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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Redskins' weakness: Passing game

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

There is a lot not to like about the Redskins' passing game right now. Jim Zorn may turn things around in this critical department and there is talent available to him, but it will not be easy. There were times last season when this offense was among the most inept in the NFL. Now the Skins will attempt to revitalize this unit with essentially the same cast of characters.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
AFC: N | S | E | W
NFC: N | S | E | W

I like Jason Campbell. I really do. I think he has been given a raw deal at times as the Redskins have repeatedly switched up the offense, but he also is not a great fit for what Zorn wants to do. This is his second year in the system and improvement should come for the hard-working Campbell. But he is not a quick-hitting passer. He has a big arm and would be best suited as more of a traditional dropback passer who can scan the field and let it rip deep on occasion while throwing his share of deep outs and comebacks. Instead, he is asked to process quickly and put the ball accurately in tight spots on short throws. That isn't what he does best. In fact, I see Campbell having a good career -- once he leaves Washington.

Plus, Campbell needs to make this his offense. He didn't throw many interceptions last season, but he was safe in his decision-making almost to a fault. And, in case you didn't hear, Washington made it rather clear this offseason that it wouldn't mind an upgrade at this position.

How will Campbell respond? Despite throwing the ball 91 times over the final three games of the season while Washington was in the hunt for a playoff spot, Campbell accumulated just 467 yards passing for a measly 5.1 yards per attempt. He isn't exactly building off of late-season momentum.

 
  Geoff Burke/US Presswire
  The Redskins need second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas to step up his production.

To incorporate this offense, it is best to have bigger, stronger wide receivers who can shield defensive backs from the ball in tight quarters and then make something after the catch -- often against linebackers who are looking to take them out. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El do not fit that bill. Both have useful skill sets -- but not so much in this attack. That is why bigger guys like Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas were selected high in last year's draft. However, Washington has gotten nothing from these two youngsters. Obviously that needs to change.

Thomas is the one I am excited about. Remember, he started just one season at Michigan State and entered the draft as a junior. It shouldn't be a shock that his rookie season in the NFL was more or less a redshirt year. But, he is strong, fast and is very good with the ball in his hands after the catch. If he gets up to speed -- which I realize might be asking a lot considering last year's production -- he could be in for a strong second season.

As a pass-catcher, it is difficult to argue with Chris Cooley. The guy is reliable and does a lot of things well. Another high pick from last year's draft, Fred Davis, could learn a lot from Cooley, but to this point, it hasn't translated to on-field production. Perhaps it will this year. Perhaps not. But adding another big pass-catcher like Davis with after-the-catch abilities sure would help.

The offensive line is a mediocre pass-blocking unit when healthy, but also short on depth and possibilities for the future. Right tackle is especially troubling. Jon Jansen is gone and that leaves Stephon Heyer and Jeremy Bridges to battle it out for that starting spot. First-round flop Mike Williams might take the world by storm and grab the job, but counting on that is foolhardy. By the way, have you noticed what sort of edge-rushers reside on the other three teams in the NFC East? OK, just checking.

The Redskins ran Clinton Portis into the ground last season. Portis was unable to eclipse a paltry 3.2 yards per carry in any of Washington's last five contests. The Redskins won just one of those games and scored only 10 points in that victory. As Portis became less effective late in the year due to wear and tear, the offense fell apart. In turn, Washington didn't find another back to help with Portis' load and didn't seek out any help for its passing game. There are some young players here who could develop and this is a critical second season in this system, but the Redskins made a mistake by not upgrading what they had.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.