RICHMOND, Va. -- During OTAs and minicamps, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan worked to pump up his offensive players by showing them stats that compared their 2012 season -- favorably -- to numbers put up by past Redskins Super Bowl championship teams and teams with which Shanahan won Super Bowls while head coach in Denver and offensive coordinator in San Francisco. In the case of wide receiver Pierre Garcon, at least, this appears to have worked.
On Thursday, Garcon said the Redskins' 2013 offense had the potential to be the best ever. On Friday, he stood by those comments and expanded on them.
"We're all growing together in this offense, and we've got a lot of guys that can take it to the house from any position," Garcon said after the Redskins' morning walkthrough. "So when you have those guys out there in an offense that we're all familiar with now, it's not getting used to it or learning it, it's just letting your natural abilities play.
"Now you're just learning from your mistakes from last year and sharpening up your tools. It's a lot easier, because you're not being coached as much. You're just tuning up the details of what you already know. It's not starting out fresh; it's building off of last year."
That was Shanahan's point with the numbers -- to show his players how much they were able to accomplish in their first year together in an unfamiliar offense, and to project forward from there the possibilities now that they're familiar with each other and the schemes.
So, is he right? Is Garcon's dream of an all-time offense a realistic one? Certainly, it's no stretch to imagine the Redskins leading the league in rushing again. If nothing else, they're one of the few teams in the NFL's current pass-happy era for whom that's a priority. Alfred Morris is a legitimate workhorse running back, they have depth behind him, and the threat of a downfield passing attack combined with read-option possibilities on any play should continue to open up room for Morris to run. Shanahan's well-established as a successful offensive coach, and the 2013 offense is likely to show advances and differences from the 2012 one. It's easy to believe, scheme-wise, that the Redskins will be able to stay ahead of opposing defenses.
But it's not as though there aren't question marks. The Redskins started the same five offensive linemen in 16 of their 17 games last season. The simple law of averages tells you that's not likely to happen again, and if injuries strike the line they will have to adjust. Morris stayed perfectly healthy, which is also no sure bet for a running back that likes contact as much as he does. Garcon himself needs to stay healthy -- the Redskins were 9-2 with him in the lineup last season, but his toe problem wasn't surgically repaired and remains a threat to crop up again. And they need to better define the non-Garcon wide receiver options. Garcon spoke several times of the return of dynamic tight end Fred Davis from an Achilles injury, but that's a tough injury from which to come all the way back if you're an explosive-type player like Davis.
Then there's the matter of quarterback Robert Griffin III. All indications are that his recovery from offseason knee surgery is going well and that he should be ready to start the season. But they're bringing him along slowly in camp and have said he won't play preseason games, which means questions will linger until they see him on the field and can determine how long he'll take to get back to full speed, or if he ever will. And while no one wants to bring this up, another major injury to the same knee he just had rebuilt for the second time could derail this whole project not just for 2013, but for years to come.
Garcon is looking at the positives, and the brightest of possibilities, which is his right as a great player in this offense, and is what training camp is for. You can look around and see the many reasons for his enthusiasm. But those of us who are able to step back and view the whole picture have to remember that, in spite of the early season Garcon injury and the late-season Griffin injuries, a lot of things went right for the Redskins' offense in 2012. In the NFL, the natural state of things is to go wrong -- i.e., players get hurt and plans get changed. So while you can surely make the case that the Redskins' offense is ascending toward greatness, it's a mistake to overlook how much work, how much time and how much luck it's still likely to take for it to get there.