Monday, July 21, 2014
Washington Redskins' reasons for concern
By John Keim
The national media, apparently, don't think too highly of the Redskins as they enter training camp. But considering the Redskins are coming off a 3-13 season, have a new head coach and have questions surrounding the quarterback, is that a big surprise? No. If you want to paint a negative picture of the team, it's not that difficult. It doesn't mean it will unfold this way -- I still remember how bleak a picture was painted in the summer of 1999, after the team had been sold, when some predicted 3-13. The Redskins won the division. Then again, last year many pundits -- including me -- predicted success, only to watch the season go up in flames. The point: With any team, and the Redskins in particular, it's tough to know. In the last 15-plus years, rarely has a Redskins season gone the way many anticipated. In truth, it's very, very difficult to know about most teams at this point.
But as camp gets set to begin Thursday, I'll take a look at 10 reasons for concern (followed Tuesday morning by 10 reasons for hope).
Jason Hatcher is one of three Redskins D-lineman who are over 30 and coming off surgeries. Will they hold up this season?
The defense hasn't improved enough. The team added Jason Hatcher, who will help the pass rush, and Ryan Clark, who adds leadership. But the defense had a lot of holes. And if Clark can't play at a certain level, it will have another one.
The Redskins' new starting inside linebacker (entering camp), Keenan Robinson, has 11 career tackles in two injury-filled seasons. Can he handle the position? Can he stay healthy? We have no idea.
They lack a proven punter. Robert Malone has NFL experience, but booming punts precede line-drive punts. They might have a kicker in rookie Zach Hocker.
I have no idea how the first-year head coach Jay Gruden will handle the job. There was split opinion on him outside the organization when he was hired. Does that matter? Maybe not. But it's just that he wasn't a slam-dunk hire and instead was the choice of a guy in charge, Bruce Allen, making his first significant hire. (He'd never had this power in the past.)
Quarterback Robert Griffin III still must show he can be a consistently effective passer and must return to being a playmaker. He's learning his second offense and, while there are similarities to the previous offense, it still requires time. Given the talent at receiver (and tight end Jordan Reed), the Redskins want to throw the ball.
The Redskins' defense under Jim Haslett has not fared well. During his tenure from 2010 to 2013, the Redskins are cumulatively 29th in yards per play (5.75), 31st in yards per pass attempt (7.22), 21st in yards after contact (5,016) and 27th in points per game (25.2), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They're in the top half on third downs (16th) and red zone efficiency (15th), but overall the defense has to improve drastically. How much will it help Haslett to, finally, have complete say in the defense, from who his coaches are to the play calling? We're about to find out. Over the years when I've talked to people around the NFL about Haslett, I get split opinions: Some really like him and his style. Others call his defense too boom-or-bust. The Redskins clearly didn't blame him for all the defensive woes. Now his defense must reward that faith.
The offensive line remains problematic. There weren't major upgrades all over (just as one team source said before free agency). Not everything is on the O-line when it comes to protection, but this group needs to play better. The Redskins did make some changes at left guard, with Shawn Lauvao (who had his issues in Cleveland) and Kory Lichtensteiger (shifting from guard to center). Is that enough? Will the right side be improved? Also, in protection, left tackle Trent Williams, a legit Pro Bowl talent, wasn't infallible either. He needs to be more consistent, though he is clearly their best lineman. If he becomes more consistent, he could be one of the few Redskins considered in the discussion for the best at his position.
Age. Well, on defense at least, where five likely starters will be 30 or older. This is not a proud Steelers defense nearing the end of a terrific run. This is a defense that has mostly struggled, that is older in most areas. The unit has three defensive linemen who are at least 30 years old coming off surgeries. How will they hold up? Will Stephen Bowen be effective coming off his microfracture surgery?
Defensive depth. I'm not sold on it at safety. If something happens to Clark, who enters? Bacarri Rambo needs a chance to show he can play better, and if he does that's great. But he has a lot to prove. And if he can't do it, then is Trenton Robinson or Akeem Davis really the answer? Strong safety Phillip Thomas has a lot to prove too, after missing his rookie season. The defensive line has good names, but again age and surgeries are a bad mix. Barry Cofield could be an effective interior rusher next to Hatcher. But if anything happens to Hatcher, then what happens to their interior threat?
History. The Redskins have finished last in seven in the past 11 seasons and three of the last four. Mike Shanahan wanted to change the culture in Washington, but the way to do so is by winning. The Redskins haven't done so consistently in a long, long time.