Friday, September 01, 2006

Washington Redskins Preview


By John McMullen

Daniel Snyder is the George Steinbrenner of the NFL -- without the success of course. Snyder will do anything -- monetarily -- to put his beloved Redskins at the top of the mountain but it just hasn’t worked to this point. Yes, Joe Gibbs silenced his critics and seemed to be making progress last year when he turned a 6-10 club into a 10-6 playoff team but millions were spent to revamp the roster and the preseason has been an absolute disaster. It‘s starting to look like Snyder just doesn‘t have the patience or savvy to stay the course and let Gibbs develop a consistent winner.

QUARTERBACK

The biggest move Washington made in the offseason was bringing in former Kansas City Chiefs offensive guru Al Saunders to upgrade the passing game. The Redskins did rank 11th in offense last season but lacked consistent big play ability and had trouble scoring against elite defenses. The 36-year old Mark Brunell is the clear No. 1 and was solid, if unspectacular last season throwing for 3,050 yards with 23 touchdowns and only 10 picks. Like most veterans, Brunell gets by on guile and smarts but lacks the arm strength at this stage to really stand out. With Patrick Ramsey gone to New York, the Redskins would like Jason Campbell, a former first-round draft choice from Auburn, to be Brunell‘s caddy. But, there have been quite a few whispers indicating Campbell is just not picking things up. Right now, non-descript veteran Todd Collins is beating Campbell out for the second spot.

RUNNING BACK

You really saw Snyder’s commitment to winning here. When star back Clinton Portis went down with a shoulder injury that really isn’t all that serious, the Redskins went out and brought in T.J. Duckett as insurance while teams desperate for running back help, like division rival Philadelphia, just sat on their hands. Shoulder injuries are always a concern for running backs so it’s nice to have insurance but either way, the Redskins would suffer greatly without Portis, an impact back who ran for a franchise-record 1,516 yards last season. Backup Ladell Betts is a solid player who does everything well but will never wow you. Duckett is a big back that can be a bulldozer between the tackles when motivated but has never really played up to his physical abilities.

WIDE RECEIVERS/H-BACKS

Santana Moss turned into one of the NFL’s elite last season after catching 84 passes for 1,483 yards. Always one of the league’s fastest players, Moss ran better routes and took his job more seriously last year after being traded from the NY Jets. If similarly motivated this season, Moss may be even better since Washington brought in better secondary options. Super Bowl star Antwaan Randle El and former San Francisco 49er Brandon Lloyd are the new imports that will replace players like David Patten and James Thrash.

That’s a huge upgrade and Moss will likely see fewer double teams. At H-Back Chris Cooley is turning into quite a receiving threat and has the versatility to line up at tight end, fullback or in the slot.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This is an underrated unit that is one of the top 10 in the NFL. Left tackle Chris Samuels is the star and a Pro Bowl level player when he concentrates on his technique. On the other side, Jon Jansen is not much of an athlete, especially after an Achilles injury, but he has the kind of nasty streak that coaches love. Inside, center Casey Rabach is solid while right guard Randy Thomas is a dominant run blocker but is coming off a broken leg in the last regular season game of 2005. Left guard Derrick Dockery is the weak link. A talented underachiever, Dockery must step up his play in 2006. Depth is a big concern here. Players like Jim Molinaro and Ikechuku Ndukwe are not NFL caliber linemen.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

Gregg Williams is the game’s best defensive coordinator and you can bet, his units will always overachieve. The defensive line has lacked pass-rushing talent in the past but Williams always had the ‘Skins defense near the top nonetheless. This season, Washington brought in Andre Carter to help the pass rush. Carter will team with the emerging Phillip Daniels to provide more quickness on the edge. Inside, tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a are pedestrian players but can stuff the run adequately. Former starter Renaldo Wynn should fit in nicely as a reserve swingman.

LINEBACKERS

When the Redskins released Lavar Arrington, the team lost a very popular player with the fans but the coaches were likely throwing a party. Gibbs and Williams hated Arrington's inability to play within a scheme and were glad to see him go, even if it was to division rival New York. With Arrington history, Marcus Washington becomes the team's dominant personality on defense. Washington may be the best strong-side linebacker in the game and is a force in both phases. Middle linebacker Lemar Marshall was a pleasant surprise after taking over for Antonio Pierce as the starter. While not Pierce, the former undrafted rookie free agent made quite a few plays in 2005. Rookie Roger McIntosh looks like the best option to take over the weak side, If the defensive line can keep blockers off him, McIntosh does have the skills to make a few plays. Until McIntosh is ready to play, veteran Warrick Holdman will hold down the spot. Holdman is not nearly the player he once was in Chicago.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Cornerback Carlos Rogers looks like an emerging star after starting 13 games as a rookie. The one knock on the former Auburn star is that he lacks size and has trouble matching up with the league’s bigger receivers. On the other side is veteran Shawn Springs, a player that still has some gas in the tank. Springs may have lost a step but he makes up for it with a good understanding of the defense. Free safety Sean Taylor is an elite player but his off the field problems are ever looming. The team replaced strong safety Ryan Clark with Adam Archuleta. The former St. Louis Rams starter is great in run support but lost in coverage. The Redskins really lack depth in the secondary, especially at cornerback where Kenny Wright is in line to be the nickel back.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker John Hall is solid when healthy but he has struggled with injuries for the past two seasons. A problem looms at punter where Derrick Frost, who averaged just 40.4 yards per kick last season, is trying to hold off rookie David Lonie. Neither option looks very appealing.

PRESEASON BATTLES

Collins seems to be holding off Campbell at backup quarterback while Holdman is keeping McIntosh and veteran Jeff Posey at bay for the weak side job. With Springs dinged up, Washington may be in the market for another corner since Wright has been a liability in Minnesota, Houston and Jacksonville.

2006 OUTLOOK

You can never accuse Snyder of not trying and this offseason was no different. He brought in Lloyd from San Francisco and Randle El from Pittsburgh to help Moss. He brought in Carter from the 49ers to fortify the pass rush and Archuleta from the Rams to replace Clark. Perhaps, more importantly the team added Saunders to pilot the offense and kept the league‘s best defensive mind. It all looks good on paper but something is missing. The Redskins have looked awful in the preseason and the new pieces just don’t look like good fits -- making a return trip to the playoffs unlikely. Especially when you consider what went on in the ‘Skins division -- the Giants look more talented, the Eagles have a healthy Donovan McNabb back and the Cowboys added T.O.


You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net or john@phillysportsline.com
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