WASHINGTON — I know this is the time of year for optimism. For the fans of 31 NFL teams, the excitement over the start of a new season tends to trump any and all disappointment from the bitter end of the previous season.
This is no different for Washington Redskins fans.
Aside from the perpetual buzz kill of the ongoing name debate, there’s plenty of reason to feel good about this year’s team. The Shanahans — head coach Mike and offensive coordinator Kyle — are long gone. In comes Jay Gruden with the same fervor for football as his more-famous Super Bowl-winning brother Jon (but with far fewer comparisons to a certain horror movie character).
Perhaps most importantly, Robert Griffin III is entering training camp with the benefit of a full offseason. Year three could be the Year of RG3 now that he’s happy, healthy, and driven after a tumultuous sophomore slump fueled by a combination of hurrying back from reconstructive knee surgery and starring in a season-long soap opera with the Shanahans.
While ‘Skins fans are hoping to see Griffin return to his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year form, he presumably won’t have to carry the load like he did that season. He’ll have a ton of weapons at his disposal, starting with new acquisition DeSean Jackson and the return of versatile tight end Jordan Reed looking to build on what was shaping up to be a huge rookie campaign before a midseason concussion held him to just nine games.
Enter workhorse runner Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon (fresh off a franchise-record 113 catch season), Andre Roberts, and reliable veteran Santana Moss–and this offense could be even better than the one that ranked among the NFL’s best in 2012.
There are still plenty of questions on defense, but there are some signs that this unit will be markedly improved. The Redskins opened up the checkbook to get free agent defensive end Jason Hatcher from Dallas. If he’s healthy and productive (he’s 32 and dealing with a knee injury so that’s far from a given), that only helps Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as pass rushers off the edges.
Jay Gruden doesn’t have the same horror movie character resemblance as his brother, Jon. (TotallyLooksLike.com)
If the pass rush is better, the questions surrounding the secondary don’t all have to be answered in the affirmative (think the 2007 New York Giants). Suddenly, David Amerson looks like a 2nd round steal in his 2nd year, and DeAngelo Hall and Tracy Porter continue their knack for running interceptions back for touchdowns.
Of course, special teams has no choice but to be better. The additions of Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan, and Adam Hayward will go a long way, and if DJax is running back punts even on a part time basis he could be X-factor the ‘Skins have lacked in the return game since Brian Mitchell left town.
Of course, this is all the optimistic viewpoint typical of summer. The offense could stumble with all the new pieces (especially along the offensive line which could have as many as four new starters). The defense could be the same unit that struggled with depth and fundamentals last year. Special teams might still be bad and DeSean might prove why he was dumped by Philly.
Even if that’s the case, the ‘Skins will almost certainly be better than they were in the train wreck that was the 2013 season. But it all starts with this training camp. This is where bonds are forged, seeds of change are planted, and position battles are won. If this is going to be a good team, we’ll see signs in Richmond.