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 email@example.com.
2009 Season Review: Awards
Time to hand out some hardware. Yeah, yeah, no one feels like celebrating anything about an awful 4-12 season. But there were some bright spots that are worth recognizing as much as the negatives. Let’s start the show:
QB JASON CAMPBELL
Picking an offensive MVP seems misguided considering how poor the Redskins were on that side of the ball. No one on offense truly shone, but Campbell, at least, stood out. His toughness under extreme duress helped Washington salvage some competitive performances from the dire predicament that resulted from management’s baffling neglect of the offensive line. As the season progressed, Campbell showed more poise in the pocket and kept his eyes on his receivers instead of looking at the pass rush. That helped the offense to finally surpass the 17-point plateau and, you know, look like a real NFL team. Along the way, Campbell earned the respect of his teammates, coaches and many others around the NFL for his grit. He became the second Redskins quarterback since 1989 to throw for 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. He set career highs in passing yards (3,618), completion percentage (64.5), passer rating (86.4), touchdowns (20) and also interceptions (15).
TE Fred Davis: Davis was arguably the biggest weapon on an offense with few. He led the team with six touchdowns and ranked third in catches (48) and receiving yards (509). More on him below.
LT Chris Samuels: Samuels was my midseason MVP because his injury and subsequent absence proved his immense value to the offense. The offense simply couldn’t survive without him. That reasoning isn’t enough, though, when considering the entire season. But his case should serve as a lesson to owner Daniel Snyder. Successful teams should have a stellar Plan A and a quality Plan B on the offensive line. Washington didn’t have any semblance of either.
MLB LONDON FLETCHER
Fletcher was the Redskins’ best player again this season. He’s as good as it gets for this team on the field and off it. Let’s start on the field. He finished second in NFL with 142 tackles and was the heartbeat of the defense. He’s got a tremendous knack for diagnosing plays, and he uses his diminutive size to his advantage in shooting through gaps. He’s also one of the NFL’s surest tacklers. Those on-field talents were matched by his leadership skills and veteran presence. He was a mentor to young players and a guiding voice during a tumultuous season. He helped Brian Orakpo with his transition to linebacker. He led by example with an energy and passion for the game that many teammates found to be contagious. At age 34, he didn’t show many signs of slowing down. A few more game-changing plays-he had only one interception, one forced fumble and 2.0 sacks-and he would have made his first Pro Bowl. As it stands, he’s a first alternate, so he’ll go if Jonathan Vilma’s New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
DE Andre Carter: Carter had his best season as a Redskin. He led the team with three forced fumbles and tied for the team lead with 11.0 sacks. His offseason speed and strength training, coupled with the presence of DT Albert Haynesworth inside, helped Carter resurrect a Redskins pass rush that had been dormant for years. He’s a Pro Bowl alternate.
LB/DE Brian Orakpo: The rookie earned the Redskins’ only Pro Bowl nomination. More on him in just a moment.
LB/DE BRIAN ORAKPO
Orakpo’s first season in Washington was a success, and he proved to be one of the steals of the draft’s first round after being taken 13th overall. He tied for the team lead with 11 sacks and earned the Redskins’ only Pro Bowl nomination as a reserve. He also showed a willingness to learn by embracing his transition from a full-time end in college to a hybrid end/linebacker. He improved as the season progressed by adjusting to speed of the NFL, timing his pass rushes better and working in-sync with teammates to maximize the effectiveness of his rushes. Orakpo also demonstrated the ability to conduct himself as a professional off the field. His attitude was positive and he said the right things to the media. Perhaps the most exciting element of Orakpo’s game is that he finished fourth in the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year voting despite having significant room for improvement. He did not register a sack in six of the last seven games, and he struggled some in pass coverage. Orakpo will only get better, and he should be an impact player for years to come.
DT Albert Haynesworth: Haynesworth was usually more dominant than Orakpo-you’d expect that from a two-time All-Pro who just signed a record free agent contract-but he missed four games due to injury and proved to be a divisive figure with his public criticism of coaches. Haynesworth played a significant role in aiding the Redskins’ pass rush, and teams had difficulty rushing up the middle when he was in the game. He still has a lot to prove, though, in terms of durability, commitment and attitude.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
TE FRED DAVIS
Davis seized his opportunity to start after Chris Cooley suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week 7, and he emerged from "bust" status to become an impact player. He increased his receptions total from three as a rookie to 48 this season. Much of that stemmed from his approach to the game. As a rookie, Davis was criticized for being unprofessional-remember that he slept through a rookie minicamp. He took his opportunity seriously this season. After Cooley was injured, Davis cancelled his bye week vacation and stayed at Redskins Park to work with tight ends coach Scott Wachenheim on fundamentals of blocking and route running. It paid significant dividends, as Davis’ shoddy blocking dramatically improved. He also displayed some impressive athleticism with his ability to get open consistently and gain yards after the catch. Davis did not thrive until he was faced with significant playing time. Expect coach Mike Shanahan to realize that and figure out how to effectively use Cooley and Davis together.
DE Andre Carter: Carter had 11.0 sacks and three forced fumbles a year after recording 4.0 sacks and no forced fumbles.
WR Devin Thomas: Davis’ draft classmate made some significant strides. Thomas was given the first chance to win the starting flanker position in training camp, but he lost it to Malcolm Kelly because he was ineffective with his route running and didn’t get open. He regained the spot, however, in October and showed flashes of being the impact receiver the Redskins need him to be. His route running improved significantly, and he proved that he’s able to gain yards after the catch by breaking tackles. He finished with 25 catches, 325 yards and three touchdowns after posting 15/120/1 as a rookie.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DE PHILLIP DANIELS
Daniels played in all 16 games after missing the 2008 season with a torn ACL in his left knee. He wasn’t a superstar, but he adequately filled his role as a solid run-stopping defensive end. And he played 11 games with a torn left biceps. You can’t say the guy isn’t steady: he’s had 24 solo tackles in each of the last three seasons that he’s played. It must be noted that Daniels is another one of those upstanding veterans whose presence in the locker room helped steer the Redskins through a dismal campaign. His contract expired after the season, but he does not plan on retiring.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
RB LADELL BETTS vs. Denver
Betts sure made the most of his fleeting moment in the spotlight this season. In his first start since 2006, he rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in the Redskins’ 27-17 upset win over the Denver Broncos on Nov. 15. Such numbers are pedestrian for guys like Tennessee’s Chris Johnson or Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, but they amount to the Redskins’ best individual performance of the season because Betts overcame the obstacles that hindered the offense all season. His running helped the Redskins find a winning formula that was absent all year: they controlled the clock and wore down Denver’s defense in the fourth quarter. Betts did a wonderful job in the game of pressing the holes, making one cut and then exploding down the field. Granted, this was also the offensive line’s best game of the season, so perhaps Betts doesn’t deserve all the credit for an "individual" performance. But the fact that he did it in helping the team earn an impressive, cathartic upset victory merits the top spot.
LB/DE Brian Orakpo vs. Oakland
Orakpo’s 4-sack performance in a 34-13 win over Oakland on Dec. 13 was brilliant. Any argument that this should be the top performance is justified. You won’t hear any complaints from me. Washington knocked Raiders starter Bruce Gradkowski out of the game, took a comfortable lead and then teed off on backup JaMarcus Russell. Orakpo tied the franchise record for sacks a in a game. Three of his sacks came from defensive end and one from linebacker. He used an array of moves that highlighted his speed, strength and timing. Interestingly, these were the only sacks Orakpo recorded during the final seven games of the season.
WR Santana Moss vs. Detroit
Moss had a whopping 10 catches for a career-high 178 yards, including a 57-yard deep ball for a touchdown. He flashed some big-play potential that was absent for much of the season as teams focused on shutting him down. This would have warranted higher consideration if the Redskins had not, you know, LOST TO THE DETROIT LIONS!
QB Jason Campbell vs. New Orleans
Campbell threw for a career-high 367 yards, three touchdowns and completed 71 percent of his passes in the Redskins’ upset bid of undefeated New Orleans on Dec. 6. However, he threw an interception at the end of regulation when the Saints blitzed, and it doomed Washington’s chances of a last-second fourth-quarter victory. The Saints won 33-30 in overtime.
QB Jason Campbell vs. Oakland
Campbell had a passer rating of 106.5 after going 16-for-28 with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a convincing win over Oakland.
MLB London Fletcher vs. Dallas
Fletcher led an inspired defensive effort in the Redskins’ 7-6 loss at Dallas on Nov. 22. He had 13 tackles (8 solo), an interception and a forced fumble. He was the beaten in coverage, however, on Patrick Crayton’s game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter.
…Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think I got right and wrong with the awards. Post a comment, email me or drop me a line on Twitter @Rich_Campbell. Coming up tomorrow: the 2009 season in quotes.