STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Last season marked the start of the Mike Shanahan era in Washington. The head coach returned to the game after a year hiatus. He brought over his son, Kyle, to run the offense. The team was coming off two disorganized and disappointing seasons under the inexperienced Jim Zorn. The thought of a two-time-Super-Bowl-winning disciplinarian brought excitement back to Washington. However, with every new coach comes a new offensive and defensive system. Donovan McNabb struggled to run the offense efficiently, and the defense ranked at the bottom of the league. Many of the struggles can be attributed to mismatched personnel. The team traded for McNabb who seemed to butt heads frequently with the Shanahans. The star quarterback was eventually benched in favor of Rex Grossman. In addition, Albert Haynesworth reported late to camp and out of shape. He continually caused troubles and refused to play unless he could rush the passer. To make matters worse the offensive line was in shambles and was subpar all season, uncharacteristic for a Shanahan coached team.
The 2011 season is a chance for a fresh start. The team jettisoned defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb, both failed projects. The roster gains life from new veterans and a slew of rookies believed to fit the system. The team brought in competition at every skill position, albeit most being part-time players from other teams. The team re-signed Santana Moss who caught a career high 93 passes in 2010. It also traded for Jabar Gaffney and signed Donte Stallworth. Thereís no clear-cut favorite among the group to start opposite Moss. At running back the team added Tim Hightower and several rookies. One surprising move or lack thereof, was at the quarterback position. The team enters the season with a collection of castoffs in Rex Grossman, John Beck and Kellen Clemens.
The biggest improvement in 2011 should be on the defensive side. The team signed linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen away from division rivals. Throw in rookie Jarvis Jenkins, Ryan Kerrigan, and star Brian Orakpo, and the defensive line looks like it may actually disrupt some offenses. The secondary had some turnover with Carlos Rogers, who may have the worst hands in the league, being replaced with Josh Wilson. Safety LaRon Landry was having a career year before suffering an Achilles injury that still has him sidelined in camp. Expect the unit to improve in its second year under Jim Haslett.
The team appears headed in the right direction. They are rebuilding from the draft and signing key role players through free agency. There is still work to be done in the coming years, especially at wide receiver and quarterback.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (16) Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Strong pass rusher will have to adapt to playing outside linebacker.
2. (41) Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson
Fills a huge need for a team that didnít have a true defensive tackle.
3. (79) Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Slightly above average size and speed. Could make an immediate impact if he proves NFL ready.
4. (105) Roy Helu, Jr., RB, Nebraska
Speedy back whose style fits well into Shanahanís zone blocking scheme.
5. (146) Dejon Gomes, S, Nebraska
Depth was needed in the secondary after several injuries depleted the unit in 2010.
5. (155) Niles Paul, WR, Nebraska
Speedy receiver with decent size. Will compete for kick and punt returns.
6. (177) Evan Royster, RB, Penn State
Will compete for playing time in a crowded backfield.
6. (178) Aldrick Robinson, WR, Southern Methodist
Long shot to make the roster after several veterans were brought in.
7. (213) Brandyn Thompson, CB, Boise State
Small cornerback; will have to compete for a roster spot.
7. (217) Maurice Hurt, OG, Florida
Shanahan has a history of getting value out of late round offensive linemen.
7. (224) Markus White, DE, Florida State
Late-round pick has a chance to make the practice squad.
7. (253) Christopher Neild, DT, West Virginia
Part of a strong college defense, will have to prove he is strong enough for the NFL.
Jabar Gaffney, WR (Broncos)
Came off a career year in an explosive offense, will he produce at the same level in Washington?
Tim Hightower, RB (Cardinals)
Comes to DC with a fumbling problem but also coming off a career high in yards. Will have to compete in a crowded backfield.
Donovan McNabb, QB (Vikings)
The McNabb experiment lasted one season. He will take his services to Minnesota.
Albert Haynesworth, DT (Patriots)
There was no doubt Haynesworth would be somewhere else in 2011.
Clinton Portis, RB (FA)
Former star has played 13 games the last two seasons.
Roy Helu, Jr.
The big question mark for 2011 is who will start the season under center? The top three contenders are Rex Grossman, John Beck and Kellen Clemens. Grossman has the most experience in the offense (from his years in Houston), but John Beck has been talking all offseason like heís the guy. Head coach Mike Shanahan has stated he always liked Beck and tried to draft him in 2007. The problem is Beck hasnít played in a game since 2007, his rookie year. Grossman started the final three games of 2010 and impressed with two 300-yard games and seven touchdowns. Grossman probably has the highest upside heading into the season but is known for making stupid mistakes and turning the ball over. The quarterback situation is one to watch in training camp.
The team added several new faces in the backfield for 2011. Head coach Mike Shanahan loves to split carries. Ryan Torain had a breakout season in 2010 rushing for 742 yards and four touchdowns, however he missed four games due to a hamstring injury. Torain is the favorite but is unlikely to carry the entire workload with his injury history and lack of speed, something Shanahan covets.
The team traded for Tim Hightower at the beginning of training camp. He has the most career carries of the group but will need to prove his fumbling woes are a thing of the past. Hightower and Keiland Williams are the best receivers out of the backfield which gives them an advantage on third downs. Williams also improved over the second half of 2010. He filled in for Torain and proved he has the ability to be successful at the NFL level.
In addition the team also drafted rookies Roy Helu, Jr. and Evan Royster. Heluís style of play fits well into the teamís one-cut zone blocking scheme. The Redskins even traded up during the draft to get him. Both players have an uphill battle to earn playing time.
WIDE RECEIVER COMPETITION
The Redskins receiving corps contains only one receiver that would start on a playoff team. Santana Moss had a career high 93 catches in 2010 but also a career low in yards per catch, 12.0. His YPC has decreased each of the last seven seasons. Defenses really donít want him to beat them deep. Itís a crapshoot after Moss. The team traded for Jabar Gaffney and signed Donte Stallworth. Incumbent Anthony Armstrong came out of nowhere last year and averaged 19.8 YPC over 44 receptions. He has deep threat potential but is too small to be a possession receiver. The team also drafted Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul. Hankerson has the size and speed to make an immediate impact, while Paul could see time on kick and punt returns.
Rising: Tim Hightower could put up big numbers if he wins the starting job and solves his fumbling troubles. The team traded for him even though it had plenty of running backs.
Declining: Chris Cooley was targeted a career high 125 times but only three touchdowns. Underwent knee surgery and has not recovered quickly. Itís uncertain if he will be ready to start the season.
Sleeper: Roy Helu, Jr. has the speed and one cut ability Shanahan loves in a running back. There are several veterans above him on the depth chart.
Supersleeper: Leonard Hankerson, the team lacks playmakers after Santana Moss, and Hankerson can fill the void if he proves ready.
LaRon Landry, S
Was on his way to a career year until his season was cut short due to injuries. Still not 100% heading into camp.
Brian Orakpo, OLB
Should see less double teams with rookie Ryan Kerrigan and new addition Barry Cofield on the line.
DeAngelo Hall, CB
Ball hawk recorded six interceptions in 2010, four in one game.
Team Defense: 27