4 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

September 04, 2011

Scoff away, but the division's cellar dwellers believe in themselves

Some 250 stats can be used to measure an NFL team. But when it comes to starting a new season, there's still no stat for optimism. If there were, the Redskins, who haven't finished on top of their division since 1999 but are suddenly hopeful about winning a championship, would lead the league.

"I really feel like we could be a Super Bowl team," says running back Tim Hightower, who was acquired in a July trade after spending three seasons with the Cardinals, a Super Bowl team in 2008, his rookie year. "That's the expectation of the people in this locker room, and to me it's just a matter of time."

Said quarterback Rex Grossman to a local cable reporter during training camp: "We're just waiting in the wings, ready to take over the NFC East."

Most will dismiss Hightower and Grossman as simply a couple of Washington lobbyists who are out of touch with reality. The Redskins have had only two winning seasons—along with seven coaches—over the past 11 years. And just when they had seemingly turned a corner under first-year coach Mike Shanahan last season, they lost five of their last six, finishing 6--10 and in last place in the NFC East for the third year in a row.

So why are the Redskins so bullish on 2011? Credit Shanahan, who has restocked the locker room with players who are buying what he is selling. "Everything that we all want—the Pro Bowl, the Super Bowl, championships—he's been there and produced guys who've had it," Hightower says. "He's changing the culture here, and guys believe in him."

Of the 90 players who were on the roster midway through camp, only 24 were in Washington when Shanahan arrived in January 2010. Among those jettisoned shortly after the lockout was lifted this summer were defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and quarterback Donovan McNabb, who created what veteran linebacker London Fletcher called "distractions and drama" last year.

"If you can't do it the way [Shanahan] wants, then you have a problem. He proved that," says longtime Redskins wideout Santana Moss, who credits the big-name send-offs with galvanizing the team. "Everyone has taken on the head coach's identity."

Known as the Mastermind during his 14 seasons in Denver, where he won consecutive Super Bowls in the late 1990s, Shanahan has instituted changes in Washington as rudimentary as making players run from one drill to the next during practice, something veterans describe as being optional under former regimes. "He expects everyone to strive for perfection," Fletcher says. "He demands for you to be a professional."

Shanahan, also the executive vice president of football operations, set out in the off-season to fix the league's second-worst defense. Tackle Barry Cofield (formerly of the Giants) and end Stephen Bowen (Cowboys) were brought in to beef up the front line of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3--4 scheme. Meanwhile cornerback Josh Wilson (Ravens) and safety O.J. Atogwe (Rams) were signed as free agents to fortify a secondary that gave up more yards (261.7 per game) than all but one team last season.

Hightower, who set career highs in carries (153) and yards (736) in 2010, and wideout Jabar Gaffney, who's also coming off a career-best season in which he caught 65 passes for 875 yards in Denver, should help inject life into an offense that averaged just 18.9 points per game (25th in the league) last season.

Through three weeks of the preseason, the early returns on the changes are mixed. The offense has averaged 402.3 yards a game, but the defense gave up 452 yards and 34 points in last week's loss to Baltimore.

Whether the Redskins are able to walk the walk in the regular season and win one of the league's toughest divisions will hinge largely on the play at the most important position. Grossman, who hasn't started a full season since 2006 with the Bears, was in a tight quarterback race with John Beck, who has never won an NFL game and hasn't even taken a regular-season snap since he was with the Dolphins in '07. Shanahan likely won't announce his choice until just before the season opener but insists he's comfortable with all the decisions that have already been made.

"You know you're going in the right direction if you've got the right people and the right attitude," he says. "People will see progress with this team. The question is, How much?"

That question will be answered by the only stat that really matters.

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 18

QB JOHN BECK*

ATT 107

COMP 60

PCT 56.1

YARDS 559

YD/ATT 5.2

TD 1

INT 3

RATING 62.0

RB TIM HIGHTOWER

ATT 153

YARDS 736

REC 21

TTD 5

FB DARREL YOUNG

ATT 4

YARDS 19

REC 1

TTD 1

WR SANTANA MOSS

REC 93

YARDS 1,115

AVG 12.0

TTD 6

WR JABAR GAFFNEY

REC 65

YARDS 875

AVG 13.5

TTD 2

TE CHRIS COOLEY

REC 77

YARDS 849

AVG 11.0

TTD 3

LT TRENT WILLIAMS

G 14

SACKS 11½

HOLD 3

FALSE 3

LG KORY LICHTENSTEIGER

G 16

SACKS 5

HOLD 2

FALSE 2

C WILL MONTGOMERY

G 13

SACKS 0

HOLD 0

FALSE 3

RG CHRIS CHESTER

G 14

SACKS 3

HOLD 1

FALSE 1

RT JAMMAL BROWN

G 15

SACKS 5½

HOLD 1

FALSE 3

RB RYAN TORAIN

ATT 164

YARDS 742

REC 18

TTD 6

WR ANTHONY ARMSTRONG

REC 44

YARDS 871

AVG 19.8

TTD 3

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 31

DE ADAM CARRIKER

TACKLES 37

SACKS 1½

INT 0

NT BARRY COFIELD

TACKLES 54

SACKS 4

INT 0

DE STEPHEN BOWEN

TACKLES 22

SACKS 1½

INT 0

LB RYAN KERRIGAN (R)

TACKLES 70

SACKS 12½

INT 0

LB LONDON FLETCHER

TACKLES 136

SACKS 2½

INT 1

LB ROCKY MCINTOSH

TACKLES 110

SACKS 2

INT 0

LB BRIAN ORAKPO

TACKLES 56

SACKS 8½

INT 0

CB DEANGELO HALL

TACKLES 95

SACKS 0

INT 6

SS LARON LANDRY

TACKLES 85

SACKS 1

INT 1

FS O.J. ATOGWE

TACKLES 73

SACKS 2

INT 3

CB JOSH WILSON

TACKLES 37

SACKS 0

INT 3

DB KEVIN BARNES

TACKLES 16

SACKS 0

INT 1

SPECIALISTS

K GRAHAM GANO

FG 24

FGA 35

XP 28

PTS 100

P SAV ROCCA

PUNTS 73

GROSS 43.8

NET 39.0

*2007 statistics

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics: New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 6--10

September

11 N.Y. Giants

18 Arizona

26 at Dallas (Mon)

October

2 at St. Louis

9 BYE

16 Philadelphia

23 at Carolina

30 at Buffalo*

November

6 San Francisco

13 at Miami

20 Dallas

27 at Seattle

December

4 N.Y. Jets

11 New England

18 at N.Y. Giants

24 Minnesota (Sat)

January

1 at Philadelphia

* in Toronto

COACH: MIKE SHANAHAN

AGE: 59

SECOND YEAR WITH THE REDSKINS (6--10)

With the second-most wins (152) among active coaches and two Super Bowl rings, Shanahan is one of the NFL's most decorated coaches. But the talent level in D.C. is not what he had in Denver, and he is opening himself up to criticism with his handling of the Redskins' quarterback position. If he can somehow get the team to outperform expectations, he will only add to his legacy.

SPOTLIGHT

RYAN KERRIGAN, Linebacker

As baby-faced as rookies come, Ryan Kerrigan will have to grow up fast while learning a completely new position. A defensive end at Purdue, he finished tied for first in the nation last year in tackles for loss (26), tied for second in forced fumbles (five) and third in sacks (12½). After selecting Kerrigan with the 16th overall pick, the Redskins moved the disruptive edge rusher to outside linebacker in their 3--4 defense. The coaches are hoping that with Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo both applying pressure on the outside, the team will improve on last year's 29 sacks (25th in the league).

At 6'4" and 267 pounds, Kerrigan has the build to be a linebacker but is still trying to hone the instincts and fluidity needed at the position.

"You're in a three-point stance as a defensive end and you can only see what's ahead of you. But when you're standing up as a linebacker, you can see the whole field, and you have to recognize formations and everything," he says. "I've never had to worry about pass coverages or anything like that before. That's been the biggest adjustment.

"You don't have much time to pause or hesitate at this level—you have to react. Before, if it was a run or a pass, it really didn't matter. I was just going forward no matter what. I've made some mental errors, because maybe I've been thinking too much. For the most part, I'm getting the hang of it."

PHOTOMITCH STRINGER/US PRESSWIRE (HIGHTOWER)PLAYING POLITICS Blustery speechmaking or real optimism? Hightower (above), who was obtained from Arizona, and Grossman say the Redskins can win the division. PHOTODAVID BERGMAN (SHANAHAN) PHOTOJEFF FISHBEIN/ICON SMI (KERRIGAN)

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