|After failing repeatedly to find a franchise QB, the Redskins hope RG3 is the answer. (Getty Images)|
The Washington Redskins finally opened a training camp under Mike Shanahan without a dark cloud of discord hanging over the franchise. In 2010, it was the war with Albert Haynesworth. Last year it was all about Donovan McNabb, and where he would end up.
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Now, it's all about the future, and not players destined to be part of the past. It's all about Robert Griffin III under center, and the bevy of picks Shanahan parted with to move up and draft him. After another year in last place in the NFC East, there is nowhere to go but up. But how quickly will it come?
And in parting with all those picks to get RG3, did they mortgage too much of the potential core around the youngster?
Besides the Griffin trade, the Redskins made a splash by jumping on receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan right away in free agency, and made some middling moves, bringing back injured RB Tim Hightower, taking chances on Tanard Jackson and Brandon Meriweather at safety. The roster remains riddled with questions at some key spots.
• Develop a quarterback. This is it. Period. The franchise has failed at this repeatedly and systematically, and until they get this right, sustained success won't come. As numerous players told me, everything in this offense is being installed around RG3's strengths and trying to put him in position to succeed. The whole goal is to have Griffin ascending and improving from month to month.
• Perfect the 3-4. The front seven continues to make strides, and that group is the strength of the team. They get second-year lineman Jarvis Jenkins back from a lost 2011, they have menacing outside linebackers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and London Fletcher leading things in the middle. They're in the scheme for the third consecutive year and have some chemistry there. They should be able to get some pressure on the QB.
• Protect the franchise. The Redskins already had to start reshuffling their questionable offensive line on the first day of camp, with right tackle Jammal Brown already hurt again. This team gave up 10 sacks in a game last year and was carved up by less-than-elite fronts far too often. Finding five guys who can stay healthy and stay together will be key.
Running back: Shanahan himself said he is unsure who will start at running back and how much they might go by committee. And his starting running back could end up being someone not on the roster right now. Tim Hightower, coming off an ACL tear, will be held back through the preseason. They hope they can keep Roy Helu healthy. Evan Royster is in the mix, too. In the past, you could always count on any back Shanahan picked up off the street to rush for 1,000 yards. Now you have to wonder some.
Right tackle: Brown already shifted this situation with the latest in his series of injuries. How long he remains on the PUP list with the hip problem remains to be seen. In the meantime, Tyler Polumbus gets first crack with the starters. He can shift from guard to tackle, and might just be able to hold on to the gig.
Somebody to watch
WR Leonard Hankerson. He had a big game last season, and has the skill set Shanahan looks for in a big-play receiver. But he's coming off a hip injury, and while able to go full speed on the first day of camp, Shanahan knows hips can be tricky -- "keeping his fingers crossed," as he put it. He has good size in what is a smallish group and the potential to be an impact player ... but can he stay healthy?
• It was good news for receivers Josh Morgan and Hankerson at the first practice, with both finally able participate in team drills after being limited all offseason. But overall, including Santana Moss, there are some injury concerns in this group overall.
• Jenkins was shining in offseason work before losing his entire season. He has the ability to make a mark in their rotation.
• TE Chris Cooley has been riddled by knee and hip problems but was running free and easy and cutting well in drills. He has slimmed down and the Redskins could be in a lot of two-tight-end sets this season to help their young quarterback.
• Shanahan hopes safety Tanard Jackson can be off the PUP list by the start of next week, if not sooner.
The last word
The drafting of RG3 likely buys Shanahan time -- at least through the 2013 season -- but his son Kyle (the offensive coordinator) will be in the spotlight trying to develop Griffin. He has a lot of young coaches around him. Griffin's amazing athleticism opens up the offense, though, and the overall QB production will be better.
But the offensive line and secondary are areas of concern, the running game is suspect, the roster still needs to be rebuilt and this division, and conference, are only getting better. I have a hard time seeing this team win more than 5-6 games, if that. But this season shouldn't be about that. They're not there yet.
If RG3 is even close to the hype and expectations on the field, and the Redskins finally have an impact young quarterback, then this franchise will be back on track. That's what 2012 comes down to for Washington.