There’s talk about change in Washington coming from every direction these days and only some of it is coming from talking heads on cable news debating the election.
The rest of it is coming from those excited about Robert Griffin III’s arrival in town. The Redskins have been looking for a franchise quarterback for a long time and just about everyone believes they’ve got one in the 2011 Heisman Trophy Winner.
Griffin brings renewed hope for the franchise with him, something that was needed after several failed experiments with different coaches, different quarterbacks and the same dismal results. That cycle can end thanks to the Griffin addition, but it isn’t going to end overnight. There are still issues in Washington and the excitement over Griffin can only obscure so many of them.
The Redskins are in good shape at outside linebacker with Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan on either side of the line. Kerrigan played every defensive snap as a rookie and should be more productive in his second year in the system. That could help Orakpo, who has been just successful enough to make you wish for more from him over the course of his career.
The inside backers aren’t too bad either. London Fletcher is back doing his thing in the middle of the defense and Perry Riley is coming off a good 2011 season. The team also took Keenan Robinson in the draft and signed former Giants starter Jonathan Goff to give them good depth at the position.
Chris Cooley’s knee problems cast some doubt on the depth at tight end, but the position should still be a strong point for the team this season. Griffin’s transition to the NFL should be easier thanks to Fred Davis’ presence in the lineup. If Cooley is healthy and/or Niles Paul makes a successful move from wide receiver, the Redskins will be able to mix and match lineups to keep defenses from feeling totally comfortable.
There’s been a lot of buzz about defensive end Jarvis Jenkins this spring and he’ll need to live up to it for the Redskins to get the play they need on the defensive line. Barry Cofield, Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen are all coming off subpar years, although it’s hoped that Cofield will be better in his second year in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s 3-4 look.
Griffin’s mobility should come in handy behind an offensive line that’s still a work in progress. Injuries and ineffectiveness hampered the team at every turn last season and the three rookies they took in April aren’t likely to make for an immediate turnaround. The Redskins need it, though, because they need to get more from the running ground to help the offense succeed.
The Redskins are putting a lot of hope into comeback seasons at safety. Tanard Jackson, Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams are all trying to recapture past glory and the chances aren’t great that it happens for all three of them. Even two might be a stretch given their recent play.
The wide receiver position will look very different this season. Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan arrived as free agents while last year’s leading receiver Jabar Gaffney was released. The Redskins also have high hopes for Leonard Hankerson, who was limited by a hip injury last season, and a new priority in yards after the catch from the whole group.
Safety LaRon Landry is probably the most significant loss, although his Achilles injury limits how much pain the ‘Skins will feel from his departure. Cornerback Cedric Griffin arrived as a free agent and should be one of the top three corners in Washington this season.
The Redskins were quieter than usual – outside the Griffin trade, of course – as a result of the severe cap penalties placed on them for spending too much on players in the uncapped 2010 season. Given how well previous spending sprees worked out, that’s probably not the worst thing in the world although the team has a few more holes than they might have under different cap circumstances.
The Redskins return all three of their leading running backs from last season which is good for continuity. How good it is for the running game remains to be seen, but at least Mike Shanahan will be able to choose between Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster. Hightower should get the first shot if he’s healthy, but Shanahan’s history says everyone will get their chance.
Graham Gano and Neil Rackers will battle for the kicking job at training camp. Gano had a decent 2011 on field goals and kickoffs while Rackers has a longer track record of success. The Redskins hope to cut down on their field goal attempts (41 last year), but they will still need someone to make them when they arise.
The top four receivers appear to be Garçon, Morgan, Hankerson and Santana Moss, but there’s still some doubt about exactly how they’ll stack up on the depth chart when the start of the season comes around. Behind them, Brandon Banks will need to show enough as a receiver to stick on the roster and the Redskins will need to find a returner if he winds up on the chopping block.
Defining success for the Redskins this season isn’t easy. They could be better across the board this season and still wind up with a similar record than they had last year because they play in a deep NFC East.
Or Griffin could be the next rookie quarterback to hit the ground running and the restored confidence could cover enough flaws for the team to take advantage of an out-of-division schedule that looks like it is on the softer side. Even that might not be enough to put them in playoff contention, but it could make 8-8 a possibility and that would be a significant step forward for the team.
Really, though, the ultimate stamp of success on this season will be Griffin taking control of the offense while some other players (Orakpo, Hankerson, Jenkins) show that they are also on the upswing of their careers. The Redskins got started on their new identity with Griffin and now they have to build it out around him.