The 2009/10 Washington Redskins have high expectations for the upcoming season. While I share that optimism I know as well as they do that several things must happen this year that did not happen last year. These things are imperative if the Redskins are to bypass their recent mediocrity and become the deep playoff team that they are fully capable of becoming.
1). Defensive line pressure.
The Redskins finished the 2009 NFL season ranked fourth in total defense. This was a remarkable feat considering they were one of the worst pass rushing teams last year. The pass rush has been a concern for a few years now, a trait inherited from Greg Williams' teams by current Defensive guru Greg Blache. The overall strong play of Redskin defenses of the last two years is a testament to superb run stopping and exceptional secondary play. If the Redskins truly want to become a dominating, turnover producing defense this is the year the defensive line must step up.
The Redskins coaching staff and front office is painfully aware of this and has tried many ways to remedy the situation. Last year's experiment with Jason Taylor was a failure due mainly to injury. This year the team has made several upgrades by signing pro bowler Albert Haynesworth and drafting DE Brian Orakpo. Whether this new unit bonds together to become the pass rushing presence that it is capable of becoming remains to be seen. The Redskins do have a history of having pro bowl free agents under perform. But I applaud the effort nonetheless. If the Redskins are to become a playoff contender this new unit must rise to the challenge this year.
2). Young players must step up.
The current starters for the Washington Redskins are a very capable group. They are easily capable of winning eight or nine games. However, injuries have taken a huge toll in recent years. A lack of depth has been a real problem and certainly played its part in last season’s end of year meltdown.
It has been widely reported that the offensive line is old and injury prone and the receiving corps lacks a tall, physical presence. It is also a fact that the Redskins did not draft or sign in free agency any significant players to improve these units. But as I look at the roster I see plenty of young talent that, due to injury or inexperience, was not ready to contribute last year. Therefore I say with all earnestness, “The time is now young players! Step up your game and realize your dreams!”
Chad Rhinehart and Stephon Heyer are two young offensive linemen who will be needed this year, and they must be ready when the time comes. Jon Jansen has been a good player for the Redskins, but his age has caught up to him, and he wore down as the season went on. Heyer had initially won the starting job at tackle over Jansen, but a minor injury caused him to relinquish his starting role. Heyer must continue to improve and regain this starting spot. If he can play with the same passion and skill that he exhibited in 2007 as an undrafted rookie free agent the Redskins will have one piece of their offensive puzzle solved.
Rhinehart was a rookie last year and did not see the field once during the regular season. While I don’t think he will unseat either Randy Thomas or Derrick Dockery (who was brought in to replace an aging Pete Kendall) at either guard positions, he must be ready to be a solid player if he sees action this year. Given Thomas’ injury history I would say it’s more than likely that he will see game action this year.
I believe that injuries and fatigue on the Redskins line were the main culprits for the severe decline in their rushing and passing attacks last year. It’s up to the young players on the line to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. If they can’t step up I feel the Redskins will have a similar drop off in production this year as well.
Receiver is another position that must get a boost from its young talent. Last year the Redskins drafted three receivers in the second round. They were Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelley, and TE Fred Davis. All three were taller than any receiver on the Skins’ roster at the time and all were slated to provide badly needed depth behind Moss, Cooley, and Randle El. Once again, due to injury and inexperience they never provided the depth and playmaking ability that they were drafted to produce. Only Thomas gave a brief glimpse of his skills last year and scored the only touchdown of the three rookies.
For the team to succeed this year things must change. Thomas must continue to grow into his role as a deep threat and Kelly must overcome his injuries to become the sure handed presence over the middle that he was in college. Davis must work on his blocking to make Coach Jim Zorn feel confident inserting him into two tight end sets. If these three continue to grow and mature into viable options for Jason Campbell the Redskins will become infinitely more dangerous in the passing game. It will also take the double teams away from Santana Moss and help him to thrive as one of the most electrifying receivers in the NFL.
When healthy the Redskins have the talent to play football with any team in the league. A lack of depth on offense and pass rush on defense were two major problems for them last year. With another year under this coaching staff I believe the Redskins have a chance to play more cohesively as a unit. This can only help them. If the Redskins want to emerge from the 8-8 team of last year to be the playoff team they are striving for the rest of their young players must step up the way second year safety Chris Horton did last year. Work hard, stay focused, and when opportunity knocks be ready for the moment.