- John Keim, ESPN Washington Redskins reporter
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The pessimistic side was revealed Monday, with reasons why you should be concerned about the Washington Redskins this season. Coming off a 3-13 season, with a new coach and plenty of questions won't exactly lead to unbridled optimism. At least not by realists. However, the Redskins also are one season removed from a division title, have a young potentially explosive offense and a quarterback who was considered the future of the game just a short time ago. Go ahead, build your case for a turnaround.
So, here now, is the optimistic take on their season: reasons for hope.
Robert Griffin III's offseason. It's not like he became Tom Brady in one offseason. Griffin will not be transformed into a pocket passer overnight. But he showed what he was capable of his rookie season and, now, he has the benefit of a full offseason for the first time in his career. Every coach says it makes a difference so you can't just judge him off last season and think that's who he now is. Like any other passer, he needs a chance to develop and this offseason provided one.
The passing game has weapons. One reason the Redskins feel they can ease Griffin into a new offense is because of what they have at receiver: three players they believe can win one-on-one battles. Add to it a fourth in tight end Jordan Reed and now Griffin can be more decisive. That builds confidence. In 2012, Griffin threw with confidence. That wasn't always the case in '13.
Jay Gruden is not Mike Shanahan. The latter entered with two Super Bowl rings and was an accomplished coach; the former has a lot to prove. Sometimes having a lot to prove is better. Gruden's arrival brought a different vibe and energy (of course, the same was said about Shanahan in 2010). It's not as if Shanahan was evil, but he had reached a certain point in his career that Gruden aspires to reach. At times you wondered if Shanahan overlooked certain deficiencies, thinking he'd overcome them because of his resume.
The QB-coach relationship. It's better. Whether that changes or not I don't know, but entering camp it's a good one. Griffin looked like a new man this spring, though part of that also stems from not having to recover from knee surgery.
DeSean Jackson. He does not need to catch 80-some passes to make a difference. He made one in Philly for years catching around 55-60. Pierre Garcon and Reed might catch more balls, but Jackson just needs to make teams pay. And his presence will help. Can Griffin keep everyone happy? That's certainly a much better question to ask than, “Is Josh Morgan a legitimate No. 2 receiver?” Jackson might eventually wear out his welcome, but even in Philadelphia he produced while doing so.
Alfred Morris. He hasn't gone anywhere. The run game will be the same as the past two seasons, all involve have said. Morris is not some product of the zone read option; he's an excellent fit in the zone system. His line has more depth, though how effective the starters will be remains to be seen.
The young talent offensively. If this offense clicks, look at how many starters are 27 or younger: eight (the number is the same whether in a two-back set or three-receiver set). They have potential Pro Bowl talent at left tackle, receiver, running back, tight end and quarterback. They lack the same nucleus defensively, but they have some intriguing youngsters in linebacker Keenan Robinson and corner David Amerson.
Improved safety play. Ryan Clark is not in his prime and the Steelers saw a decline in his play. But the Redskins' safeties were dreadful, so if Clark has anything left he'll be an improvement. Clark is a natural leader, which the Redskins can use, but you still have to show you can still help on the field to maximize that asset. He's not a playmaker, but if he is a sure tackler and prevents mental mistakes by others with his communication, then he'll help.
Improved special teams. I loved how much emphasis the Redskins placed on this area. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica enters at a good time; when taking over a disaster you can (or at least should) only look good. But the decision to sign linebackers who excel in this area was huge -- as was drafting two players among the top four who can help here in Trent Murphy and Bashaud Breeland.
They bolstered the pass rush. Jason Hatcher is coming off an 11-sack season in Dallas, but if the outside linebackers do their jobs (he did not have a lot of help in Dallas last season) then he might not reach that number again. However, he just needs to be a presence and a constant threat. That will open up others: not just Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, but also Barry Cofield and Chris Baker, who played well down the stretch in '13. Along with Hatcher and the drafting of Murphy, they also hired Brian Baker, an accomplished assistant.
Jim Haslett can finally run the defense the way he wants. Granted, it became too convenient to blame a lot on Shanahan, as if his input always was wrong. However, Haslett didn't have much say in the hiring of his assistants, as he did this offseason. He hired better coaches than the ones he had previously (Baker, Kirk Olivadotti). Haslett is an experienced coordinator and has a clear idea on what he wants to do. He now has more pieces in the pass rush to perhaps give a greater variety of looks. Time to produce.
It can't go that bad again (can it?). They went from 14 turnovers in 2012 to 34 a year ago. An improved offensive attack should cut down on that number and that will be a start. If they handle the details of the game -- tackling, taking care of the ball, protection -- then they can turn it around. A team that was terrible last season likely will make the playoffs. Maybe the Redskins?
The pessimistic side was revealed Monday, with reasons why you should be concerned about the Washington Redskins this season. Coming off a 3-13 season, with a new coach and plenty of questions won't exactly lead to unbridled optimism.