Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2009 Season Report Card
The Washington Redskins’ 2009 season was the franchise’s worst in 15 years. Second-year head coach Jim Zorn hoped to return the Redskins to the playoffs with a blossoming quarterback and some high-priced defensive talent. Instead, years of mismanagement, a crippling lack of talent and a slew of injuries finally caught up with the team. It resulted in a dismal 4-12 record and cost both Zorn and Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations, their jobs.
The organization’s attempt to reverse course began last month with the hiring of general manager Bruce Allen, and it continued last week with two-time Super Bowl champion coach Mike Shanahan. With their efforts to rebuild in the nascent stages, here’s my review of the season that prompted a landmark shift in the franchise’s course.
It starts with a position-by-position report card. Later, we’ll discuss player awards, burning offseason questions and, my personal favorite, the year in quotes.
I’m eager to hear your comments and feedback on the grades and outlooks, so please don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.
Jason Campbell did not make the significant leap forward that the team hoped he would in his second season under coach Jim Zorn. Yes, he set career highs in passing yards (3,618), completion percentage (64.5), passer rating (86.4) and touchdowns (20), but he did not consistently move the offense or demonstrate the ability to make his teammates better. He failed to recognize open receivers at times, and he wasn’t consistently accurate when he did see them. Campbell, however, did display remarkable toughness and grit behind a woeful offensive line that undermined any chance for success on offense.
Outlook: Campbell’s uneven play during his make-or-break season didn’t dramatically alter his status with the franchise. The front office entered the season unconvinced that he’s the quarterback of the future, and that’s still the case. He’ll likely be a restricted free agent this offseason, so the Redskins could keep him for another season at the relatively low cost of about $3 million and have him bridge the gap to a quarterback-of-the-future they acquire in the draft.
RUNNING BACKS: D
Injuries and poor conditioning doomed Clinton Portis’ season before he suffered a season-ending concussion in Week 9. With rare exceptions, he failed to demonstrate the burst and explosiveness that made him an NFL star. He also was a divisive locker room figure because of his questionable practice habits and penchant for making headlines with his words. The Redskins missed his superb pass protection skills. Backup Ladell Betts was a serviceable third-down back before he tore his ACL, but he made little impact other than his impressive performance against Denver. Quinton Ganther and Rock Cartwright were overmatched in featured roles.
Outlook: Portis’ future with the team is uncertain because of his concussion and abrasive persona. New coach Mike Shanahan wants to see Portis, 28, commit to getting in shape. The Redskins could jettison him easily in the likely scenario that there is no salary cap next season. He’s guaranteed $6.4 million of his $7.2 million base salary in 2010. Betts’ status is in doubt because he’ll be 31 coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Shanahan has drafted successful running backs in the late rounds.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-
Washington did not have a 1,000-yard receiver for the third time in four seasons and lacked a consistent big-play threat. Santana Moss proved he can still make plays in space. He didn’t get open enough against frequent double teams, though, and he was a non-factor in several games. Antwaan Randle El used his shiftiness well as a serviceable slot receiver, but he did not score a touchdown. Second-year wideouts Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly progressed, but neither had a true breakout season. Thomas improved his route-running but wasn’t an explosive playmaker. Kelly struggled with route running in his first extensive NFL action.
Outlook: This position is an area of concern because Moss’ and Randle El’s effectiveness diminished, and it’s unlikely to reverse course with both at age 31 by next season. Meanwhile, Thomas and Kelly–the receivers of the future–have not progressed enough for coaches to count on major production next season. Those two showed promise, though, and that might have to suffice, considering the Redskins’ extensive needs at other positions.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Fred Davis was one of the only bright spots on offense. He led the team with six touchdowns and proved his worth as a pass-catching threat. He got open consistently and was generally impressive gaining yards after the catch. Just as importantly, he dramatically improved his blocking after starter Chris Cooley suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week 7. Cooley was his typically reliable self before he got hurt. He still managed two touchdowns, one more than he had in 16 games in 2008. Todd Yoder blocked fairly well and caught three touchdowns.
Outlook: Mike Shanahan faces a dilemma in using both Cooley and Davis next season. If history is any indication, though, he’ll find a way. In his last two seasons in Denver, tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham combined for at least 72 catches, 795 yards and seven touchdowns each year, with fairly even splits.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
The line performed awfully as a whole, and it crippled the Redskins offense. It surrendered 46 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL. The Redskins averaged only 3.9 yards per rush, the fourth-lowest in the league. Talent deficiencies and injuries were major problems. LG Derrick Dockery was only average after signing a five-year, $26 million free-agent contract last offseason. Starting RT Stephon Heyer was not technically sound or strong enough to consistently run- or pass-block effectively. C Casey Rabach was the team’s best lineman, but even he was pushed back and failed to sustain blocks with an alarming frequency. A lack of quality planning by the front office left the line without serviceable depth behind aging stalwarts LT Chris Samuels and RG Randy Thomas. So after Samuels and Thomas suffered season-ending injuries in the first five games, backups such as Levi Jones, Mike Williams and Will Montgomery were overmatched. Second-year prospect Chad Rinehart disappointed before breaking his leg on Nov. 22.
Outlook: The line requires a dramatic overhaul. Samuels (age 33 in July) and Thomas (34 next Tuesday) aren’t reliable options for 2010 because of their age and injury history. Rabach is an unrestricted free agent, and Heyer proved he’s not a quality starter. Shanahan values a quality line, so expect many moves to address the unit. Years of neglecting the line in the draft should end with the Redskins’ second-round selection, if not the fourth-overall pick.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
The line improved from last season after the offseason additions of free agent DT Albert Haynesworth and LB/DE Brian Orakpo. Overall, though, the unit was only slightly better than average. The run defense slipped and allowed 4.1 yards per carry (21st in the NFL). The Redskins dramatically improved their sack total, from 24 in 2008 to 40, but consistency was problematic. DE Andre Carter (11 sacks) had a breakout season. Haynesworth was dominant at times, but he lived up to his reputation of being injury-prone by missing four games. His absence from many practices and his decision to publicly criticize coordinator Greg Blache’s scheme were detrimental. DE Phillip Daniels was a serviceable run-stopping end despite a torn biceps. DT Cornelius Griffin disappeared at times, and reserve DT Kedric Golston frequently outplayed him. Third-round supplemental pick DE Jeremy Jarmon flashed occasionally before tearing his ACL on Nov. 29.
Outlook: This unit could transform dramatically if the Redskins switch to a 3-4 alignment, as expected. Haynesworth’s role would change completely. He might not be happy as a true nose tackle whose primary responsibility is to occupy offensive linemen instead of making tackles. Carter might play more as an outside linebacker. Golston is likely to be a restricted free agent, and he should be retained. Jarmon is smaller than a prototypical 4-3 end, but he’d fit well in a 3-4.
MLB London Fletcher hardly showed signs of breaking down at age 34. His sure tackling earned him status as a first alternate to the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad. His ability to diagnose a play is among the best in the game. Rookie LB/DE Brian Orakpo earned a Pro Bowl nomination despite transitioning from his role as a full-time defensive end in college. Most of his 11 sacks came as an end, but he held his own as a linebacker. He progressed in coverage and in the run game over time, but significant room for improvement remains. Weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh excelled against the run, particularly in short yardage. Reserves H.B. Blades and Chris Wilson occasionally flashed.
Outlook: The Redskins have the linebackers needed to switch to a 3-4 alignment. Orakpo has a head start on the end/linebacker hybrid position. Fletcher is one of the game’s best at playing inside. McIntosh and Wilson are expected to be restricted free agents. Both had solid seasons and should be retained to ease the transition to a 3-4. Blades could be a key contributor after proving to be a capable run-stopper.
The season was disappointing for a unit that ranked 10th against the pass, failed to make enough game-changing plays and surrendered too many. An inability to force turnovers was critical; only four teams had fewer interceptions than the Redskins’ 11. Safety LaRon Landry expected a breakout season in his third year but regressed. His tackling remained shoddy and unreliable. He was fooled in coverage several times and was responsible for a handful of high-profile touchdowns. SS Chris Horton’s play was uneven before he suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 9. SS Reed Doughty excelled against the run but struggled some in coverage. DeAngelo Hall had a team-high four interceptions but wasn’t a shutdown cornerback. CB Carlos Rogers struggled with double moves and did not have an interception. Justin Tryon battled growing pains after being appointed as the slot cornerback in his second season.
Outlook: Shanahan and new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must decide whether they want Landry to play strong safety, where he was an all-American in college, or continue playing free. The problem is that Landry is the best free safety they have. Rogers likely will be a restricted free agent. The Redskins lack a second starting-caliber corner if they let him go. CB Fred Smoot will be 31, and his base salary is scheduled to triple to $2.3 million next season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D+
Special teams hurt the Redskins more than they helped. Problems stemmed from some underachieving or inconsistent veterans and the trickle-down effects of injuries. Washington ranked in the NFL’s worst in punt- and kick-return average but among the best in coverage. Punt returner Antwaan Randle El had the worst season of his career. He averaged a career-low 6.0 yards per return, a mark inflated by one 43-yarder. He was not a big-play threat. He was quick to signal for fair catches and did not get upfield effectively. P Hunter Smith battled a groin injury most of the season and finished with a 41.3 gross average, the second-worst of his career. K Shaun Suisham was cut after 12 games and two critical fourth-quarter misses.
Outlook: Plenty of questions abound. Kicker is an uncertainty after rookie Graham Gano’s pedestrian four-game tryout at the end of the season. Smith’s one-year contract expired, and he’s an unrestricted free agent. The Redskins need a punt returner to replace Randle El. WR Devin Thomas could replace Rock Cartwright as the primary kick returner.
Jim Zorn was fired in the wake of the team’s worst record in 11 seasons under owner Daniel Snyder, and many of his assistants will soon follow him out. Zorn didn’t have a playoff-caliber roster to work with, but few players made vast improvements. Zorn didn’t mold Jason Campbell into an elite quarterback. The defense regressed in coordinator Greg Blache’s second season. Coaching successes included Brian Orakpo’s transition to linebacker and TE Fred Davis’ emergence. Zorn’s steady demeanor helped maintain staff cohesion as the season fell apart. The staff withstood the front office’s in-season decision to give offensive consultant Sherm Lewis play-calling duties. Secondary coach Jerry Gray interviewed for Zorn’s job during the season.
Outlook: Two-time Super Bowl head coach Mike Shanahan represents a significant upgrade. A coach with his resume and clout should command respect from Snyder, as well as divisive personalities such as Clinton Portis and Albert Haynesworth. Shanahan and new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are apparently planning to overhaul the scheme of a unit that carried the team for most of the last decade. If Shanahan improves on his record as a personnel evaluator, the Redskins’ turnaround could be swift.