The arrival of offensive guru Al Saunders and a few other key high-profileadditions will take the Skins deep into the playoffs.
Coach Joe Gibbs showed that reports of his irrelevance were greatly exaggeratedlast year when he rallied Washington to six consecutive victories, including awild-card playoff win, before losing to the Seahawks in the divisional round.The Redskins have their share of issues, most significantly at quarterback,where Mark Brunell, who turns 36 in September, has to prove that hisinconsistency late in the season wasn't a sign that he's finished. But if anygroup of coaches can figure out a way to make it work, it's this one, and thereare enough big-time performers--including star safety Sean Taylor--to transformthis team into a serious contender.
After his unit'sstellar performance in 2005, assistant head coach--defense Gregg Williams couldhave become the head man somewhere else, but a bump in salary from owner DanSnyder, reportedly to more than $2.6 million a year (believed to be the mostever for an NFL assistant), persuaded him to stay. His blitz-happy, swarmingschemes work best with an elite pass rusher at defensive end, a do-it-alloutside linebacker and a rangy, physical safety, and Williams believes he hasall three of those pieces in '06.
Free-agentsignee Andre Carter, a 265-pound defensive end, was swallowed up in SanFrancisco's 3--4 scheme, but Williams thinks Carter can apply the same pressureon the passer for Washington that Jevon Kearse did for Tennessee when theTitans went to the Super Bowl with Williams as defensive coordinator. Plus,Williams expects seventh-year outside linebacker Marcus Washington, who'sreaching his prime, to have "a huge year. He can do everything you want alinebacker to do from coverage, rush and run-front alignments." Thenthere's Taylor, who has a chance to become one of the NFL's best players.Disruptive in coverage and run support, and able to blitz from anywhere,Taylor, says Williams, "is the best player I've ever coached, and I expecta breakout season."
On offense,halfback Clinton Portis teamed with another former Miami Hurricane, wideoutSantana Moss, to key an offense that improved to 11th in the league afterranking 30th in 2004, amid whispers that Gibbs, 65, was out of touch with21st-century football.
For all of hiscredentials as an offensive mastermind, Gibbs didn't let his ego get in the wayof bringing in Saunders, who over the past five seasons in Kansas City directedthe NFL's most productive offense. For the first time in his Hall of Famecareer Gibbs will relinquish play-calling responsibilities; look for Saundersto run fewer two-tight-end sets and more two-back and multiple-receiveralignments, and to feature the deep ball prominently. In addition to Moss, whomade his first Pro Bowl in '05, Saunders's new toys include wideouts BrandonLloyd (acquired in a trade with the 49ers) and Antwaan Randle El (a free agentfrom the Steelers).
"If you takewhat we did last year and add what Al brings," Gibbs says, "we couldreally take a step up."
11 MINNESOTA (M)
17 at Dallas
24 at Houston
8 at N.Y. Giants
22 at Indianapolis
12 at Philadelphia
19 at Tampa Bay
17 at New Orleans
24 at St. Louis
30 N.Y. GIANTS (S)
(M) Monday (S)Saturday
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage
Games against playoff teams
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE REDSKINS
> Thechemistry on this team is a big concern. They've definitely upgraded theirroster, but it's such a revolving door there that it's tough to say howeveryone will coexist.
> MarkBrunell rarely throws two good balls in a row. He's not a high-percentagepasser. How can he still be an NFL starter?
> Handingthe offense over to Al Saunders will improve the receivers immeasurably. He'sthe best receivers coach I've ever seen.
> AndreCarter could be this year's version of Oakland's Derrick Burgess. Carter, aphenomenal pass rusher who wasn't being used right, gets to show his stuff. Hecan get 14 sacks.
> CarlosRogers is a hell of a corner--big, fast and strong. He could have a monsteryear.
They paid toomuch money [$31 million] for Antwaan Randle El. He makes one big play agame.
Formerly listedas an H-back, the physical, 6'3" 250-pounder with the weird number (47) andthe wild hair caught 71 passes last season. The 2004 third-round pick out ofUtah State should figure even more prominently in new offensive architect AlSaunders's alignments. "We envision asking him to do the same things TonyGonzalez does in Kansas City," Saunders says. "By the time his careeris over, I think he'll be recognized as one of the premier tight ends in theNFL."
WITH 2005 STATISTICS
JOE GIBBS (140--76 in NFL), third season with Washington
ANDRE CARTER--NEW ACQUISITION
SACKS 3 1/2
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
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