The Nickel Package: Samuels to Hawaii

The Nickel Package: Chris Samuels' play has earned him a Pro Bowl berth.

1. Chris Samuels to the Pro Bowl. Good for him; Samuels has played through injuries the past few seasons, never complains and works hard. Did he deserve it? Well, he plays the toughest spot on the line and has done a fine job. Is he one of the top left tackles? I'm not sure, but he is good. And no one endured more during the Steve Spurrier era than Samuels. Then-line coach Kim Helton was not good for Samuels' confidence, nor was the scheme. Plus Samuels had to learn how to play without a stout veteran next to him, which nipped at his confidence as well. It would still help him to play next to someone other than mistake-prone Derrick Dockery.

2. Andre Carter. So, the man can play a little, huh? It's about time we saw it, but in Carter's defense he was hindered two years ago by a back injury and last year by a move to linebacker. He's way to stiff to play off the line. I'm still not sold on Carter as anything more than a guy who can help occasionally. The Redskins say he can play the run well; my eyes say otherwise, as do others around the league. Still, Carter's play has improved and he is making plays. He is athletic enough to chase guys down from the backside, too, as Reggie Bush learned Sunday. The Redskins coaches have been pleased all along with Carter. But does anyone feel comfortable returning with the same D-line? There's no way you can; not when you look at how little pressure they've generated. Whether it's a tackle who can rush the passer next to Cornelius Griffin or another end, the Redskins still have needs on the line.

3. Improved health. Lemar Marshall has been rather ordinary -- at best -- this season. In a cover-2 zone defense, if the middle linebacker can't cover well, then the pass D falls apart. And Marshall has not covered well. Nor has he gotten off blocks most of the season. It makes you wonder: was that the result of his offseason shoulder and knee surgeries? The Redskins are convinced that's the case, which might force them to look elsewhere other than middle linebacker in free agency. And, yes, that's where they see him in the future. Also, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin also has played hurt with a hip injury most of the season. If those two can return healthy next season, that's a boost for the D. In Marshall's case, he spent all offseason rehabbing. By the time July had rolled around, he was not as strong as he normally would have been had he simply worked out all offseason. It's made a difference. Next year, we'll see just how big that difference was.

4. Betts vs. Portis. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs says Portis is still his main running back. So when the season opens next season, Portis will be the starter. Why is that? Partly because those runs in which Ladell Betts gets to the secondary are ones that Portis can spring for a touchdown. And don't forget: the way Betts is running now is the way Portis ran last year during the final five games, and playoffs. Still, Betts will get plenty of carries next season. Considering Portis will be coming off shoulder surgery, it makes sense for the Redskins to at least lessen the load a little. Or a lot. Just look at Marshall for an example of how long it takes for such injuries to fully recover. But what Betts has done highlights the belief that you don't need to spend a lot of money at running back.

5. Finding an identity. The Redskins will end the season having found their offensive personality. Which is cause for celebration. Except when you consider that they had found it last year at this time, too. Let's hope this time Joe Gibbs doesn't go and change things again, which it does not sound as if he will do. What he does need to change is how he conducts training camp. Not every player believes what happened in camp has led to a 5-9 record -- others have said they've been in easier camps -- but clearly they weren't prepared coming out of camp. Why? You can blame Gibbs for switching offenses for starters. But there did seem to be a lack of urgency in camp, save for Gibbs. Too many people believed a flip would be switched and everything would change. Look for camp to be different next year. Maybe not be a lot, but perhaps more physical.


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