So there's another high-profile head coach in Washington, with Mike Shanahan charged to do what the last high-profile guy in Washington could not.
Yeah, I know, Joe Gibbs had the Redskins in the playoffs in two of his four seasons under owner Daniel Snyder. But we're talking Joe Gibbs -- Hall of Fame head coach, winner of three Super Bowls and D.C. legend. In his return to Washington his record was 30-34, he finished dead last in his division twice and he won only one playoff game.
Granted, they were the only postseason appearances for the Redskins in the last decade, but let's be honest here -- Gibbs failed to live up to expectations.
After taking a detour with Jim Zorn, the Redskins are back to big-name head coaches with big-ticket contracts, and the question is: How can Mike Shanahan do what Gibbs and Steve Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer could not? The deck is stacked against him. He doesn't have a franchise quarterback. His star running back is under fire. His offensive line stinks. The defense can't force turnovers. And he's in the NFC East with Philadelphia, the Giants and Dallas.
No wonder he's getting $7 million a year.
QB: The Redskins put a first-round tender on Jason Campbell, but don't be misled: They want and need a starter. Shanahan is smart, figuring if someone wants Campbell he'll take the first-rounder in return. And if someone doesn't, he'll stick with the guy until he finds someone better, which could be in this year's draft. Campbell looked ready to take a giant step forward in the first half of 2008 when, under the direction of Zorn, he had eight touchdowns, no interceptions and six victories. But that was the first eight games. In the 24 that followed he produced 25 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a 6-18 record. Ouch. If nothing else, he needs to quit holding on to the ball so long. After hitting rock bottom last season, he was criticized by teammate Clinton Portis, who questioned Campbell's leadership. Campbell fired back, questioning Portis' work ethic, and there, in a nutshell, is another reason why this team -- and I'd like to stress that word to Portis -- went nowhere.
|Five possibilities: Redskins|
Russell Okung, T, Oklahoma State: With Samuels gone, thereís a need at T. Heís the best in the draft.
|Draft strategy: Redskins|
|More Draft coverage|
Team Needs: All 32 teams
RB: Clinton Portis knows something about Shanahan. He played for him in Denver and was a star back for the Broncos. But Shanahan knows something about Portis, too, which is why he brought in Larry Johnson to push the guy. Another reason, of course, is that there was a vacancy, with backups Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright released in a purge of 10 veterans. Anyway, Portis is the key figure here, and it's up to Shanahan to light a fire under the guy. I know he was a lot younger then, but in his two years under Shanahan, Portis had 31 touchdowns. In his last two seasons with the Redskins he had 11. At 30, Johnson still has something left, but not enough to start. Nevertheless, his arrival should be a wake-up call to Portis. There has been a lot of talk about Portis' workout habits with Campbell calling him out after his running back fired the first salvo. "Why is no one questioning my leadership," Campbell told the Washington Post, "and everyone is questioning his work ethic?" Good question. All I know is that outgoing coach Stump Mitchell basically said the same thing. With Johnson sitting behind Portis, the message is clear: Shape up or ship out.
WR: The Redskins are in better shape here than they were at this time last year, primarily because last year they found something out about Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. And what they found is that both can be effective receivers, with each producing 25 catches and breakout ballgames. Neither is the go-to receiver, though. Not yet. That distinction still goes to Santana Moss, who led the team with 70 catches but needs an outside threat like Thomas or Kelly to steer the coverage away from him. The key number with Moss is this one: three touchdown catches. That tied for his lowest total since coming to Washington in 2005. Furthermore, his average of 12.9 yards per reception was the lowest of his career, and it doesn't take Einstein to figure out that must improve. One recommendation: Keep your eyes on second-year receiver Marko Mitchell. He has size, outstanding hands and a future, and he may be a factor.
TE: With a season-ending injury to Chris Cooley the Redskins were forced to press the inexperienced Fred Davis into duty, and hallelujah! When Washington made him a second-round draft pick in 2008, fans wondered what the club was doing. I mean, didn't they have Cooley? Then they saw Davis go to work, and, suddenly, critics clammed up. Davis is a star in the making, producing four games with five or more catches each and one with eight. He wound up with 48 receptions, and that's not bad for someone who had three in his first four games. With Cooley back, make this a position of strength.
|Jason Campbell hasn't enjoyed the greatest protection. (US Presswire)|
DL: With the Redskins going more to three-man fronts, the critical question is defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and how he adapts to a defense that, frankly, isn't suited to him. The 3-4 revolves around huge nose tackles who can eat up space and occupy blockers, and Haynesworth is huge and can occupy blockers. But his talent is getting to the backfield, disrupting traffic and sacking quarterbacks. Few were better than Haynesworth when he was with Tennessee, but a year ago he was underwhelming ... that is, when he wasn't battling injuries. Now he looks like a better fit outside in the 3-4 where he could -- maybe should -- go with the arrival of free agent Maake Kemoeatu. Let me put it another way: If Haynesworth were set at the nose, why would the Redskins have signed Kemoeatu? Washington needs a rejuvenated Haynesworth back, and playing him where he's happy is one means of getting there. With the Redskins tilting to the 3-4, another question involves pass rusher Andre Carter and a move to outside linebacker. That seems not only logical but probable. Phillip Daniels was re-signed, and he's a likely fit no matter if the Redskins play a 3-4 or a 4-3. So the other side is resolved -- unless, of course, Haynesworth makes the move there. Look for Jeremy Jarmon to be in the mix, too.
LB: Let's say the Redskins move Carter to outside linebacker, which seems likely, that means they're deep at a position where Brian Orakpo and Rocky McIntosh already excel. Now the question: Where's the second inside linebacker? You already have ageless London Fletcher there, but the 3-4 means you need a second starter -- and, no, I don't think H.B. Blades is the answer. He's better suited as a backup. Orakpo was one of the season's few success stories. Critics complained prior to last season that he wasn't suited to the Redskins' defense ... then he responded by tying Carter for the team lead in sacks and leading the club in quarterback hurries and tackles for losses. McIntosh, the Redskins' second-leading tackler, is solid on the other side, and Fletcher has been terrific in the middle. For the moment, the club is missing another body inside -- and I don't mean just a starter. The Redskins should start grooming someone to succeed Fletcher. No, he's not slowing down, but, he is undersized for a 3-4 defense, and he turns 35 in May.
DB: If there's a complaint I had with last year's defense it's that it didn't force turnovers. The club produced only 11 interceptions and recovered six fumbles, making Washington the worst in the league in takeaways. That must change, and this is a good place to start. The Redskins have talent here, just not a lot of it. Former first-round choice Carlos Rogers was an unhappy camper until he met with Shanahan. Then he promised to show up for offseason workouts, and stay tuned. Teammate DeAngelo Hall is easily the best cornerback here, but last time I checked you need two to tango. With former backup Fred Smoot gone, depth is an issue at cornerback, but I'd pay attention to Kevin Barnes. He has great size for the position, good ball skills and could push Rogers as a starter. Justin Tryon is small but OK at the nickel spot. LaRon Landry is a big hitter who looked out of position after he was moved from free to strong safety. But he is young, talented and apparently staying at the strong-safety spot. Chris Horton and Reed Doughty both have looked good as starters, but they're strong safeties, too. Something has to give, and it's Kareem Moore's play at free safety. It must improve.