Insider Exchange: Redskins

The editors for and exchanged questions and answers regarding the upcoming Monday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins. What can Vikings fans expect from Ladell Betts, Mark Brunell and Washington's defense and special teams? Rich Tandler gives us his take.

Q: If Clinton Portis doesn't play, should the Vikings be wary of Ladell Betts? What does he bring, and how much of a contribution can T.J. Duckett be expected to make?

Rich Tandler:
Betts is a good, solid back. He's not going to break a 65-yard run on you, but he can hit the hole and move the chains. The biggest dropoff the Redskins will suffer from if Betts is in for Portis is in the area of pass protection. Portis is excellent at picking up blitzing linebackers—he knocked a Buccaneer LB woozy in the playoff game last January—while Betts, well, sucks at it. Your guess as to Duckett's role is as good as anyone else's. He played little in the couple of preseason games they played after he was acquired and he just took handoffs up the middle. The logical assumption is that, regardless of whether or not Portis plays, Duckett will get the rock in short-yardage and goal-line situations. (Note: it now seems less likely that Portis will play as he missed Wednesday's practice).

Q: The Vikings' defense looks to be vastly better with their new scheme and a few new faces this year? How vulnerable is QB Mark Brunell with his age and his offensive line?

Brunell is pretty nimble for an old guy and he's managed to slide out of trouble pretty well. For the first time in six years the same starting offensive line will take the field for the season opener. It's a solid unit with Pro Bowler Chris Samuels and veteran Jon Jansen at the tackles, Randy Thomas, the team's best O-lineman last year before breaking his leg in Week 15, and up-and-coming Derrick Dockery at guard and an improving Casey Rabach at center. In short, Brunell is no more vulnerable than any other quarterback in the NFL.

Q: How do you characterize this defense without LaVar Arrington being a part of it?

It's one of the best in the NFL either with or without him. Playing in 17 games in an aggressive, blitzing scheme since Gregg Williams came to the Redskins in 2004, Arrington recorded one sack and zero interceptions. As Arrington personally floundered, the defense thrived, moving from one ranked near the bottom of the NFL to one of the elite defenses in the league. For a variety of reasons—chief among them being that he was a freelancer in a defense that demanded discipline—Arrington was not a good fit in the defensive scheme. He certainly wasn't worth the $12 million cap hit that the team would have taken if he had been on the roster.

Q: The Vikings' special teams could be shaky in both the return and coverage teams from what has been shown so far in preseason. How worried should Vikings fans be with Washington's coverage and return teams?

Joe Gibbs has always been a special teams believer and the units have improved remarkably since his return. Achievements on teams are celebrated just as much as ones on offense and defense are. Coverage is excellent on punts, but they are prone to giving up the long kickoff return on occasion. Two different players, Betts and the now-departed Antonio Brown, returned kickoffs for touchdowns last year, so that's a tribute to the blocking unit. Punt return results weren't nearly as spectacular, and that's one reason why they dropped so much money on Antwaan Randle El, who will handle those duties. He didn't return one in preseason, so we'll have to see how that turns out.

Q: Some Redskins fans don't believe that if Shawn Springs is missing from the lineup it will hurt the Redskins much because the Vikings don't have a very strong group of receivers, having lost Koren Robinson and Nate Burleson. Take us through the first few receivers on the Vikings' depth chart and tell us what Gregg Williams has to worry about from each of them.

Tim Yotter:
Burleson would have been an ideal West Coast receiver, and he should be for the Seahawks, while Koren Robinson was expected to be the deep threat even though he really didn't get into much of an offensive groove last year. But, with the new system Brad Childress is bringing from Philadelphia, Troy Williamson and recently signed Todd Pinkston are the deep threats, while Travis Taylor is more of the precise route runner. However, Pinkston has his obvious flaws (as Redskins fans probably know), but Williamson appears to be getting pretty comfortable catching the ball underneath and making yards after the catch. It appears that he could be in a prime position to break out in his sophomore year. Taylor led the team in receiving yards last season and tight end Jermaine Wiggins just somehow finds a way to get open. Marcus Robinson is an excellent jump-ball man who is valuable in the red zone. So, while they won't be as explosive as they were in years past, the Redskins will have to consistently keep the passes in front of them and be good tacklers.

Q: If the Redskins could have kept one player that they lost over the past few years, it would have been Fred Smoot; he was a fan favorite and the members of the media loved him as he was always good for a quote. With the injury and the Love Boat problems, it wasn't too great a first year in Minnesota for him. How's Smoot been doing so far this year and does he seem to have his career back on track?

After the Love Boat, he quit talking to reporters last year, but he started up again this spring. He said he wasn't going to give the Redskins bulletin boards material, and he didn't on Wednesday. Instead, he continued to express his love for the Washington organization, Daniel Snyder and Joe Gibbs. I believe that is a genuine appreciation he shows. At the same time, he asked why fans wouldn't hate him during the game because "I'm the enemy." On the field in 2005, he had a very rough year, getting torched by Carolina's Steve Smith, but he also didn't get any help during that game. He was hoping that adding some more weight would keep him healthy, but he had a rib injury in the preseason and is questionable. All signs point to him playing Monday night, but he knows he needs a rebound year. It remains to be seen how he fits the Vikings' new "Tampa-2" defense.

Q: Name the one Viking that most Redskins fans probably have never heard of that has a chance of making a game-changing play on Monday night.

Fans have probably heard of most of the offensive players, so to fit your criteria I'll go to the defensive side of the ball. In this new defense, the ends have been given much more freedom to rush the passer and create a turnover. While their starters, Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James, are both first-round draft picks, they aren't that well-known to a casual NFL fan. This could be their breakout year. Behind them is a fourth-round rookie, Ray Edwards, who has a chance to be very good with some more experience. So I'd say one of the defensive ends could fit the bill.

Q: How has the Vikings fan base taken to new coach Brad Childress? How would you characterize him—cerebral, disciplinarian, player's coach, emotional?

Nobody really knows what to think of him. He's a pretty guarded individual, which I think is very intentionally created and appreciated by some in the organization after the openness of Mike Tice. He isn't a yelling disciplinarian, but he has the players' respect as someone who is trying to restore accountability. Outwardly, he is far from emotional, but I think he has a strong desire to succeed, be organized and pay attention to many, many details. If he wins, the fans will embrace him. If he doesn't, his tendency to withhold information will lead to quicker criticisms.

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