1) Protect Patrick Ramsey. If rookie passer Ramsey wasn't being sacked, he was fumbling or throwing an interception. Ramsey will be more efficient this year from having played a fair amount in 2002 and his protection should be much improved with the signings of guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore. Those factors are critical since Washington faces eight players who reached double-digits in sacks led by Maimi end Jason Taylor (18-1/2).
2) Generate a pass rush. LaVar Arrington had a team-high 11 sacks last season while playing end in passing situations, but new defensive coordinator George Edwards will oblige his ace linebacker by greatly reducing his time with his hand down. If that cuts Arrington's sacks and end Bruce Smith doesn't approach the surprising nine sacks he recorded at age 39, that could spell big trouble since no other 2003 Redskin had more than 2-1/2 sacks in 2002.
3) Attack the weaknesses of opposing defenses. Hue Jackson has been given the offensive coordinator title, but this is coach Steve Spurrier's job. Spurrier combined naivete and hubris during his NFL coaching debut by knowing so little about the opposition and never seeming to care to learn. He went after top cornerbacks as if they were weak links and didn't try to expose ailing defenders. Spurrier has vowed to change this year. He must.
4) Improve the special teams. The Redskins, who used 10 kickers the past five years, were smart to sign John Hall away from the New York Jets. But they're still stuck with over-the-hill punter Bryan Barker and don't have a proven punt returner. And their coverage teams were also awful. Re-signing veterans Kevin Mitchell and Eddie Mason would help as would Spurrier devoting more than minimal practice time to this critical aspect of the game.
5) Establish the run. Washington dispensed with two-time NFC rushing champion Stephen Davis because Spurrier wants to throw, throw and throw again. However, unless Ramsey turns into Brett Favre overnight, the Redskins are going to have run effectively and often enough to keep defenses honest. Not even the Rams' "Greatest Show On Turf" would have much success throwing against seven or eight pass defenders.
6) Let LaVar be LaVar. Last year's defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, had been so successful in Baltimore that he forced his system onto his personnel in Washington. After plenty of early complaining, the Redskins adjusted. However, Arrington was never that happy. Edwards has said that he's basically going to let the most gifted member of the front seven roam the field. That makes No. 56 smile and when No. 56 smiles, everybody smiles.
7) Keep Champ happy. Champ Bailey was frustrated when relieved of his punt return duties last year and shocked when Spurrier said he could play receiver in 2003 only if he gave up playing cornerback. With all the bonus money the Redskins dished out this winter, the franchise tag seems the only way to keep impending free agent Bailey in 2004, but he'll chafe at that. Management must get creative to avoid a showdown with the lockdown corner.
8) Smoot must bounce back. In the wake of Bailey's situation, fellow corner Fred Smoot is even more critical. However Smoot is coming off a season that was a comedown from his solid rookie debut. If Smoot played as well as he talks, he would be All-Pro. He needs to show that he's a No. 1-type corner in case Bailey's mind is elsewhere this year.
9) Win on the road. The Redskins were over .500 at home (5-3) last year for just the fourth time in the decade since Gibbs' departure. However, Washington was just 2-6 on the road. Playoff teams don't fare so miserably under adverse circumstances. It's no coincidence that the last Redskins team with a winning road record was the 1991 Super Bowl champions.
10) Stay healthy. The Redskins had bumps and bruises like every team last year, but arguably their 10 most important players -- Davis, Ramsey, Arrington, Bailey, Smoot, offensive tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen, receiver Rod Gardner, defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter combined to miss just 10 games. Substitute new wideout Laveranues Coles for Davis and Upshaw for Gardener and hope for the same good luck. Of this crew, only Trotter has ever been seriously hurt. How long can that last?
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