It would be easy for the starters on a Redskins offense that finished 13th overall, fourth in rushing and fifth in sacks per pass to blame the fallen defense for Washington's disastrous 5-11 season.
After all, the Redskins defense crashed from ninth in 2005 to 31st in 2006 while ranking 27th against the run and last in sacks per pass.
However, veterans on the offense haven't forgotten that the members of the other side of the ball didn't distribute blame in 2004 when Washington went 6-10 despite having the NFL's third-ranked defense.
"We can't point fingers at the defense," offensive tackle Chris Samuels said. "What about the last two seasons when they saved our behinds?"
The players who were part of those superb defenses remain baffled as to how their unit -- minus only strong safety Ryan Clark (now with the Steelers) and part-time starters LaVar Arrington (Giants) and Walt Harris (49ers) -- collapsed so miserably in 2006.
The defensive downturn began when top cornerback Shawn Springs was sidelined for six weeks following pelvic surgery on Aug. 15 and only really halted in late-season games against Carolina, Philadelphia and New Orleans, by which the point Washington was already 3-7.
"When you're 5-11, there are questions on everybody," Springs said. "If you're just not good enough, you're just not good enough."
With Springs, linebackers Marcus Washington, Lemar Marshall and Warrick Holdman (a free agent), defensive end Phillip Daniels and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin all already 30, a tight salary cap situation and just one pick (sixth overall) in the first four rounds of the draft, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams' best shot at repairing his defense is hoping that 2006 was just a down year for a bunch of players who had shown before that they could get the job done.
"When you're a long way from where you were, it's a very disappointing year," Marshall said. "Everybody's scrambling trying to figure out why (it happened). Will it be fixed? We'll find out next year."
The defense's biggest needs are a pass-rushing end to complement sacks leader Andre Carter (six) and a cover corner to challenge Carlos Rogers, who had a rough second season, and smooth Springs' eventual transition to safety.The ideal scenario would have the Redskins signing free agent corner Nate Clements, who played for Williams and cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray in Buffalo, and using their top draft choice on that elusive end.