Outlook: After several years of racing cars and being an analyst on football broadcasts, Hall-of-Fame head coach Joe Gibbs took his place on the sidelines in D.C. last season, hoping to "wake the echoes" of seasons past for a downtrodden Redskins franchise. What Gibbs, owner Daniel Snyder and Redskins fans got was the third best defense and the third worst offense in the league and only the second losing season in Gibbs' head coaching career.
One had to expect some growing pains during Gibbs' return to the sideline, but after a tumultuous offseason that saw two of the defense's best players (OLB Lavar Arrington and FS Sean Taylor) complain about their treatment by the team, the trade of its best receiver (Laveranues Coles) for an underachieving replacement (Santana Moss) and the free agency loss of two key members of the defense (CB Fred Smoot and MLB Antonio Pierce) one has to expect things to get better right?
Not so fast.
Gibbs, long known as an inventive offensive coach, hasn't settled on a starting quarterback yet and is facing the prospect of his third starter in less than a year. RB Clinton Portis grumbled during the season about how he was being used and a less-than productive receiving corps has added some bodies, but it remains to be seen whether they will be any better than those who have been released.
Look for the Redskins to become more run-oriented, playing to Portis' strengths while also taking the pressure off of young signal-callers (Patrick Ramsey or rookie Jason Campbell) who have the talent, but are not ready to carry the weight of the team on their shoulders.
Defensively, Greg Williams designed inventive game plans that confused opponents and kept the Redskins in games they had no business being in. If Williams is able to maintain the success of the 2004, he could be looking at another head coaching gig in the very near future.
Quarterbacks: Third-year pro Patrick Ramsey took over for veteran Mark Brunell halfway through the season and finished with a 3-5 record in games he started. He completed 62.1% of his passes (the best of his career), for 1,665 yards, 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He still holds the ball too long and his decisions still need work, but he has good arm strength, decent mobility and toughness.
Brunell really struggled last year, completing less than 50% of his passes, but his experience and veteran leadership are invaluable for the offense. He can still get you an occasional win off the bench in a pinch, but his starting days are probably over.
Evidence that the end may be near for Brunell also came when the team drafted Campbell in April. The Redskins swapped three draft choices for the chance to move into the late first round to select the signal-caller from Auburn. Campbell is an excellent athlete, reminding some people of Donovan McNabb in his ability to create with his feet while still making plays with his arm. He comes in as the number three, developmental quarterback, but keep an eye on him this fall, as Gibbs still doesn't seem sold on Ramsey's abilities to lead this team to where he wants it to go.
Running Backs: Portis is one of the better feature-backs in the league, but he struggled last year in his first year away from Denver. Portis excelled in the stretch plays the Broncos feature in their system, and didn't in the slow-developing gap plays that the Redskins feature.
With an underachieving line in front of him, he still managed to rush for 1,315 yards and five touchdowns, but only managed 3.8 yards per carry. He runs tougher than one would expect from a 205-pound back, gaining most of his yardage between the tackles, but he has the speed to hit the corner and take it the distance.
Portis is also an underrated receiver out of the backfield, catching 40 passes for 235 yards and two more scores.
Backup RB Ladell Betts may be better suited for Washington's schemes, but don't expect a running back controversy. He carried the ball 90 times last season for 371 yards and one touchdown. Expect more of the same this coming season from the three-year veteran.
Converting only 13 short third down plays, the Redskins took FB Manuel White in the fourth round to help out in short-yardage situations and he could take some carries from Portis down near the goal line as well.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Coles and fellow-starter Rod Gardner both underachieved last year, but that wasn't necessarily their fault. Each struggled with the revolving quarterback door and their stats showed it.
The trade of Coles for Moss and the acquisition of former New England Patriots WR David Patten immediately brought a new face to the Redskins receiving corps. As of this writing, Gardner is still on the roster, but it is expected that he could be cut or traded before the season starts.
Last year, Coles and Gardner accounted for 141 receptions, 1600 yards and six touchdowns. They only averaged 11.4 yards per catch, which is well below what was expected of two receivers with their skills. Patten and Moss both excel with the ball in their hands and both should be able to increase the potential for big plays in the passing game.
Veteran James Thrash and youngster Taylor Jacobs, who hasn't developed as fast as expected, round out the four-receiver sets and both need to step up their production in 2005. Thrash caught only 17 passes for 203 yards, while Jacobs registered only 16 receptions for 178 yards. Neither scored a touchdown.
At tight end, the Redskins have an underrated player in Chris Cooley. Cooley was taken in the third round of the 2004 draft and played better than the team could have hoped for. He posted 37 receptions for 314 yards and a team-leading 6 touchdown receptions. He has excellent hands, good athleticism and decent size, but he isn't a dominating blocker. He should improve in this area as he gains experience and bulk.
Robert Royal and Mike Sellers are the backup tight ends who see time in the two-tight end sets and on special teams. Royal is an excellent blocker and Sellers is an outstanding special teams player.
Offensive Line: The offensive line underachieved last year, but they have some nice pieces to work with and if they can put it all together, they could be pretty good.
At LT Chris Samuels is an above-average pass-blocker, but he lacks the intensity to dominate in the run game. He has good size, but doesn't use his bulk to his advantage. RT Jon Jansen, who missed the entire 2004 season with a torn Achilles tendon, is the exact opposite of Samuels, excelling in run-blocking, but lacking the foot speed to be anything better than average as a pass-blocker. He should be fully recovered following 12 months of rehab on his Achilles, but it remains to be seen how it will affect his mobility during the season. If he is at full strength, Jansen is the leader of this unit.
C Casey Rabach replaces Corey Raymer in the pivot and is an upgrade at that spot. Both guard spots are manned by solid performers in Randy Thomas and Derrick Dockery. Thomas is considered one of the best in the league at his position and Dockery is developing into a steady performer.
The backup jobs are held down by Raymer, Josh Warner at guard and the versatile Ray Brown who can back up four of the five line positions.
Defensive Line: The Redskins don't ask their defensive line to do much because the playmakers on the defense are the linebackers. What they ask their linemen to do is clog gaps and occupy blockers, while their athletic linebackers fly to the ball.
DT Cornelius Griffin is the best player along the line. He finished fifth on the team with 70 tackles, led the team in tackles for loss with 14.5 and tied for the lead in sacks with six. He has a quick first step and uses his good size to hold off defenders and make tackles in the running game.
Next to Griffin will be a rotation of Joe Salave'a and Brandon Noble. Both are good at occupying blockers, but neither is very adept at penetrating on passing downs and both struggle to make plays out of their area.
Reynaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels will start at defensive end, but both are playing out the end of their careers. Wynn, entering his ninth season, still gets decent pressure from the outside, but he can usually be handled by one blocker. Daniels, entering his tenth season, holds strong at the point of the attack, but gets little if any pressure on the quarterback. He missed most of the season last year with pulled muscles in his groin and abdomen as well as a broken thumb and wrist problem. He is back to 100% and should be able to push for playing time during camp.
The line is solid, but other than Griffin, nothing to write home about.
Linebackers: Arrington is arguably one of the best linebackers in the league. He is very athletic and ultra-intense. He can rush the passer, pursue the ball anywhere on the field and even drop into pass-coverage. He was upset with management for a perceived lack of support when he was injured last season, feeling they rushed him back too soon following knee surgery. He is still the best playmaker on the defense and his leadership is invaluable on the field when the defense needs a big play.
Fourth-year pro Lemar Marshall will do his best to replace Pierce at the all-important middle linebacker post. Pierce led the team with 110 tackles, but even more importantly, he made all of the defensive calls. Marshall is a good tackler, registering 65 tackles and 1.5 sacks in spot duty. He may have his hands full this season, so the team acquired some insurance this offseason by signing 13-year veteran Mike Barrow to the roster. Barrow sat out the entire 2004 season, so it remains to be seen if he can knock the rust off his aging body.
Opposite Arrington at the other outside position will be Marcus Washington. Washington played well in his first year after coming over from Indianapolis. He finished second on the team with 102 tackles, 4.5 sacks, finished second on the team in tackles for loss with 10.5 and forced one fumble. He isn't great in coverage, but he is good enough.
The backups at outside linebacker are Chris Clemons and Brian Allen. Both are good special teams players, but they are only substitution players on the defense.
Defensive Backs: The loss of Smoot to free agency hurt, but the team thinks they found a more athletic, while admittedly, less-experienced replacement in first-round selection Carlos Rogers. Rogers is big (6'0, 200) and fast enough to stay with most wideouts in the league. He excels in man-to-man situations, relying on his strength and leaping ability to make plays when the ball is in the air.
Veteran Shawn Springs, who came over from Seattle as a free agent in 2004, mans the other spot. Spring had one of the best seasons of his career, finishing tied for first on the team with six sacks, while recording the most interceptions (5) since 1999 and the most tackles (64) since 2000. He has lost some speed, but he is strong and has decent playmaking abilities.
Walt Harris and Garnell Wilds are the backups at corner and they have experience, but not a lot else.
At safety, the Redskins have an outstanding player in Taylor. He could revolutionize the position with his athleticism, but it remains to be seen if he will live up to his enormous potential. As a rookie he finished third on the team in tackles with 75, finished second on the team in interceptions with four and led the team with 15 passes defensed. Taylor has spent this offseason in a contract dispute, wanting to renegotiate the contract he signed last year, ala Terrell Owens.
Taylor also faces two felony counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and a misdemeanor count of battery from an incident in South Florida last month. Taylor was arraigned on June 24. Published reports have indicated that law enforcement officials are confident that they have sufficient evidence to prosecute the former Hurricane.
Anticipating that Taylor could miss some time this season, the Redskins went out and signed Tony Dixon on June 18th. Dixon is solid, but definitely not the playmaker that Taylor is.
SS Matt Bowen missed all but the first four games last year with a knee injury, but should be healthy heading into training camp this fall. He isn't a great athlete, but he is tough and makes plays when he is in position. He struggles when faced with making an open field tackle and he lacks ideal size for the strong safety position. In zone coverage he has the speed to cover the deep third of the field and if a ball is thrown in his area, he wins his fair share of the battles.
Special Teams: 16-year veteran P Tom Tupa is like the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going. Tupa punted 103 times, second most in the league, and still finished third in league with a 44.1 yard average. Where he struggled was in his net average which was 37.1. That wasn't always his fault as injuries took a toll on the coverage units.
One of the battles to watch during training camp this summer will be at kicker where Jeff Chandler and John Hall will battle it out. Neither excelled during the season and it is hoped one wins the job, rather than one not losing it.
Thrash and Moss will be the main threats at the return spots. Thrash will return kicks and Moss will probably handle the punt return duties. Moss can be explosive in the open field and he is a threat to take it all the way every time he fields a punt.
Final Prediction: The real key is the play of the quarterback position. If the wide receivers and the quarterbacks can form a nice rapport then the Redskins could really take off. The team also needs more big plays from Portis. The return of Jansen cannot be underestimated either.
The defense is strong enough to keep this team in most games and with Gibbs' ability to get the most of out players you can bet the Redskins are not going to be a team you can overlook.
The Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the division, but with a better offense the Redskins could put up nine or ten wins and be a wild-card team in 2005.
Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opponent Preview: The Washington Redskins
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