a little bit more confidence, a little bit more air about you that you should show improvement—lots of improvement," Gruden said, as quoted by The Washington Times' Zac Boyer.
New relationships must be developed between RG3 and his rookie playmakers, as well as among the entire defense. But the team now has leaders on and off the field who can help with that.
Whether it be offensive line coach Bill Callahan, defensive coordinator Joe Barry or new veterans Terrance Knighton and Dashon Goldson, the Redskins have plenty of leaders who have already begun intensifying the environment and pushing the team toward a common yet unfamiliar goal: winning.
A Winning Mentality
Washington has made many changes this offseason, from the front office to the players on the field. All of the new faces at Redskins Park have one common factor: a winning mentality.
Everyone from general manager Scot McCloughan, who helped build two Super Bowl teams, to new players such as Terrance Knighton and Chris Culliver, know how to win. And why is that such a crucial attribute for new additions to the team?
Washington has not known how to win for the better part of the past two decades.
The team needed leaders. It needed winners. Knighton came from the Broncos, one of the NFL's best teams over the past three years. Bill Callahan coached a team to a Super Bowl. Culliver, Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois and Jeron Johnson have all spent most of their careers on playoff teams.
That winning mentality so necessary for success is already fostering in Washington. RG3 said in a press conference last week that the team is starting to develop a new culture in which mediocrity is not accepted.
"I think we’re getting there and I think the guys all have the right attitude, and I’m not just saying that," he said. "I’m a very optimistic person, everyone knows this, but I can truly feel that in that locker room," per Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com.
Another thing Griffin said was that winning was not as much about talent as mindset. He is right. The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl without stellar talent at many positions.
The Washington Redskins have had their best offseason in probably 20 years. The winning mindset has been brought back to Washington, and depth and talent are as high as they have been since Joe Gibbs' first stint with the team.
Redskins fans may be notorious for boasting overconfidence in their team before every season, but they might be right this time around.