Offseason Breakdown: Washington Redskins
There may not be a fanbase in the NFL that gets more jacked up during the summer months than the one in Washington. Time and again, the Redskins franchise has made high-profile moves that result in a lot of local fervor -- the dreaded "offseason championship" -- only to end up in ultimate disappointment.
Those past failures make it easy to be skeptical about the current Redskins, but the buzz feels a little more warranted this time around. That's all because of one man: Robert Griffin III.
The No. 2 overall pick in April's draft and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, Griffin will enter his rookie season with the full weight of a stumbling franchise on his shoulders. The Redskins have two playoff berths and one postseason victory since the turn of the millennium.
That doesn't cut it in D.C., where the fans are desperate for a return to the Redskins' glory days of the 1980s and early '90s.
2011 Record: 5-11 (fourth in NFC East)
Team Strengths: TE, ILB, OLB
Team Weaknesses: G, S
Three Things to Watch
1. Where will the help for RGIII come from?: Cam Newton set a handful of rookie records in 2011, including most passing yards (4,051) and most total touchdowns (35). Still, the Carolina Panthers finished just 6-10.
The lesson for the Redskins is this: Even if Robert Griffin has a rookie season for the ages, he can't turn things around by himself. There will be a learning curve involved -- Newton threw 17 interceptions, for example -- so Griffin will need to lean on some of the Redskins' other weapons as he adjusts.
But will anyone emerge as the playmaker that RGIII needs? Washington returns a deep running back group led by Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. While those are all nice pieces, Helu led the way with just 640 rushing yards last season. The situation may be slightly better at wide receiver, as Washington signed free agents Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to complement Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson. Garcon's task is to be the No. 1 guy, but that's a new role for him after playing alongside Reggie Wayne.
There's talent at tight end, too, with Fred Davis and Chris Cooley. But Davis was suspended for the final four games of 2011 and Cooley is chronically injured.
Oh yeah, and the Redskins' offensive line allowed 41 sacks and more than 150 quarterback hurries last season.
Griffin is a huge, dinosaur-sized piece of the Redskins' rebuilding puzzle. But the difference between a rookie season like Newton's and one like Andy Dalton's -- which resulted in a postseason berth for Cincinnati -- will come down to the players surrounding RGIII.
2. Can the revamped secondary hold its own?: Washington finished a very respectable 12th in pass defense last season. But that stat belies the fact that the Redskins often surrendered big plays through the air in key situations and failed to generate many turnovers -- they picked off just 13 passes in 16 games. The Redskins were active during the offseason in trying to upgrade this unit as well.
Out are LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe at safety, replaced by Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams (veteran Reed Doughty also returns). Washington also picked up cornerback Cedric Griffin.
It's ... different, if nothing else. Beyond that, it is hard to get too excited about this group. Meriweather was a dud in Chicago, as was Cedric Griffin in Minnesota. Jackson played through a shoulder injury last season, but he has been as troublesome off the field (23 games lost to suspension since 2009) as he's been disappointing on it.
Put all the pieces together and it looks like a secondary that can hold its own, especially behind a solid front seven. But there's not a lot of wiggle room if something goes awry.
3. Is this Mike Shanahan's last shot?: Shanahan did not exactly inherit the '85 Bears when he took over in Washington in 2010. Instead, he landed a team coming off a 4-12 season that had major issues all over the field. Now entering his third season with the Redskins, Shanahan may finally have his team on the upswing. At the very least, he has the fans abuzz after taking Griffin with the No. 2 pick.
In fact, Griffin's arrival may put any coach hunting plans that Washington may have considered for next offseason on hold. RGIII looks like a terrific fit for Shanahan's offense, and if the rookie signal-caller shows signs of life in the nation's capital -- even if it ends in another sub-.500 season -- then it will be difficult to send Shanahan packing.
Still, the Redskins had very high hopes for their most recent coaching hire. So far, all they have gotten in return is a 11-21 overall record. There's no question that overhauling an entire roster takes time, but the more that teams like Detroit, Cincinnati and San Francisco succeed, the antsier that rabid Redskins fans will get.
This may not be a make-or-break season for Shanahan ... but it's certainly close.
Which do you want, Redskins fans: The good news or the bad news?
Let's head down the path dotted with sunshine and puppy dogs first: This team is going to be better, perhaps substantially better, in 2012. RGIII may not rewrite Newton's rookie records, but he has more than enough talent to succeed from Week 1. The offensive line needs to perform better this season, and someone needs to emerge both at running back and wide receiver, but there is definitely talent on offense. That's ditto for the defense, despite question marks in the secondary and position battles at defensive end and inside linebacker, where Rocky McIntosh's departure will force Perry Riley into the starting lineup.
All things considered, however, Washington should be able to compete.
Which brings us to the bad news ...
Even if the Redskins take a few steps forward this season, it might not be enough to push them into the postseason. Given the talent throughout the NFC East, it seems unlikely that 9-7 will capture the crown again. The defending champion Giants, Cowboys and Eagles all should be formidable. Washington's schedule won't help much, either. It opens at New Orleans, includes trips to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and has home games with Cincinnati, Atlanta and Baltimore -- and that's on top of the Redskins' tough divisional slate. Redskins fans want a winner, and with RGIII, they have the makings of one. But they may have to settle for a more competitive team in 2012 before a playoff push in 2013.