Mike Shanahan is at it again with his quarterback carousel. In year No. 2 under the Washington Redskins head coach's regime, the team has two players battling it out for the starting spot right up until the start of the 2011 season.
Unproven quarterback John Beck is confident he can direct the Redskins to higher ground this season, but then there's Rex Grossman lurking in the shadows hoping to regain the form that helped him lead Chicago to Super Bowl XLI during the 2006 campaign.
Shanahan likes what he has seen so far from both of his signal-callers, but reiterated that a decision on who starts won't be made until the end of training camp.
"I'm going to evaluate them all the way through camp and all the way through the last preseason game, possibly up to the day before we play the [New York] Giants [in Week 1]," Shanahan said. "It all depends on if someone separates themselves."
Shanahan separated himself from Donovan McNabb last season when he benched the seasoned veteran for Grossman during a two-minute drill in a game against Detroit. McNabb was traded to the Redskins prior to last season to be the team's franchise quarterback, but his pedigree obviously did not impress his new head coach enough to keep him in the starting lineup.
The move to Grossman, who started the final three games, didn't make much of a difference, as the Redskins finished 6-10 and tied for last place in the NFC East. He did finish the year with seven touchdown passes to four interceptions, however.
McNabb and Grossman did help the Redskins finish eighth in passing yards in 2010, but were only 21st overall with a combined 77.9 rating.
Beck, meanwhile, hasn't played a down in a regular season game since 2007, when Miami selected him out of BYU in the second round of the NFL Draft. He made four starts that season and had one touchdown pass to three interceptions and a 62.0 quarterback rating.
The Redskins are hoping Shanahan makes the right move with this current situation and will want to avoid the media disaster that unfolded after he opted to sit the high-priced McNabb. Some had assumed Shanahan already had his man picked out prior to camp, before he threw another curveball by anointing Beck as a starting candidate.
Soon enough the Redskins will have their man tabbed, which will allow them to go about their business with more fluidity.
Washington's defense was marred by another soap opera that was Albert Haynesworth last season. The pricey defensive tackle clashed with Shanahan on several occasions, missed workouts and was suspended the final four games of the year for conduct detrimental to the team. Shanahan rid himself of that headache by trading Haynesworth to New England.
The Redskins were counting on rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins to fill Haynesworth's shoes and have a productive campaign, but the second-round draft pick suffered a season-ending knee injury at Baltimore in the third preseason game.
Jenkins was putting plenty of work in with the first team and had impressed his teammates with his high motor.
"He's such an enthusiastic guy out there," defensive end Adam Carriker said of Jenkins. "He just loves football. You can see it."
Washington will have to wait a year or maybe more to see if Jenkins pans out, but that just means other players will now have to fill that void. Nose tackle Barry Cofield will be counted on to be one of those players after coming over from the rival New York Giants as a free agent. The Redskins hope he can solidify a run defense that was 26th in the league under defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Jim Haslett last season.
Carriker and Cofield highlight the front line of Haslett's 3-4 scheme, while Pro Bowl linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo are two of the best in the NFC. They'll be joined this year by rookie Ryan Kerrigan, Washington's first-round choice in April's draft who will not have to waste any time competing for a starting job, since he's already penciled in on the outside opposite Orakpo.
Haslett will have new face at safety too, as former Ram Oshiomogho Atogwe was added before the lockout to bolster a mediocre defensive backfield. The Redskins finished 31st in pass defense in 2010 -- a horrible sign for a team that has so much talent in a secondary that contained interception machine DeAngelo Hall at cornerback and hard-hitting strong safety LaRon Landry.
Landry, though, could open the season on the PUP list with a sore hamstring after previously recovering from an Achilles' injury.
"We'll evaluate that hamstring day-by-day," Shanahan said of Landry. "You sure would like him to be able to play in that last preseason game to get some reps, especially when he missed the second half of last season. Does he have to [play]? No, but it would sure help."
Defense is a major part of the game in the NFL, especially if that team is located in the NFC East. The Cowboys, Eagles and Giants are obviously very familiar with each other and know each other's weaknesses, and a wounded Washington secondary would help Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Michael Vick beef up their stats.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Redskins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2010 RECORD: 6-10 (tied 3rd, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2007, lost to Seattle in NFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Mike Shanahan (6-10 in one season with Redskins, 152-108 in 17 seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kyle Shanahan (second season with Redskins)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett (second season with Redskins)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Santana Moss, WR (93 receptions, 1115 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Brian Orakpo, OLB (56 tackles, 8.5 sacks)
2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 18th overall (30th rushing, 8th passing), 25th scoring (18.9 ppg)
2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 31st overall (26th rushing, 31st passing), tied 21st scoring (23.6 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Tim Hightower (from Cardinals), WR Jabar Gaffney (from Broncos), OG Chris Chester (from Ravens), NT Barry Cofield (from Giants), DE Stephen Bowen (from Cowboys), OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1st Round, Purdue), CB Josh Wilson (from Ravens), S Oshiomogho Atogwe (from Rams), P Sav Rocca (from Eagles), QB Kellen Clemens (from Jets), RB Roy Helu (4th Round, Nebraska), WR Donte Stallworth (from Ravens), TE Derek Schouman (from Rams), OT Sean Locklear (from Seahawks), ILB Keyaron Fox (from Steelers), K Clint Stitser (from Bengals)
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Donovan McNabb (to Vikings), RB Clinton Portis (released), C Casey Rabach (released), NT Maake Kemoeatu (released), CB Carlos Rogers (to 49ers), P Josh Bidwell (released), RB James Davis (released), WR Roydell Williams (released), OG Derrick Dockery (released), OG Mike Williams (released), OT Stephon Heyer (to Raiders), DE Phillip Daniels (released), DE Vonnie Holliday (to Cardinals), DE Jeremy Jarmon (to Broncos), DL Albert Haynesworth (to Patriots), OLB Chris Wilson (to Eagles), OLB Andre Carter (to Patriots)
QB: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the head coach's son, said that the quarterback battle between Grossman (884 passing yards, 7 TD, 4 INT) and Beck is not just about stats, but how each quarterback handles certain situations. He went on to add how vital it is to take what the defense gives you and not to force plays. The two players have made it difficult for the coaches to decide on who's going to be the starter when the season commences Sept. 11 versus the Giants at FedEx Field, as both have had solid preseasons. Grossman played in five games last year and substituted for McNabb on several occasions, completing 74 of his 133 pass attempts, and would love to get back under center as the starter -- something he did for the Bears at times from 2003-2008. He then headed to Houston for the 2009 season and served as a backup to Matt Schaub on an offense also run by Kyle Shanahan. Grossman has played all 16 regular season games just once in his career, back in 2006 when he passed for a career-best 3,193 yards with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions for the Bears. Beck wishes he had that much experience, but this could be the year it starts. The former BYU star said he can't let the ongoing battle distract him. Kellen Clemens will likely serve as the third quarterback after the dust settles. He joined the Redskins in July as a free agent after five years with the Jets.
RB: No longer will the aliases "Southeast Jerome" or "Sheriff Gonna Getcha" be with the Redskins after they released running back Clinton Portis in February. Portis was the face of the offense from 2004-2010 and racked up four 1,000-yard seasons with the Burgundy and Gold. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was derailed by injuries in recent years, however, and was also owned a big sum of money from the organization, which triggered his release. When healthy, Portis was one of the more dominant backs in the league, but unfortunately, life as a running back at the NFL level lasts only so long. He was scheduled to make $8.3 million this season and is 77 yards short of 10,000 career rushing yards. Portis also played in only five games in 2010 before a groin injury ended his season, and rushed for a career-low 227 yards on 54 carries with two touchdowns. Ryan Torain (742 rushing yards, 4 TD) led the team in carries (164) and rushing yards in 2010 is battling newcomer Tim Hightower for playing time. Hightower, who had 10 touchdowns with Arizona in 2008, ran for a career-high 736 yards on 153 carries for the Cardinals last season and was acquired for defensive end Vonnie Holliday and an undisclosed draft pick. Running backs Roy Helu (4th Round, Nebraska) and Evan Royster (6th Round, Penn State) were drafted back in April and will also be in the mix.
WR/TE: Surprisingly enough, the Redskins were eighth in passing a year ago despite McNabb's struggles and the subsequent quarterback controversy. The circus still didn't stop veteran wideout Santana Moss from having a good season, as the former first-round draft pick enjoyed the fourth 1,000-yard season of his career with 1,115 yards and six touchdown catches. Moss had a career-best 93 receptions as well and played in all 16 regular season games for a third straight year. He will be the No. 1 guy again in 2011. Chris Cooley (77 receptions, 3 TD) is one of the top tight ends in the NFC and was second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards (871), while Jabar Gaffney was brought in this offseason after playing the past two seasons with Denver. He is a possession-type of receiver with not much flare or hype, but ended last year with career-highs in catches (65) and yards (875 yards). Anthony Armstrong (44 receptions, 3 TD), Terrence Austin, Brandon Banks and offseason pickup Donte Stallworth are all fighting for playing time, and the Redskins took three wideouts in the recent draft -- Leonard Hankerson (3rd Round, Miami-Florida), Niles Paul (5th Round, Nebraska) and Aldrick Robinson (6th Round, SMU). Stallworth appeared in eight games with Baltimore in 2010, but ended with just two catches for 82 yards.
OL: Washington's offensive line was in complete disarray last season, as evidenced by the 37 sacks McNabb endured and the nine more Grossman took. Four significant lineman were not retained in the offseason, as guard Derrick Dockery, tackles Stephon Heyer and Mike Williams and center Casey Rabach are all gone. Second-year tackle Trent Williams, a first-round pick in 2010, will start at left tackle and protect the backside of either Grossman or Beck. Williams has the length of an NBA center and started 13 of 14 games played a year ago. Right tackle Jammal Brown was re-signed in the offseason and made a successful return from hip surgery in 2009. He and Trent Williams give the Redskins solid bookends, but then again that was thought to be the case in 2010. Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester will start at left and right guard, respectively, while Will Montgomery gets the nod at center with Rabach out of the picture. Shanahan usually had great success with the linemen and the ground game from his days in Denver, so maybe that will serve true in his second year at the helm.
DL: Carriker (37 tackles, 2 sacks) and Stephen Bowen (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks) are slated to start at the end spots, with Bowen coming over from the Cowboys as a free agent. Both will be pushed by former starter Kedric Golston (35 tackles) for playing time, while Jenkins would have been a nice addition before he was lost with a knee injury. Golston said in camp he actually was pleased to see how crowded Washington's front line is, as he feels it will only make them a better unit. Cofield (54 tackles, 4 sacks) is coming off a career year with the Giants in which he registered a career-best four sacks. He has also started every game the past two seasons, and the Redskins hope he can replace the bad memories of Haynesworth at nose tackle for Haslett's 3-4 defensive rotation. Holliday was traded and Phillip Daniels was released in the offseason, which makes the line younger but less experienced.
LB: Andre Carter was the biggest name to jump ship from the linebacking corps in the offseason, but the Redskins shouldn't be too concerned with returning starters Orakpo, Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh (110 tackles, 2 sacks). Fletcher (136 tackles, 3 sacks) has been a mainstay at middle linebacker in D.C. the past four seasons and has recorded 100-plus tackles every year since the 2000 campaign. The 36-year-old is not getting any younger, but his play doesn't represent his age. Orakpo (56 tackles, 9 sacks) led the defense in sacks and has been a beast since being drafted in the first round of 2009. The former University of Texas star has also been durable, missing only one game in 2010. On the other side of Orakpo will be Kerrigan, a standout pass-rushing end at Purdue who's so far made a seamless transition to a 3-4 linebacker. The Redskins also re-signed reserve inside linebacker H.B. Blades (18 tackles) in the offseason and will be entering his fifth year with the Redskins. He has played in 64 career games with seven starts, and is valuable on special teams. Veteran Lorenzo Alexander (57 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and second-year player Perry Riley will compete for time on the outside and inside, respectively.
DB: Atogwe's addition at free safety will help a poor pass defense from a year ago tremendously. He posted 73 tackles and three interceptions last year for St. Louis, which drafted him back in 2005. Atogwe also played for Haslett from 2006-08 and will team up with Landry in the back end. Landry (85 tackles) is uncertain for the season opener because of a hamstring problem and is taking it day-by-day. He could land on the Physically Unable To Perform list as well, in which case Reed Doughty (93 tackles) would most likely start in his place. Starting at cornerback will be Hall (95 tackles, 6 INT) and newcomer Josh Wilson (40 tackles, 3 INT with Ravens). Hall tied a career-high with six picks in 2010 and is still one of the strongest corners in the game. His flamboyant personality may rub people the wrong way, but his teammates enjoy it and he's shown he back it up with big plays. Wilson was picked up in the offseason and will replace former starter Carlos Rogers, who left for San Francisco via free agency. The ex-Ravens is expected to be a big part of Washington's new-look defense. Safety Chris Horton and cornerback Phillip Buchanon (49 tackles, 2 INT) are solid reserves.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Graham Gano only made 65.7 percent of his field goal tries a year ago, hitting on 24-of-35 attempts while also punting four times for 141 yards. He's still back in the fold and has displayed a strong leg since signing with the Redskins as a free agent in December of 2009. Veteran Hunter Smith will no longer handle punting duties for Washington, as the team brought in former Eagle Sav Rocca over the summer. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Australian was a late arrival at camp due to visa problems, but that's all squared away and he's ready to build on a solid 43.8 yard average last season. Banks is expected to handle both kickoff and punt return duties again in 2011. The diminutive speedster averaged 11.3 yards on punts and 25.1 yards on kicks, while scoring one touchdown on a kick return.
PROGNOSIS: The Redskins haven't had a winning record in any of the past three seasons, In fact, they've only posted a record above .500 twice since the turn of the century. That trend could continue in 2011. Whether Grossman or Beck is under center, the Redskins still don't have any big-name playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Shanahan made a great move in prying Hightower away from Arizona, as the addition gives Washington two solid starters at the position with Torain back in the fold. Still, the offensive line will no doubt be under the microscope once again, while there are several question marks on defense. The Redskins won't miss Haynesworth's antics and have built a younger defense, but it may not all come together until a year from now in 2012.