Washington Redskins 2008 Preview Report

July 24, 2008 by

Washington Redskins

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 4th

2007 Record: 9-7 (3rd NFC East)

Head Coach: Jim Zorn (1st year)

 

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Jason Campbell   Prototype QB who will develop in Jim Zorn’s West Coast offense.

RB: Clinton Portis   Speed and power are only adequate. But few players in the NFL can match his heart.

FB: Mike Sellers   Can lay the lumbar on lead blocks and handle the ball when called upon. He might just be the best FB in football.

WR: Santana Moss   Great talent at his best, but by the time you finish reading this sentence, he’ll have pulled his hamstring. Twice.

WR: Antwan Randle El   Gadget player who will probably be knocked down to slot duties as soon as one of the rookies steps up.

TE: Chris Cooley   Isn’t exuberant about blocking, but the lynchpin to Washington’s offense the past couple of seasons. How will Zorn use him?

LT: Chris Samuels   Overrated as a pass-blocker, though give him credit for needing no TE help. Can destroy people in the run game.

LG: Pete Kendall   Epitomizes a solid guard.

C: Casey Rabach   Handles his business in pass protection; can occasionally land a block in space on the ground. Steady but not spectacular.

RG: Randy Thomas   Excellent run-blocker who thrives on the move. Must bounce back from a torn triceps though.

RT: Jon Jansen   Coming back from a nasty broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered in the ’07 season opener. Knows he may not be the same, which is why he’s also learning to play C.

—————-

QB: Todd Collins   Feel-good story a year ago but please, don’t think for a second that this 36-year-old should be playing ahead of Jason Campbell.

RB: Ladell Betts   Supposed to be Option 1-B in the dual backfield, but didn’t give coaches a reason to put him on the field last season.

WR: Devin Thomas*   Enticing talent; only had one good season at Michigan State. How quickly can he develop?

WR: Malcolm Kelly*   Poor 40-time and questionable reaction to it changed a few opinions about him. Supporters think his size and athleticism will make him an instant impact player.

TE: Fred Davis*   Overslept on his third day of practice, which didn’t help his reputation for a questionable work ethic. No big deal––excellent No. 2 prospect.

OL: Stephen Heyer   Athletic player who learned under fire in an injury-induced starting job as a rookie last season. Potential is there but must really fine-tune his fundamentals.

 

Defense

LDE: Jason Taylor**   Likely here for the final two years of his career. That means, for two years, the Redskins will have one of the most dominant defensive players in football.

DT: Cornelius Griffin   Has clearly lost a step as he no longer gets consistent penetration in the pass-rush or double teams against the run.

DT: Anthony Montgomery   Lack-Luster. Big time.

RDE: Andre Carter   Coming off a 10.5-sack season in which he discovered that his speed can be advantageous in run defense as well.

SLB: Marcus Washington   Terrific speed, above average size and strength, can change directions with fluidity. Just has to stay healthy. (And maybe stop aging.)

MLB: London Fletcher   Thirty-three but still ultra hyper. And, with 129 tackles in ’07, ultra productive.

WLB: Rocky McIntosh   Fine up-and-coming contributor who is not explosive but very supple. Well developed in the nuances of the game; will be a cog for 10 years.

CB: Shawn Springs   Has overcome his own fragility to still have a very respectable career on into his 30’s.

SS: LaRon Landry   Remarkable speed could make him absolutely lethal in coverage one day. Redskins need to slide him back to FS.

FS: Reed Dougherty   Acceptable attributes physically, but shaky with his reads and uncomfortable in coverage. Could improve with time.

CB: Carlos Rogers   Bright prospect when healthy, but ’07 knee surgery is expected to throw a wrench into the first half of his ’08 season.

—————–

DL: Demetric Evans   Looks good out there––especially if you like quickness. But one must ask, where is his production? Just 8.5 sacks in his four years with Washington.

LB: H.B. Blades   Being groomed as Fletcher’s replacement. Moves well and can start in a bind, but he’s not yet ready to blossom.

NB: Fred Smoot   At times has looked like a superstar. Other times, a bum. The skills are there––you’re safer to bet on him.

 

 

Key Players Acquired

DE Erasmus James (Min)

S Stuart Schweigert (Oak)

DE Jason Taylor (Mia)

 

Key Players Lost

QB Mark Brunell (Was)

WR Reche Caldwell (Stl)

WR Brandon Lloyd (Chi)

CB David Macklin (Stl)

S Pierson Prioleau (Jax)

OT Kevin Sampson

OL Ross Tucker (retired)

 

For the first time seemingly since the Roosevelt administration, Washington did not scavenge the free agent market. Perhaps being $16 million over the salary cap in February, and never more than $7 million under it at any point, had something to do with that. They did, however, trade a an ’09 second-round pick and a 2010 sixth-round pick for Taylor. He is a marvelous player, but giving up draft picks has rarely worked out for this team. James was once a first-round pick, but a blown ACL in ’06 and ’07 has all but wrecked his career. On a good day, Schweigert embodies mediocrity. Brunell was finished, and Caldwell and Lloyd never did anything. They’ll miss Prioleau on special teams.

 

2008 Draft

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

2

34

Devin Thomas

WR

Michigan State

2

48

Fred Davis

TE

USC

2

51

Malcolm Kelly

WR

Oklahoma

3

96

Chad Rinehart

T

Northern Iowa

4

124

Justin Tyron

CB

Arizona State

6

168

Durant Brooks

P

Georgia Tech

6

180

Kareem Moore

DB

Nicholls State

6

186

Colt Brennan

QB

Hawaii

7

242

Rob Jackson

DE

Kansas State

7

249

Chris Horton

FS

UCLA

 

Washington isn’t accustomed to having so many draft picks. They did alright with the heavier load. It will be interesting to see who breaks out first between Thomas and Kelly. Neither is a sure thing but both are intriguing. Thomas must prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder in the Big Ten. Kelly needs to show his poor 40-time isn’t a problem. Davis can evolve into a productive player, though you wonder how his role will cultivate behind Chris Cooley. Rinehart has been converted to G, and he can also play C. He never got beat in college. Brooks should capture the punting jobs. Brennan is a high-profile name, but he doesn’t have a strong enough arm to flourish in the NFL.

 

 

 

Washington Redskins 2008 Preview Report

Imagine President George W. Bush supporting a bill that drastically cut defense spending. Or picture the democratically-controlled congress voting to assuage some of the restrictions on firearms. Unthinkable, right?

You never know––one of the biggest wigs in D.C. recently pulled a 180 on his modus operandi. It wasn’t a politician––it was an even richer guy. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. This past offseason, the eccentric free-spender tightened the clamps. His team signed just one free agent: safety Stuart Schweigert (a move about as newsworthy as what your neighbor had for breakfast two mornings ago). This is a stark contrast to previous years where Snyder would fusillade the free agent market in search of big-name veterans to buy at 150 percent face value. (Granted, Washington did make a trade for Jason Taylor, which cost them roughly $8.1 million.)

The owner also just brought in a new coach. And no, it wasn’t a larger-than-life figure. It was some guy named Jim Zorn, a West Coast offense aficionado who had been tutoring quarterbacks up in Seattle. No bust in the Hall of Fame, no sexy “fun-n-gun offense.” Just a knowledgeable teacher of football.

So has Snyder looked at his team’s lukewarm success rate under his tenure and humbly eaten enough crow to change his ways? Not really––his hands were just tied. The free agent market was eschewed because the Redskins entered February $16 million over the salary cap. They had to restructure the contracts of virtually every prominent veteran just to scrap up $7 million in cap space.

And Snyder’s coaching change was necessitated by the second retirement of Joe Gibbs. The reason it was Zorn who got the job was that Bill Cowher wasn’t ready to get his hands dirty again. The Washington Post reported that sources close to the team’s executive vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato (the man in charge of personnel) said it looked like Snyder would attempt to make Cowher the first $10 million-a-year head coach. At one point, former Giants head coach Jim Fassel also seemed destined for the job.

Maybe Snyder never intended to break the bank for a glitzy head coach. But his search certainly covered far and wide.

Nevertheless, the job went to Zorn (hear the horned instruments petering out?). Zorn is inheriting a club that went 9-7 last season and returns 21 of 22 starters. His mission is to change the status quo. Seems logical––with the same group as a year ago, common sense reasons that maintaining the status quo would just produce another 9-7 record.

And besides, the Redskins needed a strategic shake up. Let’s face it: this club was spectacularly average under Joe Gibbs. With spread-‘em-out Al Saunders directing the offense, they weren’t running the right system for their personnel (not even close, in fact). And Washington never maintained any substantial rhythm. The Joe Gibbs Era II did little more than verify that the 80s are indeed dead.

A more conventional offensive approach could be exactly what the Skins needs. With a bang-up rushing attack headlined by workhorse Clinton Portis, an ascending quarterback in Jason Campbell and so-so receivers who, at times, can be so good, why not run a West Coast offense? The Law of Common Sense would say that putting your typical personnel in a typical scheme is the best way to maximize results.

There will be a learning curve, of course. Campbell played in a variation of the West Coast system as a senior at Auburn, but he’ll have a lot to learn under Zorn. And it will take time (it took Matt Hasselbeck about four years). Scouts have iterated that Zorn may have to alter Campbell’s slow-winding throwing motion.

The offensive line will also have to learn a new blocking style––though line coach Joe Bugel is still around.

And the receivers––currently tiny but quick guys, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El––will find themselves running more short, physical routes. Are they cut out for it? Of course, not––why do you think 6’2” Devin Thomas and 6’4” Malcolm Kelly were drafted so early?

Defensively, Gregg Williams––once the presumed replacement to Joe Gibbs––is out. Not wanting to mutate a unit that ranked eighth in yards allowed last season, Snyder simply promoted defensive line coach Greg Blache to Williams’s old coordinator position. Blache is well versed in the aggressive Cover 2 that his predecessor employed, and he plans to keep the same overall guidelines intact. However, look for Washington to use more zone blitzes in 2008 and ask more of the corners in man-coverage.

Returning essentially all starters means, regardless of the system changes, there will be much of the same in D.C. Given what this team persevered through last season, maybe that’s a good thing. The Redskins’ noble team character and chemistry were cemented by the way everyone handled the shooting death of teammate Sean Taylor. The dignity translated on the field (Washington lost to Buffalo in their first game after the tragedy but proceeded to win their final four contests and reach the postseason).

Not surprisingly, this is a veteran club. Every starter on the offensive and defensive lines ––minus defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery and defensive end Andre Carter––is at least 31 years old. Offensive focal point Clinton Portis has matured in recent years, showing a newfound commitment to offseason training and an honorable win-first attitude.

On the other side of the ball, the two best players outside of second-year stud LaRon Landry are linebackers Marcus Washington and London Fletcher (30 and 33, respectively).

All in all, it’s a solid group in Washington. But don’t you think that eventually, the record-setting crowds at FedEx Stadium will want to see something more than just solid?

 

Offense

Last season, 13th-year backup Todd Collins relieved an injured Jason Campbell in December and led the Redskins on a four-game winning streak and the most unlikely of playoff appearances. Collins averaged 8.46 yards per pass attempt and, during the regular season, threw five touchdowns and no picks. In other words, he executed his backup duties extremely well.

But don’t think for a minute that Jim Zorn has a decision to make between his Cinderella vet and the strong-armed Campbell. There are several reasons why Campbell is the right man to start under center in ’08. And yes, some of them are political. Collins will be 37 in November. Campbell will be 27 in December. Collins was a run-of-the-mill free agent acquisition. Campbell was the quarterback that they traded a first, third-and fourth-round pick just to draft in Round One.

Going beyond politics, Campbell is simply a superior player to Collins. His ball has greater velocity, he’s better built and more athletic. Campbell’s growing pains have been relevant and, given that he’s learning his third different offense in his fourth season, it will remain that way. Whether Campbell is the horse to hitch the wagon to in the long-haul remains to be seen (he has two years left on his original contract, and negotiations between his agent and the team have not opened up). But he’s clearly the horse for 2008.

The hiring of quarterback guru Zorn indicates that Dan Snyder and his men are confident in what they have in Campbell. It will be primarily Zorn’s responsibility to help the progressing passer improve his mechanics and short-area accuracy.

To aid the process, Washington will feature tight end Chris Cooley as a quasi-H-back. Cooley is the quintessential X-factor. A mediocre runner and somewhat restricted athlete, he’s not a lethal threat standing alone. But he’s dynamic enough to create mismatches against linebackers. Zorn plans on exploiting this by putting the fifth-year tight end in motion, splitting him out wide and even bringing him out of the backfield on occasion.

Rookie Fred Davis impresses scouts with his receiving abilities, but there are questions about his work ethic and mechanics. Washington has a tolerable blocking tight end in Todd Yoder, but they would obviously prefer that their second-round pick develop in a hurry. The fact that fullback Mike Sellers is a powerful blocker who can also make the intermittent play with the ball in his hands alleviates some of the dependency on the second tight end.

Cooley is more of a star role player than a go-to option. The Redskins need one of their wideouts to step up and embrace a featured role in 2008. Three years ago, Santana Moss did exactly this. He caught 84 balls for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. However, since that season, Moss has been hampered by one minor injury after another. And his numbers over the last two years barely match his ’05 output. It’s no longer safe to assume that the 29-year-old can contribute on a consistent basis.

The West Coast offense is a catch-and-run system, which seems ideal for the lightning-quick Moss (5’10”, 200) and multitalented Antwaan Randle El (5’10”, 192). However, the system also demands more physical prowess in traffic––something neither veteran is capable of. That’s why second-round rookies Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly will be hurried along in their effort to crack the starting lineup.

The Redskins would be wise to stay on the ground often in 2008. Last season, they ran the ball 498 times, the most of any team in the NFC. The idea of pacing Clinton Portis in an effort to save the soon-to-be 27-year-old for the long-haul is still alive, but just barely. Portis is an intrinsically physical player; it’s hard not to pound him. He compensates for a lack of quickness with a formidable shoulder dip, and he doesn’t know how to run without fighting for the extra yard. He rushed for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but it took him 325 carries to do it. What’s more, Portis is too good of a pass-blocker to take out on third downs. He also caught 47 passes in ’07.

The Redskins have the personnel to lighten Portis’s load, as backup Ladell Betts is capable of posting big numbers. Betts, however, has not thrived in a complimentary role (his production comes when he’s replacing an injured Portis in the starting lineup). His play dropped off significantly last season, as Gibbs’s staff was reluctant to give him the ball because so many of his touches resulted in negative yards.

Portis must stay healthy, and so must the right side of his offensive line. In particular, guard Randy Thomas. One of the premiere run-blockers in football, Thomas has suffered two significant injuries in the past three years. He broke his right fibula in December ’05, and last season he missed all but three games with a torn triceps. His mobility should remain well above average; the question is, can he continue to amplify it with brute power?

The man on Thomas’s right poses even greater concerns. Tackle Jon Jansen missed all of 2004 with a blown Achilles. Last year, he went down in Week 1 with a gruesome broken leg and dislocated ankle. Jansen is a wise veteran who knows that, exquisite technique and all, he may never regain the form that once made him an upper-tier tackle. He’s learning to play the center position as a fallback option.

Should Jansen find himself limited in space, he could back up solid but unspectacular Casey Rabach fulltime at center. In that case, second-year pro Stephen Heyer would likely resume his progression at right tackle. Heyer lacks lower-body girth and is more suited for the left side, but he’s still a better option than pass-blocking liabilities Todd Wade and Jason Fabini.

Heyer is relegated to the right side because three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels is only 31. Samuels is a trusted pass-blocker––the Redskins don’t feel compelled to give him much tight end help––but his greatest strength is actually in the ground game. He operates well next to rock-solid veteran Pete Kendall, who provides excellent run-blocking movement in both directions. Kendall is still playing at a high level, but his 35 years of age convinced the Skins to draft tackle-turned-guard-turned-substitute center Chad Rinehart in the third round.

 

Defense

Given that new coordinator Greg Blache spent the past four years coaching the defensive line, you’d think he would be most excited about the addition of Jason Taylor. Prior to Taylor’s arrival, the Redskins had one of the most anemic front lines in football. The only starter not handicapped by age or athletic limitations was end Andre Carter. His speed off the edge generated 10.5 sacks last season. And for the first time in his eight-year career, Carter wasn’t a millstone against the run (though, weighing 252, he’ll never be great when opponents run right at him).

The end opposite Carter was supposed to be 35-year-old Phillip Daniels. However, a blown ACL wiped out his season (and likely career), prompting the team to trade for Taylor. In his 12th season, Taylor remains one of the most dynamic defensive forces in the game. He is a monster against the pass and a master at creating turnovers.

Demetric Evans handles a backup role and looks good on film, but when you check the records, you see that he has never registered more than three sacks in a single season. Washington has an intriguing prospect in second-year pro Chris Wilson. The Northwood (MI) product has a quick first step, which helped him reach the quarterback four times in limited action last season.

Even with Taylor, formulating a pass-rush will be somewhat challenging considering the utter lack of explosiveness at defensive tackle. Wear-and-tear is taking a toll on Cornelius Griffin, as he no longer has the burst to wreak havoc and attract double teams on a regular basis. Griffin’s run defense has actually declined more than his pass-rush.

Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston are constantly competing for the other starting defensive tackle job. It’s an epic battle of hebetude, as both players have mastered the art of blending in and taking up space.

To the D-line’s credit, all four starters are capable of holding their ground against the run. With a linebacking trio as formidable as Marcus Washington-London Fletcher-Rocky McIntosh, it’s plausible that the Redskins will match their rush defense ranking (four) of a year ago. Marcus Washington is an elite athlete with good speed that becomes great thanks to his instincts. He has, however, missed small chunks of time with various injuries the past two seasons. (This is not insignificant considering he turns 31 in October.)

If Energizer Bunny jokes weren’t so played out, it would be charming to make one about Fletcher. As seemingly the case with every Redskin, Fletcher’s age (33) is worth noting. But it’s not worth dwelling on. Fletcher has produced over 115 tackles in each of the past seven seasons (one of them coming in St. Louis, five of them coming in Buffalo, and the most recent one coming here). His motor and intelligence legitimize his vocal leadership.

Fletcher’s intended Mike replacement is already on the roster: last year’s sixth-round pick H.B. Blades. Blades is currently learning the professional game from a reserve role. However, the man who will one day fill Fletcher’s shoes production-wise, is current weakside starter Rocky McIntosh. Everything about the third-year veteran’s game is sinuous and controlled. McIntosh is already a fine pass defender, and his fundamentals and football IQ will soon make him a standout run-stopper.

The Redskins have spent the past few years stocking their secondary through the draft. The late Sean Taylor’s popularity as a person has masked an issue that, from a real-world standpoint is immaterial, but from a football standpoint is gargantuan. That issue is, Taylor was a darn good player. Maybe even a great player. Losing him dealt a major on-field blow to the defensive backfield.

The rise of LaRon Landry’s star prevents the Redskins from being in a bind. Drafted to tag-team with Taylor, the first-round pick from LSU will instead carve out a solo legacy. Not wanting to compromise Taylor’s prominence at free safety, Washington originally lined the 213-pound Landry up on the strong side. That wasn’t his prime spot. Landry is a fierce hitter who can thrive in traffic, but he’s more extraordinary in the open-field, where he can change fortunes as a playmaker in space. His speed gives him stunning range––the type of range that leads to double-digit interception seasons. Landry can also become a missile in run defense once he matures as a player and learns to take better angles to the ball.

If Reed Doughty continues to start, then Landry will almost certainly play free safety. Doughty has adequate strength at the point of attack and can handle run defense, but he is jittery in coverage. Ex-Raider Stuart Schweigert is a poor tackler who can only play free safety. If he starts, the Redskins would shift Landry back down near the box. This would be an inexcusable blunder by the coaching staff. Failing to maximize the burgeoning talent of Landry in an effort to play the woefully average Schweigert would be like rejecting an eight-day trip to Hawaii in order to spend 10 days in Wichita Falls.

Former first-round cornerback Carlos Rogers was on the rise before a blown knee ended his 2007 campaign. Rogers is not expected back on the field until midseason, which means Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs will hold down the starting spots. Smoot is wildly inconsistent, though he played the best ball of his career late in the season last year. If he picks up where he left off, he’ll be one of the top 10 corners in the game.

Springs continues to go strong despite being 33 and somewhat prone to injury. He’s an aggressive tackler who brings a lot to the run defense. Temporary nickel back Leigh Torrence is serviceable but tends to take bad angles in short coverage.

 

Special Teams

Washington’s coverage units are upper-class, having ranked third on kickoffs and sixth on punts last season. Kicker Shaun Suisham has alright range, but he tends to tremble under pressure. Punter Derrick Frost is coming off a bad year and now must keep his job from sixth-round rookie Durant Brooks. Brooks was the Ray Guy Award winner––i.e. best punter in the nation––at Georgia Tech last year. (Opening a document from the irony folder, Brooks’s mother once sold fellow Georgia resident Ray Guy a horse when her son was in high school. Guy eventually became a mentor to the kid.)

Rock Cartwright is the team’s all-time leading kick returner. Antwaan Randle El has been surprisingly banal running back punts (6.1 yards per return last season).

 

Bottom Line

The Redskins have the talent of a fringe playoff team. If the new coaching staff can ignite a spark in 2008, Washington will make some noise. More likely, however, the new staff will present a tedious transition period that will delay the club’s progress in the short-term. The ultra competitive NFC East division is not conducive to times of transition.

 

 

 

Myth Buster

Antwaan Randle El is a dangerous playmaker

Not as a Redskin. Randle El is actually just a fleet runner who can handle the ball in a variety of ways. He can catch, run and throw, plus he’s experienced in the return game. This doesn’t mean he’s a home run threat though.

Randle El’s yards per catch last season was 14.3, and he scored just one touchdown. The year before last, Randle El averaged only 11 yards per reception and didn’t gain anything over 34.

As a runner, Randle El totaled minus-one yard on four attempts in 2007. His punt return average was a measly 6.1, with his longest return gaining just 27 yards.

Randle El is a fine role player––he’s just not a playmaker.

 

 

Open Thought

Nothing exemplifies the mightiness of the NFL more than Washington’s mascot. A Redskin? Really? In this day and age, every nickname that is remotely related to any non-white ethnic group is perceived as a harmful stereotype.

The NCAA has tinkered with the idea of banning tribal mascots in recent years, and it even outlawed schools from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships” back in 2005.

The P.C. crusade has targeted names like Fighting Illini, Utes, Seminoles, and even Braves.

All the while, the professional team from the nation’s capital continues to flourish in every business sense with an epithet that generalizes Native Americans by the color of their skin. And there’s no wrinkle to the Redskin name––it’s exactly what it sounds like. The logo is simply the face of a Native American who has red skin. Where is the outcry?

I am in no way calling for an outcry; I’m just wondering where it is. I have no problem with the Redskins whatsoever. But, unlike with some of the collegiate mascots that have come into question, I could certainly understand why someone else might.

Think anyone would tolerate the name Brownskins? What about Yellowskins? Think people would respond well if the Cowboys––the Redskins’ biggest rival, by the way––changed their name to the Whiteskins?

 

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