Published August 18, 2012
| Sports Network
The Washington Redskins haven't had much success drafting quarterbacks the last few decades, but just don't tell that to Robert Griffin III.
The second overall pick in April's NFL Draft, better known as "RG3", has a fan base chomping at the bit to get the 2012 campaign started and hoping the team's long recent history of overspending and poor draft selections is in the past.
"I plan on being successful, and I hope the Redskins will join me in that battle," Griffin said months ago. "I have to be a professional, and I plan on doing my job at a high level."
The talented Griffin, the latest recipient of the heralded Heisman Trophy Award after a sensational junior season at Baylor, not only inspires confidence, but was arguably the most athletic player in the draft. His speed and arm strength have drawn comparisons to Michael Vick, and his football I.Q. is equivalent to that of seasoned veterans.
Griffin is aware of the high expectations, and it's not just because the Redskins plucked him with the No. 2 overall pick.
He is now a part of a rich football tradition and will learn under a savvy coach in Mike Shanahan, who has mentored the likes of John Elway and many others along the way. Shanahan needs Griffin as much as his new quarterback needs his head coach, and the two have tremendous respect for each other.
"We were really excited when we were able to move from the sixth spot to the second spot," Shanahan said on picking Griffin. "We had a good feeling Robert would be there. Just to be around him to see how he handles himself and to see how he works, you can see what a class act he is and what sort of charisma he brings.
"I just think he will bring a lot to this organization. You are always looking for that franchise guy. He has not proven himself yet and we understand that. We need to put a good supporting cast around him and play well as a football team."
Shanahan thought he had a franchise quarterback in Donovan McNabb, but that experiment in 2010 failed miserably and the Redskins chalked up another poor fit at the position. Adding to the laundry list of expired talent under center, the Redskins went with Rex Grossman and John Beck last season en route to a 5-11 campaign.
The Redskins have won 15 games over the past three seasons and have reached the postseason twice in the previous 12. It's no wonder Washington has had seven head coaches in that time.
Shanahan is 11-21 since taking over for Jim Zorn and will be on the hot seat if he fails to get anything going positively with a new face at quarterback. Of course, Griffin can't do it alone and will need help from a nondescript offensive line and a new band of receivers that join veteran Santana Moss.
The Redskins added Pierre Garcon in the offseason to help a beleaguered receiving corps and get the franchise back to respectability. Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders are long gone, and Washington has tried to get by with a handful of no-name wideouts in past years.
Perhaps playing under the radar with obscure talent will help the Redskins to reach more than 10 wins for the first time since going 14-2 in 1991 and winning the Super Bowl that year. That's a far stretch, but anything better than five wins is an improvement, though that may not save Shanahan's job.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Redskins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 5-11 (4th, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2007, lost to Seattle in NFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Mike Shanahan (11-21 in two seasons with Redskins, 157-119 in 18 seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kyle Shanahan (third season with Redskins)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett (third season with Redskins)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Robert Griffin III, QB (1st Round, Baylor)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Brian Orakpo, OLB (59 tackles, 9 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 16th overall (25th rushing, 14th passing), 26th scoring (18.0 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 13th overall (18th rushing, 12th passing), 21st scoring (22.9 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Robert Griffin III (1st Round, Baylor), WR Pierre Garcon (from Colts), SS Brandon Meriweather (from Bears), FS Madieu Williams (from 49ers), K Neil Rackers (from Texans), WR Josh Morgan (from 49ers), WR Dezmon Briscoe (from Buccaneers), OT James Lee (from Buccaneers), ILB Bryan Kehl (from Rams), CB Cedric Griffin (from Vikings), CB Morgan Trent (from Jaguars), S Tanard Jackson (from Buccaneers)
KEY DEPARTURES: WR Jabar Gaffney (to Patriots), SS LaRon Landry (to Jets), FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (to Eagles), QB John Beck (to Texans), FB Mike Sellers (retired), WR Donte Stallworth (to Patriots), WR David Anderson (free agent), OT Sean Locklear (to Giants), ILB Keyaron Fox (to Texans), ILB Rocky McIntosh (to Rams), CB Phillip Buchanon (free agent), CB Byron Westbrook (not tendered)
QB: Griffin has a new contract under his belt and a ton of pressure to perform at a high level. The agile signal-caller, who said practices are harder than the actual game during the preseason, should be a perfect fit for Shanahan's offense as long as the two can stay on the same page. With the ability to stretch the field and also keep defenses honest with his legs, Griffin can make all the throws and will be rolling out quite often in 2012. Grossman (3151 yards, 16 TD, 20 INT in 2010) beat out Beck for the starting job a season ago but made plenty of mistakes in leading the offense. He agreed to return in the offseason and could be a reliable backup as long as his number isn't called too often, as he did help Chicago to a Super Bowl behind a strong defense in 2006. Rookie Kirk Cousins (4th Round, Michigan State) was also drafted this year and will battle Grossman for the No. 2 spot behind Griffin.
RB: Tim Hightower (321 rushing yards, 1 TD) is back for another season with Washington and hopes to return on a healthy note. He played in just five games a year ago before suffering a torn ACL in Week 7. Hightower also can catch passes, hauling in 10 for 78 yards and a touchdown last year, and one can only imagine how much more effective he could have been had he stayed healthy. When Hightower went down, rookie Roy Helu (640 rushing yards, 2 TD) took over and played in 15 games. He won't be the starter if Hightower gets back to 100 percent, but will see his fair share of carries. So will Evan Royster (328 rushing yards), who saw time in six games last season and spent a lot of time with the first-team offense in camp with Hightower still recovering. Rookie Alfred Morris, drafted out of Florida Atlantic in the sixth round, will also compete for time. Fullback Darrel Young will be paving the way for whichever running back gets the call on that particular play in Shanahan's offense. Tight end Chris Cooley can also spot Young at that position.
WR: As previously stated, the Redskins lack have lacked a top-tier wide receiver for a while, and that could hurt the development of Griffin if that's still the case. That's why Garcon (70 receptions, 6 TD) was added in the offseason to provide an offensive spark. The former Colt learned from one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Peyton Manning, and battled through a tumultuous season with Indianapolis a year ago. Garcon, who can stretch the field and has excellent hands, is replacing the departed Jabar Gaffney, who led the Redskins with 68 catches for 947 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games last season. Moss (46 receptions, 4 TD) is back for his 12th NFL season and eighth with the Redskins, and still has game-breaking speed though his role as a playmaker is diminishing each year. Josh Morgan was another added in the offseason and spent his first four years with San Francisco. He also will be asked to provide speed and a deep-ball threat for Washington, which still has youngsters Leonard Hankerson (13 receptions) and Anthony Armstrong (7 receptions, 2 TD) as well.
TE: Fred Davis (59 receptions, 3 TD) has taken over the tight end spot from Cooley and is a big target for Griffin who can also block and help open the run game. He played well in 12 games for a Redskins offense that was 14th in passing yards (235.8 ypg) and 16th in total yards (336.7 ypg) in 2011. Cooley is a fan favorite, but must avoid the injury bug that plagued him last year to be successful. He could see time in a two-tight end set as well as fullback. Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen (11 receptions) are other options for Shanahan at the tight end spot. The Redskins haven't had a dominant tight end in years, but this could be Davis' year to shine if Griffin gets enough time to find him.
OL: The key to Griffin's success and health will be the offensive line. Luckily for the rookie, he has the ability to escape, but that won't happen all the time. Left tackle Trent Williams started the 10 games he played in last season before being suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and is one of the up-and-coming premier left tackles in the game. Jammal Brown is expected to hold down the right side and didn't have a strong 2011 campaign, and he's also been battling injuries in camp. The Redskins are hoping things will change for Brown in 2012, otherwise Willie Smith or Tyler Polumbus will push him for time. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is hoping to bounce back after blowing out his knee in Week 6 of last season and is an excellent run blocker. Maurice Hurt is waiting behind him for time, while rookies Josh LeRibeus (3rd Round, Southern Methodist) or Adam Gettis (5th Round, Iowa) may be able fill in. Starting center Will Montgomery has been with the Redskins the last three years and played in all 16 games a year ago. At right guard, Chris Chester brings a strong pass-blocking reputation to the table and made 16 starts in 2011.
DL: The Redskins' defense did their best to try to stem the tide a season ago, finishing 12th against the pass (222.1 ypg), 13th in yards allowed (339.8 ypg), 18th against the run (117.8 ypg) and 21st in points allowed (22.9 ppg). Jim Haslett is in his third season as the Redskins' coordinator after having joined the team when Shanahan was hired in 2010. The 2011 unit improved from its first year in a 3-4 scheme and welcomes back some familiar faces along the front line in ends Adam Carriker (15 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Stephen Bowen (41 tackles, 6 sacks), and nose tackle Barry Cofield (25 tackles, 3 sacks). The front line may not strike fear into opposing offensive linemen, but can stop the run and penetrate the pocket effectively. Kedric Golston (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Jarvis Jenkins, who missed his entire rookie season of 2011 with a knee injury, will see time in a rotation. Chris Neild (10 tackles, 2 sacks) was another option for Haslett up front, but was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in the preseason.
LB: Perhaps the strongest area of defense for Washington is its linebackers. Brian Orakpo (60 tackles, 9 sacks) is a perennial Pro Bowl selection and is the leader of the group. When he isn't doing caveman commercials for Geico, you can find him breathing down the backs of opposing quarterbacks. The muscle-bound outside linebacker has missed just one game in his three-year career and brings a mix of size and speed to the table. The same goes for second-year pro Ryan Kerrigan (64 tackles, 7.5 sacks), who made his mark as a rookie out of Purdue opposite Orakpo a year ago. Kerrigan's high motor and relentless pursuit make him difficult to stop, and he and Orakpo are arguably the top outside linebacker tandem in the NFC East. Defensive captain and middle linebacker London Fletcher (166 tackles, 1.5 sacks) was rumored to be headed elsewhere this offseason, but signed with the team back in April. The veteran led the team in stops once again and was named to the Pro Bowl as a replacement. Perry Riley (68 tackles, 1 sack) filled in well for the now- departed Rocky McIntosh on the inside next to Fletcher, while rookie Keenan Robinson (4th Round, Texas) replaces free-agent departure Keyaron Fox in the rotation and will battle to get on the field. Bryan Kehl (35 tackles, 1 sack) came over from the Rams in free agency and is currently backing up Riley.
DB: DeAngelo Hall (90 tackles, 3 INT) had his lowest interception total since his rookie year of 2003 a season ago and turns 29 in November. He may be getting up there in age, but is still a threat to quarterbacks and wide receivers. Hall is a very durable player, having played in all 16 games in back-to-back campaigns, but takes chance and sometimes gets burned way too often than Haslett would like. He is flanked on the other side by Josh Wilson (63 tackles, 2 INT), who played his first season with Washington in 2011 after spending time in Baltimore and Seattle. Cedric Griffin (67 tackles, 1 INT), in his first stint with Washington after previously playing in Minnesota, was signed to be the nickel back, while Kevin Barnes (26 tackles, 2 INT) returns as the other backup cornerback. David Jones (4 tackles) was signed from Jacksonville to add depth, while rookies Richard Crawford (Southern Methodist) and Jordan Bernstine (Iowa) were drafted in the seventh round as insurance. Giving up yards against the pass was a problem for the Redskins last year, and they hope safeties Brandon Meriweather (32 tackles with Bears) and Madieu Williams (9 tackles with 49ers) can right the problem. Both were picked up as free agents in the offseason. Reed Doughty (86 tackles) and DeJon Gomes (35 tackles) will be ready to step up when called on if either new safety struggles, while Tanard Jackson (35 tackles, 2 INT) also joins the fray this season after a stint with Tampa Bay.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Graham Gano made 72.6 percent of his field goal attempts and had five blocked in 2011, so the Redskins brought in veteran Neil Rackers to push for the starting job. Rackers connected on 32-of-38 field goal tries and all but one of his 40 PAT's for Houston last season. He has made 80 percent of his field goal attempts in a 12-year career. Punter Sav Rocca averaged 43.1 yards on 66 tries and landed 28 inside the 20-yard line last year and has a knack for setting up opposing offenses deep in their own territory. Brandon Banks is the favorite to handle return duties on both punts and kickoffs and did so in all 16 games a year ago. The third-year pro, who can play receiver as well, has tremendous speed and upside.
PROGNOSIS: The addition of Griffin alone could give the Redskins an extra four to five wins, and that could mean a playoff spot. But he will likely go through some rookie issues and needs to stay healthy and on the field in order to learn from them. Like Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Griffin doesn't have the type of surrounding cast one would imagine from a playoff team, which is why the Redskins will try to make do with its current roster. Adding Garcon to play opposite of Moss was a nice addition to the Redskins, but it will take an entire offseason, training camp and preseason for everyone to acclimated with each other before Washington will be ready to go. Picked to win the NFC East by Grossman last season, that may not be the case for the Redskins until next year or 2014. However, a wild card spot is not out of the question if Griffin catches on quickly. The defense is already a well-oiled machine, it's just that the offense needs to catch up.