(Sports Network) - Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan sure has a way
of motivating his players.
When the Redskins were 3-6 at one point last season, Shanahan said it was time
to evaluate who is worthy to wear the burgundy and gold. The players responded
by winning seven in a row to finish 10-6 and return to the playoffs for the
first time since 2007.
The Redskins also won the division for the first time since 1999 and one
player made the difference for that to happen: quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin is aware of Shanahan's motivational tactics and is also abreast of his
coach's tendencies to err on the side of caution. Griffin, of course,
spearheaded Washington's 2012 revival as a rookie, but was knocked out of a
wild card game versus the Seattle Seahawks with tears to both the lateral
collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee.
RG3 targeted training camp to get back to work and is hoping to play Week 1
versus the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles. Expectations are quite high for
the Redskins and Griffin is the reason why. He denied reports that he and
Shanahan were at odds for his participation in training camp or lack thereof.
"I just want everybody to know that if there's any questions about a rift
between me and coach, or if there's a conflict, there is no conflict. Coaches
coach, I'm a player," Griffin said. "Coach has a plan and I'm abiding by that
plan. I'm doing everything that they ask me to do. I trust those guys. They
want me to have a long career and that's what this part of this plan is
One cannot fault a guy for wanting to play, but Shanahan knows how vital
Griffin is to this team and even admires the former Heisman Trophy winner's
desire to get back to work with his teammates. It's about being smart and
cautious and Shanahan understands he'll be in a world of hurt if his deadly
weapon sustains a setback in this rehabilitation process.
"I love it when somebody wants to be out there; that's a good problem to have
as a head coach," said Shanahan, who said there's no possibility Griffin will
play in the preseason. "But my job is to make sure that we do the best thing
for Robert. And that's what I'm going to try to do."
With RG3 under center in his freshman NFL season, the Redskins' offense
sizzled. The 'Skins were first in rushing yards (169.3), fourth in scoring
(27.2 ppg) and fifth in both total yards (383.2) and touchdowns (52),
including the second-best rushing total at 22. Besides Griffin, fellow rookie
Alfred Morris shined to the tune of 13 rushing touchdowns. Running backs tend
to achieve a lot of success in a Shanahan-led scheme and Morris took off.
Shanahan would like to see Morris more involved outside of the backfield, too.
"A lot of people come out of college and they just don't spend the time on
catching the ball. He has spent a lot of time in the offseason catching the
football, running routes and you can see that hard work has paid off because
he's a lot more natural," Shanahan said. "It gives you another dimension."
The Redskins are one of two favorites (New York Giants) to win the NFC East
and have the offense to accomplish the feat. However, the defense will always
be an issue, especially playing against the Giants, Eagles and Dallas Cowboys
twice a year. That didn't seem to hinder Washington last season, as the team
recorded a 5-1 mark in division play, finished 30th in pass defense (281.9)
and fifth against the rush (95.8).
Washington's stop unit was supposed to have two solid contributors back in
linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker. Orakpo suffered a
pectoral tear in the second game of the season and Carriker's season came to a
close that day because of a quad tendon tear.
"He can do it all," Shanahan said of Orakpo at the time. "He's everything you
look at in a Pro Bowl linebacker."
Carriker, though, was back under the knife for a third time to repair a right
leg injury and a timetable for his return is unknown. He will be forced to
miss the first six regular-season games since he's on the PUP list.
Orakpo is now dealing a with a thigh bruise that isn't deemed too serious. In
Orakpo's absence last season, linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley
finished with 139 and 128 tackles, respectively. With Orakpo back, Fletcher
and Riley should have a lighter load.
2012 RECORD: 10-6 (Won NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012 (lost to Seattle Seahawks Wild Card round)
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Mike Shanahan (21-27 in four seasons with the Redskins,
167-125 in 19 seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Kyle Shanahan (fourth season)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett (fourth season)
KEY ADDITIONS: LB Nick Barnett (from Bills), LB/DE Darryl Tapp (from Eagles),
CB David Amerson (draft), T Jeremy Trueblood (from Buccaneers), WR Donte
Stallworth (from Patriots), C/G Kevin Matthews (from Titans)
KEY DEPARTURES: LB Lorenzo Alexander (Cardinals), CB D.J. Johnson (released),
CB Cedric Griffin, S Madieu Williams, OT Jammal Brown
QB: Griffin (3,200 passing yards, 20 TD, 5 INT) played a large role in
Washington's turnaround campaign last season. The worst-to-first revival was
made possible by Griffin, who recorded a 102.4 QB rating and completed 65.6
percent of his passes. Other teams are well aware of Griffin's talents and
will have system designed to stop the elusive Baylor product. Griffin has the
awareness in the pocket to scramble and pick up yards, and set the single-
season rushing record for a rookie quarterback with 815 yards. RG3 is hoping
to be ready by Week 1 and it wouldn't be a surprise if he's ready to go in
less than a year since the injury. His durability may come into question, but
not his heart and work ethic.
If Griffin is unable to go for the season opener, which could be a
possibility, Kirk Cousins (466 passing yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) will get the nod.
Cousins is obviously not as talented as Griffin, but does serve as an
RB: The Redskins had the top rushing attack last season because of two
players: RG3 and Morris. Morris (1,613 yards, 13 TD) was second behind Adrian
Peterson for total rushing yards and yards per game with 100.8. He is not the
fastest or most talented back in the league, but Morris knows how well running
backs fare in a Shanahan system. Morris busted out on the scene in 2012 with
seven games with 100-plus yards rushing, including a 200-yard, three-touchdown
effort on Dec. 30 versus Dallas in a must-win situation. Whether Morris can
duplicate his success from his rookie campaign is unknown.
Roy Helu and Evan Royster will battle for time behind Morris, while Chris
Thompson was drafted in April out of Florida State and Jawan Jamison from
Rutgers. Darrel Young (60 yards) seems to have the edge at fullback.
WR: Nothing helps a quarterback more than having a reliable set of hands.
That's what Pierre Garcon brings to the table in his second season with the
Redskins. Garcon was limited to 10 games in 2012 and returns as Griffin's go-
to receiver. Garcon (633 yards, 4 TD) caught 44 passes last season, his lowest
output since four receptions back in 2008. The speedy wideout, who was
bothered by a foot problem, will have to stay healthy in order to help the
Redskins become an even more dangerous offense since Santana Moss and Donte
Stallworth are aging.
Moss (573 yards, 8 TD) led the core in TD catches and played in all 16 games.
So did Leonard Hankerson (543 yards, 3 TD) and Joshua Morgan (510 yards, 2
TD). Aldrick Robinson is another option for Washington's no-name receiving
bunch and Devery Henderson failed to make he roster in training camp. He may
re-surface down the road.
TE: Could this be the year tight end Fred Davis finally puts it all together?
Lost in Week 7 of last season, Davis (325 yards) managed to haul in 24 passes
before landing on injured reserve with a torn Achilles. Davis is a talented
player who has yet to break out of his shell, but the Redskins aren't giving
up hope he can make an impact in their offense. Davis played the 2012 season
under a franchise tag.
Logan Paulsen (308 yards, TD) took over duties and appeared in all 16 games.
Jordan Reed was drafted out of Florida in April as insurance if Davis, who
agreed to a contract in March, is not 100 percent. The Redskins will need
someone to step up since they did not produce a pass catcher with more than
700 yards. That is something Washington isn't used to, having won Super Bowls
with wideouts Art Monk, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders, etc.
OL: Griffin was sacked 30 times last season and Cousins three times. If RG3
can limit his recklessness and learn how to slide or run out of bounds
consistently, then the Redskins will be in good shape. When he's not making
plays with his feet, Griffin needs that precious time in the pocket to make
the proper reads. Left tackle and Griffin's blind-side protector Trent
Williams is back and right tackle Tyler Polumbus was re-signed in the
offseason. That's a welcoming sign for an offense that needs to retain
stability up front.
Kory Lichtensteiger and veteran Chris Chester will start at left and right
guard, respectively, while Will Montgomery will handle snaps with Griffin once
again. Montgomery has seven years of experience and is part of a line that
helped pave the way for Morris in his fantastic rookie season. Tackles Tony
Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood were added this offseason for depth.
DL: The Redskins were a tough team to run against in 2012, holding opposing
ground attacks to just 95.8 yards per game (5th in NFL). In Jim Haslett's 3-4
scheme, nose tackle Barry Cofield serves as the ideal run stuffer. Cofield (36
tackles, 2 1/2 sacks) played in all 16 games last season, but slowed down
toward the end of the regular season and playoffs.
Defensive ends Stephen Bowen (26 tackles, sack) and Jarvis Jenkins (25
tackles) aren't household names except in the Redskins' family. Jenkins,
though, was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 regular season for
testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. The two ends
have the toughest jobs playing in a division with talented quarterbacks and
running backs. But in this pass-first league, it's very important to put
pressure on the QB and this front line failed to do so in 2012. Brandon
Jenkins was drafted in April out of Florida State, but can also OLB.
LB: The strength of Washington's defense comes from the linebackers. Fletcher
(139 tackles, 5 INT) seems to get better with age and is the stop unit's
captain. Fletcher may be getting up in years, but his knowledge for the game
and his opponent cannot be matched. Fletcher, although undersized, plays
downhill and is a beast against the run.
He will be joined inside by Perry Riley (128 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks), who's
another run-stuffing defender with enough quickness to drop back in coverage.
Having Orakpo back will just make it more difficult for offenses to block Ryan
Kerrigan. Kerrigan (54 tackles, 8 1/2 sacks) led the Redskins in sacks and
plays with a high motor. He tends to over pursue at times and brings an
animalistic side on gameday. Kerrigan, who will probably be used as a down
lineman in some packages, is still young and learning what it takes to be a
dominant pass rusher and is expected to have an even better season than last.
Washington's linebackers will make up for a porous secondary and the addition
of Darryl Tapp, Nick Barnett and improved play from Rob Jackson adds to a
healthy crop of middle defenders.
DB: The Redskins endured plenty of criticism for their secondary play in 2012,
and were 30th in passing yards allowed (281.9). Seasoned veteran cornerbacks
DeAngelo Hall (95 tackles, 4 INT) and Josh Wilson (74 tackles, 2 INT) will not
only serve as pillars to the defense, but mentors to rookies David Amerson and
safety Bacarri Rambo.
Rookie safety Phillip Thomas suffered a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left
foot and will likely miss the rest of the season. Thomas was hurt in the
Redskins' 22-21 exhibition victory over the Tennessee Titans last Thursday and
a timetable for recovery is four to five months.
Hall, meanwhile, battle an ankle injury in training camp, while Wilson had
missed the start of camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and
was put on the active PUP list.
Rambo will most likely start at free safety and shined in his days with the
University of Georgia. A hard-hitting safety, Rambo will play alongside
Brandon Merriweather, who appeared in one game last season because of a knee
injury that required surgery.
Reed Doughty (69 tackles, INT) and DeJon Gomes (40 tackles, INT) are fighting
for playing time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: With Billy Cundiff playing for the New York Jets, Kai Forbath
will handle kicking duties. Forbath made 17-of-18 attempts last season in 11
games and nailed 11-of-11 from between 40-49 yards. His longest was a
successful 50-yarder and he made 33-of-34 PAT attempts.
Punter Sav Rocca is back for another year and averaged a career-high 43.9
yards on 68 tries in 2012. Heading into his seventh NFL campaign, the former
Australian Football League standout has averaged 43.1 yards per kick against
only three blocks over 433 attempts in 96 games with the Eagles and Redskins.
Niles Paul is slated to return kickoffs and had 13 of them last season,
averaging 21.8 yards. Brandon Banks did most of the work a year ago with 22
kick returns for 527 yards (24.0) and 26 punt returns for 178 yards (6.8).
Richard Crawford, who is pegged to be the main man on punt returns, had eight
for and average of 19.5 yards last season. Rocca will be the holder and Nick
Sundberg is back as the longsnapper.
COACHING: Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was even irritated that Griffin
was being eased back into practice by his father and understands his QB's
frustrations for not being on the field with his teammates.
"I understood his frustrations. I am just as frustrated," Shanahan said of
Griffin. "The whole team, everybody wants him out there. Your starting
quarterback, we all want him out there to play and it's hard. Me being young
and everything, I want him out there the very first day. I don't have much
experience in this. The main thing is we can't risk him getting hurt. As hard
as it is, as frustrating as it is for him, myself, the head coach, every
player out here, it is what we have got to do."
The Redskins will find it tough sledding offensively this year with their
opponents aware of what they like to run. Will Griffin be a different player
or more hesitant to take off when plays break down? It's not certain. His
coaches know he needs to play smart if he wants a long career in the NFL and
they have to put him in position to make plays.
As for the defense, that could be the Achilles heal of the team. But Orakpo is
back for Haslett's unit and the Redskins added some young talent via the
THE SKINNY: The Redskins' 2013 season boils down to the health of RG3 and
whether he can stay on the field for the majority of the season. If that
happens, the Redskins appear poised to make another run at an NFC East title
and win in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
All of the pieces from Washington's impressive run a year ago are back in the
fold, but some have more gray hairs than others. Overall, this is a fairly
young crop of Redskins who will prove last season's success was not a fluke.
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