WASHINGTON — Things really can’t much worse than what transpired last year in Washington.
The Redskins started 3-5, then, things really spiraled out of control, as they lost eight straight games to finish up 3-13. That left Mike Shanahan and some of the coaching staff out of a job the day after the season ended.
New Coach, New Offense and New Attitude
Enter Jay Gruden.
The offseason and training camp went off without a hitch — no drama, no issues. And that’s exactly what this team and organization needed.
Robert Griffin III had a tumultuous second season in the NFL: He had public spats with his coaches and didn’t play very well. In the end, he was benched for the final three games in favor of Kirk Cousins.
With Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay, Griffin feels he has a new lease on life and a fresh start.
“It nice to have two coaches that believe in you,” he said during training camp.
He is learning a new offense, and the goal is to make him a pocket passer, which will take time. I expect to see Gruden call some read option and designed runs early on to make Griffin comfortable and keep the defenses honest. I know they want to transform him into a pocket passer, but let’s be honest here: The Heisman Trophy winner they traded all those picks to move up and draft is the guy we saw two years ago, running the read option and posing a threat with both his arm and legs. For Gruden not to take advantage of that at all would be a little odd.
There’s no question that this offense has a ton of weapons, with a lot of top-tier guys at their positions. They made an obvious, instant upgrade by acquiring DeSean Jackson, a number-one receiver to go alongside the other No. 1 receiver, Pierre Garcon. They also added wide receiver Andre Roberts, who came here to be a number two behind Garcon until the addition of Jackson. Tight end Jordan Reed is healthy and had a very good rookie year until a concussion sidelined him at the end of the year. Look for him to be one of Griffin’s top targets again this year.
Let’s not forget about running back Alfred Morris, who has proven to be a durable number-one back rushing for 2,888 yards in his first two seasons in the NFL. I also look for fullback Darrell Young to have a big year. Jay Gruden didn’t use a fullback in Cincinnati, but he gave a good reason for that in training camp: “I didn’t have a Darrell Young in Cincinnati.”
The offensive line will be the biggest weakness on the offense, which is no secret. Trent Williams is still playing at a Pro Bowl level and expects to this year as well. Kory Lichtensteiger has moved to center with the departure of Will Montgomery. Shaun Lauvau has been brought in to play guard along with Chris Chester. Tyler Polumbus is at the other tackle spot. So there has been one new addition to the line, but many question marks remain.
As last season wound down, there were a lot of questions as to whether Jim Haslett would return. The defense had several major issues, and tackling was a big one. In the end, Haslett was brought back to work with Jay Gruden, who had worked under him in the United Football League. They have a great relationship; players also spoke very highly of Haslett and are glad he’s back.
“He’s one of the best coordinators I’ve had in the league,” DeAngelo Hall said.
The defense added some key players this offseason. The signing of defensive end Jason Hatcher away from Dallas was huge, as he will help solidify the defensive line along with Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins, Chris Baker and Stephen Bowen (if he can get healthy at some point).
Linebacker Keenan Robinson is charged with calling the signals on defense, succeeding London Fletcher. Coaches are very high on him. Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo should be very effective on the ends, along with the rookie Trent Murphy. Orakpo had the franchise tag placed on him, so he is looking to have a big year and get that long-term deal he is looking for.
The secondary was a glaring problem last year, and could be a big wild card this year. Brandon Meriweather can’t seem to stay on the field because of illegal hits; he will miss the first two games of the year due to a suspension for an illegal hit on Torrey Smith in the preseason game against the Ravens. Ryan Clark returns and knows the defense well. He also is be tasked with mentoring second-year safety Bacarri Rambo, who coaches and players say has come a long way since last year.
The cornerbacks are some of the bright spots of the secondary. DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson are a pretty good one-two combination. Amerson, in his second season, has worked on his game and has received good reviews so far from coaches. Hall returns on a one-year deal after a very good season last year.
This defense is going to be counted on a lot early on in the season, especially as the offense continues to learn the new system. We’ve already seen improvement when it comes to flying to the football and tackling in the limited action the unit saw in the preseason. Let’s see whether it continues.
Ben Kotwica was brought in to fix a special-teams unit that was just plain awful last year.
Kotwica attended West Point and is in his eighth season coaching in the NFL. In the kicking game, veteran Kai Forbath beat out Zach Hocker in training camp. Forbath is entering his third year and has been steady, connecting on 35 of 40 field goals in his first two years. Kickoffs are still a question mark for Forbath, though, with only 29 touchbacks on 119 kickoffs, but I think the coaches made the right choice.
Tress Way was signed after being waived by the Bears and has yet to punt in an NFL game, but coaches are giving him a shot.
In the return game, Andre Roberts steps up to be the number-one option. Special teams has no choice but to improve, basically because it can’t get any worse.
Season Prediction: 7-9
I think you will see a gradual improvement from the offense as the season goes on. It’s going to take some time for Robert Griffin III to master the new offense, and until he does, the defense might have to win some ballgames for them.
The schedule starts out somewhat favorably, opening with back-to-back games against the two worst teams in the league a year ago, followed by two divisional games. The tough stretch comes in the middle and the end.
This team will definitely be better than last year, and if they can get to seven wins, it should be considered a successful year to build on. If the offense struggles all year and Robert Griffin III doesn’t improve on last season, then we could be in for a long year.
For everyone’s sake, I hope that’s not the case.
I don’t see this team as a playoff team, but you never know in the NFL. Teams can get good in a hurry — just look at the Chiefs (2-14 in 2012, 11-5 in 2013). Also, have you seen the rest of the NFC East? Someone has to win this division.
Regardless, Redskins football is back, so buckle up the chin straps and enjoy the ride. You know it’s always entertaining.