The Redskins took a major step backward in 2013 and they blew things up as a result.
Jay Gruden is the new head coach, with the team hoping that his offensive mind can totally relegate former coach Mike Shanahan and his icy relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III to the fringes of memories. Griffin’s play could also do that as he’s had an entire offseason to work after rehabbing from a knee injury during the spring last year.
Dysfunction and lingering injuries weren’t the only reasons things went south for the Redskins last year, though. The defense was a mess and the changes on that side of the ball were not particularly dramatic, while the team also gave away far too many yards and points on special teams.
The potential for a repeat of 2012 certainly exists, but, based on their spot at No. 23, PFT’s panel needs to see more than potential to buy into the Redskins.
Signing DeSean Jackson was the latest addition to a receiving corps that should be much improved over last season. Pierre Garcon returns, tight end Jordan Reed should be healthy after last year’s concussions and Andre Roberts joined the team as a free agent. That’s more than Griffin had to work with as a rookie and should make his efforts as a passer easier than in past years.
Running back Alfred Morris is also back, giving the Redskins enviable potential balance on offense this season. If all goes according to plan, defenses will find it hard to keep an eye on everyone Washington rolls on the field.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo re-signed with the team and he’ll rejoin with Ryan Kerrigan to give the Redskins a strong pair of outside linebackers. If Jason Hatcher can repeat the pass rush he gave the Cowboys last season, Washington should be very effective at pressuring quarterbacks.
Left tackle Trent Williams remains one of the best in the league at his position and gives the Redskins an anchor as they build the rest of their offensive line.
The Redskins didn’t look that strong at safety when Tanard Jackson was in the mix and they aren’t looking any better in light of his latest suspension. The best hope is that Ryan Clark can push back father time and Brandon Meriweather avoids injury long enough for 2013 picks Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas to come into their own.
It would help the Redskins if cornerback David Amerson did the same thing in his second season. Old hands DeAngelo Hall and Tracy Porter will likely hold prominent roles, but the team needs Amerson to develop into a shutdown player on one side for their defense to reach its full potential.
Williams is a great left tackle, but the Redskins aren’t quite as lucky along the rest of the line. Kory Lichtensteiger is moving from guard to center, right guard is unsettled and the team picked Morgan Moses in the third round to give them an option other than Tyler Polumbus at right tackle.
Hatcher’s arrival should be a plus, but his offseason knee troubles are a bit of a concern since the rest of the Redskins defensive ends are an unimpressive lot.
Gruden replacing Shanahan as head coach (and, for all intents and purposes, Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator) is by far the biggest change in Washington this offseason. Every coaching change is significant, of course, but this one feels even bigger because of how bad things got between Griffin and Shanahan last season.
Griffin has been spreading nothing but sunshine about the switch and the Redskins are hopeful that his knee will respond to a full offseason of work as well as he has responded to Shanahan’s departure. The quality of the skill position players around him should help.
The Redskins didn’t change defensive coordinators, but there’s been a lot of talk about a more aggressive approach from Jim Haslett’s unit this season. That should fit with the outside linebackers and help defensive tackle Barry Cofield rebound, although the defensive backfield could be stretched if they’re left out on islands.
Ben Kotwica is the new special teams coach and he’ll be charged with turning around units that struggled badly last season.
London Fletcher has brought his long career to an end, leaving an opening at inside linebacker next to Perry Riley. Keenan Robinson, Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward are all options with Robinson potentially the favorite if he’s over his torn pectoral.
Roberts was signed to play receiver, but Jackson’s arrival opens up the possibility that he could become the team’s primary kick returner. Rookie Lache Seastrunk would be another option for the role.
Chris Chester will try to hold onto the right guard job against challenges from Josh LeRibeus and third-round pick Spencer Long. The right choice there could help mitigate any right tackle issues.
The NFC East title has been a revolving door in recent seasons as the four teams generally muck their way through the regular season before someone grabs a 9-7 record in Week 17.
It is easy to see why the Redskins would believe they could return to the top of the food chain this season. Every report on Griffin’s health is positive, his supporting cast is stronger and the darkness that hung over Shanahan last season has been expunged.
At the same time, though, there’s not much about the Redskins that makes them a sure bet to be better than last year’s also-rans in Dallas and New Jersey or the defending division champs in Philly. The defense needs to be much better and we’ll still need to see Griffin’s play match the offseason reviews, for starters.
Should that happen, a return to the playoffs may not be out of reach but the Redskins will need to show that the stink of last year has been totally eradicated before the bandwagon starts to fill up.