NFL Nation: Malcolm Kelly
Last year's plan didn't work. Donovan McNabb flopped as the quarterback. The 4-3 defensive personnel didn't fit into new coach Mike Shanahan's 3-4. And Shanahan decided, one year later, that the best thing would be to bring in new players: Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson, Chris Chester, Tim Hightower and a slew of rookie receivers. A couple of quarterbacks, John Beck and Rex Grossman, who were on the team last year now find themselves competing to be the starter at the most important position.
"The plan, at least the plan in free agency, was to get people who are solid football players but solid people as well, and who are young," Shanahan said. "The second year, you always have a good feel for what type of people fit into your scheme and what type of people you want to have on your football team. If the nucleus of your football team is guys with character who can play, you've got a good chance."
Most of the new additions are in their mid- to late-20s -- players who are already established in the league yet young enough that they can continue to grow as the team does over the next several years. They're men and players, Shanahan says, that he specifically targeted for that reason and for those he listed above. And the feeling around training camp is that this is a group of people looking to build something together.
"Of course, right now we're looking to win, but you want to build something with longevity," said safety O.J. Atogwe, a graybeard among the new additions at the ripe old age of 30. "We want to have something that's sustainable, and I believe that's what Coach Shanahan is doing, getting good character guys in here, younger guys. You're building the nucleus of a team that can be a contender for years and years to come."
THREE HOT ISSUES
1. Who's the quarterback? Shanahan surprised a lot of people by not taking a quarterback in the draft. He surprised a lot more people shortly thereafter, when he declared that he believed Beck, who was already on the team, could be the starter. He has since moved to include Grossman as a candidate for that spot, but neither has inspired much confidence outside of the Redskins' offices.
Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, insist that they loved Beck when he was coming out of college and was picked 40th in the 2007 draft. They believe he continues to show the same qualities they liked when they watched him then -- athleticism, mobility, quick release, natural leadership ability -- and that the only reason he hasn't had NFL success is because he hasn't had NFL opportunity. They insist they like Grossman, who operated their offense last year at least as well as, if not better than, McNabb did. The sense I got from hanging around the Redskins for a few days is that the coaches are more concerned about the pieces around the quarterback -- the line, the receivers, the backs -- than they are about the quarterback position itself. Speaking of which...
3. Do they have the defense down yet? Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last year that it would take two years for the 3-4 install to work because it takes that long for players to re-train their minds and bodies around it. Adding in players better suited to the 3-4 than the people they had here last year should help, but new players such as Cofield, Bowen and rookie Ryan Kerrigan are experiencing the defense for the first time. The Redskins have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball and could be good there in short order. But they're still in a learning process, and how good they are on defense this year will depend on the speed with which they learn it.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
The story of last year's Redskins training camp was disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and his distaste for what he believed would be his assignment in the new 3-4 defense. Haynesworth's refusal to be open to the switch led to a drawn-out confrontation between him and Mike Shanahan, the conditioning-test mess and a feud that lasted all the way through the season. Trading Haynesworth to New England (and McNabb to Minnesota) was one of the first things the Redskins did when the lockout ended, and the main reason they did it was because they were determined not to let last year's problems infect this year's training camp. It hasn't. Without naming names, London Fletcher laughed when I told him Cofield, who played in a 4-3 in New York, had told me he was excited to make the switch to a 3-4 nose tackle.
"That's good, to hear that he's excited about it," Fletcher said, chuckling. "I want a nose that's excited about playing that position."
Fletcher, Beck and Lorenzo Alexander organized some of the most frequent and best-attended player workouts of any team during the lockout. Fletcher said the three of them divvied up administrative responsibilities such as calling guys to make sure they were coming and reaching out to local schools to see about the use of fields. Fletcher said there was one time he flew in the day before one of the workouts and went over on a whim to check out the high school field on which they were scheduled to practice only to find it unacceptable and have to make a last-minute change.
"We had some great turnout, got some great work in," Fletcher said. "Obviously it's not what we're getting here now, but it was important for us. What upsets me a little bit is when we have something that we did in our player-only camps, and we don't cover it correctly out here. I'll see somebody do something wrong and I want to yell out, 'Man, we worked on that!'"
Maybe, but the coaching staff appreciates that the players took the time to work out together while they weren't permitted to work out with coaches at the team facility. Kyle Shanahan said he notices it with those young wide receivers.
"We weren't able to work with them, so that was one of the positions I was worried the most with," he said. "And I could tell that Rex and John had gotten with these guys and given them some stuff, and I could tell these guys had put in their work before they got here, so we weren't just speaking Chinese to them."
- Alexander is an extremely valuable guy to the Redskins' defense. He has lined up at all four linebacker spots, could start the season on the outside if first-round pick Kerrigan isn't ready and has been lining up inside next to Fletcher as well. Even with the return of Rocky McIntosh, expect Alexander to find his way onto the field a lot.
- Tim Hightower isn't here just for depth. I believe, after talking to Mike Shanahan, that Hightower is the clear front-runner for the starting running back job as long as his fumble problems don't follow him to Washington from Arizona.
- Ryan Torain, at least before he hurt himself, seemed to be working on his role in pass protection, which was something he didn't do much of last year. He'll have to if he wants to keep up with Hightower, for whom that's a strength.
- Second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins has been one of the eye-openers in camp and should fit nicely into the defensive line rotation. "He's learning so fast," offensive tackle Trent Williams told me, "it's almost scary."
- Beck may look good to the coaches who loved his college tape, but if you were out there watching the first week of practice, you saw a lot of receivers reaching behind themselves to catch his passes and a lot of wobble on the deep downfield throws. He does look good when he scrambles and runs, but as a passer, he looks as if he needs more camp.
- Trent Williams looks slimmed down from last year and has looked good in his win-some, lose-some battles with Orakpo in early drills.
"I'm going over to dinner at his house, probably tonight," Haynesworth said. "Gonna sit and have a cigar and talk."
The Skins beat the Jets, 16-11, an odd final score that was aided by a missed Nick Folk extra point. I didn't get to see the game, but we can still link to some folks who did:
- Rick Maese of the Post has the latest on the Haynesworth-Shanahan relationship.
- Malcolm Kelly didn't make the road trip, but Donovan McNabb did.
- Fullback Darrel Young had to leave due to illness.
- Ryan O'Halloran of CSNWashington.com has five observations from Friday's game. He wonders what's going on with Devin Thomas.
- Matt Terl from the Redskins Blog goes over his final checklist for Friday's game.
ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.
Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.
“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”
It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).
Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.
With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:
THREE HOT ISSUES
“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”
But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.
2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.
Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.
And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.
I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.
- I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
- Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
- Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
- Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
- Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
- Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
- If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
- John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.
Should we expect Donovan McNabb to hit the ground running this season?
But there's also this little thing about McNabb having to learn Mike Shanahan's offense while blending with his new teammates. It seems like everyone automatically assumes that McNabb won't have much of a learning curve because he's been one of the league's top quarterbacks. But I think there will be some growing pains.
He could run Andy Reid's offense in his sleep, and from time to time, that's what it looked like. On the positive side, though, McNabb will operate with a true running game for the first time in years. Shanahan believes in his zone-blocking scheme and he's going to stay with it longer than most coaches.
I think that will make McNabb a more dangerous quarterback and he might not feel as much pressure to carry the offense. When he was with the Eagles, McNabb would often invite his receivers to Phoenix to work out with him. He needs to be establishing that type of rapport with his new teammates.
The Redskins appear to have a good thing at tight end with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, but they're a mixed bag at wide receiver. Even if Santana Moss can move past his association with a doctor accused of smuggling performance-enhancing drugs across the border, he's going to have to show more consistency on the field. Jason Campbell rarely had enough time in the pocket to find Moss racing downfield.
Moss has to hope that Shanahan and son can revitalize his career. He also needs to be connected at the hip with McNabb during training camp. Most players don't suddenly get the opportunity to play with an elite quarterback. But for the ones who do (ask Sidney Rice about it), it can elevate their careers.
I think McNabb makes the Redskins better, but there will be plenty of bumps along the way.
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
In some precincts, the Redskins' stunning trade for Donovan McNabb automatically put them in the playoffs. My colleague John Clayton has said he sees the Cowboys and Redskins as the teams to beat in the rugged NFC East. But for some reason, I haven't been converted to the Skins-in-the-playoffs theory, and I'll tell you why.
It's nothing personal. Watching Mike Williams return to football after eating himself out of the league has been heartening. And 32-year-old Casey Rabach does a decent job at center. But in the end, I don't think McNabb can hold up behind this offensive line as currently constructed. It's not like Mike Shanahan can take a beast like Williams and turn him into a cut blocker who opens up lanes for Clinton Portis. And Portis was a much younger man when he was darting through cutback lanes with the Broncos last decade.
The other Williams on the line, Trent, has the tools to be a special player. But he still has to learn the nuances of the NFL game while trying to block DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Trent Cole. As Bill Parcells liked to say, "this will not go smoothly." It's almost like everyone forgot about the beatings that Jason Campbell took on a weekly basis.
This isn't the McNabb who used to race around and extend plays by 10 seconds or so against the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." He can slide around the pocket, but it's not like he speeds away from defenders on a regular basis. I'll point to his last two games against Dallas as Exhibits A and B. With center Jamaal Jackson out, the Eagles had to slide players around in the middle. The results against the Cowboys were disastrous.
For now, the Redskins have Artis Hicks lining up as the starting right tackle. To me, that means that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, aren't sold on Stephon Heyer. Most of us expected him to hold down that position. And the Mike Williams vs. Chad Rinehart battle at right guard isn't riveting stuff. Neither player would start for the three other teams in the division.
I certainly agree with the pundits who say the Redskins are better off with McNabb. He'll make Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better receivers. And the combination of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley should be the best tandem in the Beast. But I don't like the thought of putting aging running backs behind a suspect offensive line.
At this point, the Redskins have the worst offensive line in the division and I don't see the Shanahan boys' zone-blocking scheme changing that right away. Could I be wrong about this?
There's always that slight chance.
A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
In case you've been trapped under a rock or some other impediment recently, you know that Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has been connected to a Canadian doctor charged with supplying and smuggling human growth hormones. Moss hasn't addressed the topic publicly, but his teammates and head coach seem convinced that he'll be cleared of any wrongdoing. But while it looks like there's no threat of criminal charges, we all know about the swift hand of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's justice. If he determines that Moss did anything wrong, the receiver could face a suspension.
The good news is that McNabb has had some success when surrounded with pedestrian receivers. In his pre-Terrell Owens years in Philly, he threw to the likes of Freddie Mitchell and the immortal Todd Pinkston. So chucking the ball to Bobby Wade, Thomas and Kelly might not look that bad to him. Plus, he'll have the talented combo of Chris Cooley and Fred Davis at tight end.
But even if Moss clears the Dr. Anthony Galea hurdle, the Redskins still need for Thomas and Kelly to emerge. I think fans are sick of hearing about their potential. Kelly won the starting job at the start of last season, but Thomas was the better receiver down the stretch. Thomas only had 25 catches, but three of them went for touchdowns and 16 went for first downs.
"Devin Thomas has been hurt through most of the minicamps and OTAs," Mike Shanahan told reporters last week. "It's good to get Devin back and watch him in these OTAs because I didn't get a chance to watch him except for the first day in our minicamp. Malcolm, it's like all of the receivers, learning the system, getting the chance to show their skills. It's going to be an interesting question here over the next two months, three months. We got a number of wide receivers that are competing for a position. I like what I have seen thus far."
If the commissioner decides to suspend Moss, don't be shocked if Shanahan looks to T.O. for help. We simply don't have enough drama in the NFC East, so it's important to reunite McNabb and his old buddy. As you know, their appearance together on a recent reality show laid the foundation for reconciliation. I have to stop now because I'm getting emotional.
It would certainly be entertaining to have T.O. make his third stop in the NFC East, but I think it would be a big mistake by Shanahan. When Jerry Jones signed T.O. to a free-agent contract in '06, he was still an elite receiver. Now he's a declining player coming off a season in which he didn't reach the 1,000-yard mark. Yes, I realize that McNabb's a major upgrade over Trent Edwards and whoever else was throwing passes for the Bills, but at age 36, T.O.'s not worth the risk.
McNabb and T.O. apparently broke the (block of) ice on their relationship while filming a television show together earlier this offseason. But just because they had a friendly exchange during a basketball game doesn't mean they should be teammates again. Last August, I remember hearing that McNabb had encouraged the Eagles to sign Michael Vick. To me, that particular facet of the Vick story seemed a bit forced.
Perhaps McNabb's thinking about the T.O. that played with him in '04. Let's keep in mind that T.O. was 30 at the time. He was still among the top two or three wide receivers in the game. It would be one thing if we thought he could be a mentor to young receivers such as Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. But he's normally drawn to players who aren't threats to his playing time.
I appreciate the "win now" attitude that seems to be permeating at Redskins Park, but this strikes me as overkill. But I guess after watching McNabb get traded to a division rival, nothing should surprise us at this point.
Does the arrival of Donovan McNabb automatically make the Redskins a playoff contender?
For the record, I do think that McNabb makes the Redskins a more formidable team. His leadership qualities and the fact that he's been in a ton of playoff games gives him instant credibility in Washington. And he's about to feel the warmest embrace since he was playing at Syracuse. All the angst that those of us outside of Philly really don't have a handle on will vanish in the loving arms of playoff-starved Redskins fans.
That said, it's hard for me to imagine McNabb making a seven-win difference. And it would take seven more wins to put the Redskins, who were 4-12 last season, in the conversation for a division title. When Brett Favre joined a 10-win Vikings team, they had the best running back in the league and a talented, if raw, group of wide receivers. He also inherited an offensive line with a lot more stability than what McNabb will encounter in Washington.
The Redskins have some talent at wide receiver with Santana Moss, Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, so it's not a stretch to think McNabb could elevate that group. He won a lot of games with the likes of Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis at wideout. Over the past couple of seasons, McNabb has benefited from the rise of tight end Brent Celek. And the Redskins are actually deeper at that position with Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
The other positive for McNabb is that he'll be playing for a head coach, Mike Shanahan, who truly commits to the running game. Andy Reid's offense was all about the passing game, which put constant pressure on McNabb. If the combination of fading stars Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker somehow works for the Skins, McNabb could be even more effective in the passing game.
But as I keep saying, the biggest question is whether the Redskins can overhaul one of the worst offensive lines of the modern era. Quarterback Jason Campbell would look across the huddle and see complete strangers last season. Does anyone know what Edwin Williams looks like? McNabb can still move in the pocket, but he's no longer the escape artist that we remember from four or five seasons ago. If he had lined up behind last season's unit, I'm pretty sure the Redskins still would've had a losing season.
The Redskins should be pretty solid on defense, although they need to create a lot more turnovers. But the season will hinge on whether McNabb can elevate a lot of young players who haven't sniffed the playoffs. To answer my own question, I still don't see them as a contender to win the division.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.
From a bust standpoint, let me offer up the '09 draft class. But that's not completely fair because the class was pretty much wiped out by injuries last season. The one unquestionable gem is USC kickoff specialist David Buehler. Some of us laughed when the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick on a player who wasn't supposed to compete for the place-kicking job. But Buehler led the league in touchbacks and participated on the punt and kick return units. Another gem is 2008 fourth-round pick Tashard Choice. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has gotten him on the field, Choice has produced in a big way. In 2008, he appeared to be the most complete back on the roster at times. From a bust standpoint, go back to the '07 draft and look at third-round pick James Marten out of Boston College. You could tell pretty quickly that Marten wasn't a player. And in the fourth round of that same draft, the Cowboys got cute in taking former University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback to play wide receiver. Stanback was a shoulder injury waiting to happen and he didn't take advantage of numerous opportunities.
New York Giants
They'll be talking about the '07 draft for years. The Giants have four starters from that class and they found the ultimate gem in seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw. The former Marshall running back had some off-the-field issues that caused him to plummet in the draft, but he was a valuable part of the Giants' march to the Super Bowl in '07. The Giants also landed cornerback Aaron Ross (first), wide receiver Steve Smith (second) and tight end Kevin Boss (fifth) in that draft. And don't forget about starting safety Michael Johnson (seventh). That's the draft that put new general manager Jerry Reese on the map. In '08, the Giants were able to land starting safety Kenny Phillips late in the first round and Terrell Thomas late in the second. Phillips appeared to be on his way to stardom but a season-ending knee injury in '09 has tempered those expectations. Thomas was forced into a starting position in '09 and performed admirably. We're still waiting to find out what mid-round picks Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff turn out to be. Those guys aren't really gems or busts. The verdict's still out on 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Certainly not a bust, but he needs to show something this season. And for all the time we spent bragging on Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, the guy couldn't get on the field. If he can't get on the field in 2010, he'll be trending toward bust status. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown had gem potential, but he suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.
The Eagles found two gems in the '07 draft. Stewart Bradley is a quality starting middle linebacker who was selected in the third round and the Eagles took Pro Bowl-worthy tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round. The two players have become close friends and they're a huge part of the Eagles' future. In fact, Philly has already signed Celek to a contract extension. From a bust standpoint, the Eagles wasted a pick on Penn State running back Tony Hunt in '07. It's hard to believe that they took Hunt in the third round. And it's not as if Victor Abiamiri has been some type of standout second-round pick. Obviously, we're still waiting to see what becomes of the Eagles' top pick in '07, Kevin Kolb. In '08, the Eagles landed DeSean Jackson in the second round. But two picks before Jackson, they selected defensive tackle Trevor Laws. So there's your boom and bust scenario. The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything. From the '09 class, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were excellent value picks. They should both be a huge part of the offense for several years. Moise Fokou was a gem in the seventh round. He has the potential to be a special-teams standout and he eventually cracked the starting lineup, although that was predicated by a string of injuries. Still, it's obvious the Eagles like Fokou. He's constantly around the ball.
The '07 draft was pretty much a waste of time. The Redskins barely had any picks, but they did manage to select safety LaRon Landry sixth overall. The tragic loss of Sean Taylor meant that Landry had to become the main man at safety. He wasn't ready for that type of responsibility and he's never really lived up to his immense potential. We'll see if Jim Haslett can help him reach the next level. In the second round of the '08 draft, the Skins took wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Neither player has really distinguished himself, although Thomas took some important steps in '09. Kelly won the starting job coming out of training camp, but he didn't do anything with it. Sandwiched between those two picks was former USC tight end Fred Davis. He came on strong in '09 once Chris Cooley was lost to injury. It looks like Davis will be a player. Thomas and Kelly could go either way. Unless there's a dramatic change this offseason, third-round pick Chad Rinehart will be a bust at guard. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton was a great story early in 2008, but his star has faded a bit. Until he reclaims his starting safety spot, it's hard to call him a gem. The '09 draft was another one-hit wonder. It looks like first-round pick Brian Orakpo will be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's an excellent pass-rusher and I think he'll flourish in Haslett's 3-4 scheme. No one else in the class stood out.
We've known since October that Jim Zorn was going to be fired, but it will likely become official Monday at Redskins Park. Zorn told reporters after Sunday's loss that he hoped to have a chance to put an offseason plan together, but obviously he's still in denial. All indications are that Mike Shanahan will take over the team and probably bring his son, Kyle, with him.
Malcolm Kelly led the Skins with five catches for 109 yards Sunday. He had an 84-yard catch and he showed new general manager Bruce Allen that he might be a bright spot in the future. Allen has acknowledged that it will be impossible to rebuild this team through free agency because of the looming uncapped season. But the Skins have enough draft picks where they could try to head in the right direction.
If Shanahan is indeed the choice, he'll quickly begin evaluating the team's "talent." The Redskins need offensive linemen and they'll likely need more pieces in the secondary. This will not be an easy transition, but Shanahan will obviously have a lot more pedigree than Zorn.
|Geoff Burke/US Presswire|
|Washington coach Jim Zorn has seemed over his head this year as coach of the Redskins and is not likely to continue after this season.|
Where they stand: The Redskins have no standing in the division. Jim Zorn and his team have a lot of pride and they'll be as professional as possible over the last eight games. That's about the best thing I can say. At 2-6, I don't see them running off eight straight to slip into the playoffs. After years of neglect via the draft and free agency, the Redskins allowed themselves to enter the season with a highly questionable offensive line. And now that Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas are out for the season, this is possibly the worst unit in the league. How's Jason Campbell supposed to prove anything playing behind this offensive line?
Disappointments: This was supposed to be the season that either Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly did some damage, but it hasn't happened. There's no time for anything to develop downfield, so Campbell's been forced to drop the ball off to running backs and tight ends. It's a waste that the Redskins have Santana Moss because the speedster doesn't have time to make one of his famous double moves. Many of you disagree with me, but I actually think Albert Haynesworth has been somewhat of a disappointment. For $41 million guaranteed, I'd like to see a man who takes over games from nose tackle spot. When Michael Turner gashes you for a big day, you're not taking over games. And why are there so many Haynesworth apologists out there? It's rare to see such a wealthy man engender so much sympathy.
Surprises: I'm surprised that Clinton Portis has been so ineffective, but I guess that should've gone in the "disappointments" category. Let's give Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher their due. Not huge surprises, but they've been solid at linebacker. The interception McIntosh made against Matt Ryan in Week 9 was pretty impressive. I think Brian Orakpo could put himself in the rookie of the year competition with a big second half of the season. He has 5.5 sacks, which is pretty impressive for a guy playing out of position.
Outlook: The biggest storyline in the second half of the season will be figuring out who the new head coach will be. Dan Snyder needs to be proactive on this decision. He made Zorn the head coach two years ago because everyone else was taken. I think Zorn could've been a decent offensive coordinator, but he wasn't ready to be a head coach. Especially when you factor in the talent level of this team. It's simply not where it needs to be. I'm sure executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato will try to land Mike Shanahan as head coach. The two worked together with the 49ers, so that's the best chance of Cerrato keeping his current gig.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
3. The Redskins' 'much-improved' defense: So far, the great Albert Haynesworth hasn't transformed this into an elite unit. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford calmly picked the Redskins apart at times and the Lions gashed the Skins in the running game. This was supposed to be the strength of the team, but right now it's a major weakness. On offense, it doesn't help that the Skins don't have a viable threat at the No. 2 receiver. I had high hopes for Malcolm Kelly, but he's not doing a lot right now.
1. Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy, Eagles: With veterans Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook out with injuries, Kolb and McCoy got the job done against the lowly Chiefs. Kolb made good decisions all day and showed that he can fit the ball into tight spots. I don't know if he'll ever be the starter in Philly, but he certainly raised his stock around the league with back-to-back 300-yard passing games. I thought he was outstanding against the Chiefs. Showed a lot of poise. McCoy's seeing his holes a lot better and it's obvious he has immense talent. Strong game for him.
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
The Eagles appear to be in disarray heading into Week 1: And this has nothing to do with Michael Vick. Shawn Andrews missed Thursday's practice and Andy Reid ducked out a back exit to avoid reporters. And on Friday, Reid ruled Andrews out of Sunday's game. Oh, and Brian Westbrook's name showed up on the injury list with a knee issue. So let's get this thing started. Until he proves otherwise, Winston Justice is a huge question mark at right tackle. I wouldn't trust him over there for a second. After the game, Reid won't be able to sign veteran free-agent right tackle Jon Runyan quickly enough. This is not a good way to start the season -- especially against a pretty solid Panthers pass rush. Can the Eagles slow down DeAngelo Williams on defense? That's the other big question I have. He's a phenomenal running back. This is feeling more and more like a loss.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|Time for Eli Manning to show he deserves the rich contract extension he received in August.|
Can the Cowboys win with a strong defense and running game? We're about to find out. Surely Jason Garrett will lean on Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the running game. It just makes too much sense. I think early success in the running game will inspire this offensive line. Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo can be dominant at times. Garrett needs to let that happen. It will also be interesting to see the unveiling of the two-tight end package with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. I think it will be a focal point for the offense, and the Bucs don't have enough personnel to account for both Witten and Marty B.
Eli Manning's about to earn that enormous paycheck: I think we've overblown the whole situation at wide receiver. The Giants are deep at running back and they have a very talented young tight end in Kevin Boss. Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon will do the job until Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are ready to take over. I think Nicks could be starting before we make it to October -- especially if Smith and Hixon sputter out of the gate. But Manning's going to be very accurate this season, and he'll show why he deserves to be called an elite quarterback.
Here's a little secret about Eagles-Panthers: The Panthers won't be able to cover DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. If the offensive line can give Donovan McNabb just a little time, Jackson and Celek will have big games. Celek's sort of the guy no one's talking about. He's quietly becoming a lot more like Chris Cooley and Jason Witten than people think. He's improved his route running and he's going to make tough catches. The playoff experience was huge for him. Look for big things. Have a wonderful NFL weekend. Compliments of the Beast!
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I don't think it's time to panic about Jason Campbell going 1-of-7 for 10 yards in a 17-13 preseason win over the Steelers. But it's important that Campbell finds a rhythm in the third preseason game -- and he knows that.
Campbell missed Malcolm Kelly on a deep ball and he was high on a throw to Santana Moss. I think he was pressing a bit because he knew he was only going to play three series. The good news is that Washington's running game looked strong throughout the game. OK, here are a few things that caught my eye:
- Brian Orakpo has been sensational through two preseason games. I enjoyed watching him playing with the backups in the second quarter. At that point, he was obviously the best player on the field and he even looked solid in coverage. Orakpo embarrassed his former college teammate at Texas, Tony Hills, in the second quarter. Orakpo used a bull rush to push Hills back in the pocket. He knocked Hills about 3 feet into the air.
- Jim Zorn made it sound like Campbell had a nice evening. Zorn praised Campbell for his decision making and thought he managed the team well. Obviously Zorn want to make sure Campbell's confidence level remains high. Campbell put on a brave face for reporters after the game, but I assure you he's beating himself up over the six incompletions.
- How can you keep Marcus Mason or Marko Mitchell off this roster? Mason's one of the best preseason backs this organization has had. On Saturday, he showed the speed we've grown accustomed to seeing, but he also mixed in some power. He sent a Steelers safety flying at the end of one play. Mitchell made the nice touchdown catch from Chase Daniel. He hesitated at first in order to give Daniel some space to throw the ball. Then Mitchell simply won a jump ball. The former Nevada receiver might end up being the fifth receiver.
- I still think Devin Thomas will make some mental errors, but he's capable of making big plays. I liked the twisting catch he made Saturday night. He has all the tools, but he needs every rep in the preseason he can get.
- Scary moment in the first half when fullback Mike Sellers was writhing in pain with a knee injury. The good news is that Sellers only has a bruised knee. He's such a vital part of the Redskins' running game. They would really struggle without him.
- Reed Doughty was everywhere . I pretty much wrote the guy off last season, but he's actually had a solid camp. He made a couple of open-field tackles that were very impressive and he looked confident in the secondary.
- Is it too early to start worrying about the Skins' awful coverage units? They looked especially bad in punt coverage. They didn't have anything close to containment on the edges.
- I used to watch Redskins safety Lendy Holmes when he was in high school. The former Oklahoma Sooner was one of the surest tacklers on the field Saturday. A lot of rookies look a little wide-eyed at this point. That's not the way Holmes operates.
- I love the fact that safety Kareem Moore is a high-energy guy, but he needs to play under control. It seems like Moore's constantly going for the interception. Moore and another '08 draft pick, Rob Jackson, have a tendency to overrun plays.
- I'd cut D.J. Hackett the first chance I had. It's not that I think he's a bad player, but right now, he's simply taking up space. I'd much rather see Mitchell, Thomas and Kelly getting the majority of the reps.
- Daniel had a really effective outing. I think he has the edge on Colt Brennan at this point. And yes, I know that hurts at lot of you guys.
- On the interception that Todd Collins threw, Thomas needs to come back for the ball. He sort of froze on his comeback route, and that allowed former Colts cornerback Keiwan Ratliff to make a really nice play on the ball.
- If you're Brennan, you can't throw the ball into traffic in the red zone. I'm sure Zorn was incensed with that turnover. Just an awful decision by Brennan.
- Kelly does a really nice job of catching the ball away from his body. He did some nice things in Saturday's game, but the best thing he does is catch the ball consistently. Thomas might have the most upside, but Kelly's showing the most maturity right now.
- Former CFL star Dominique Dorsey has to make this team as a return specialist. And he's halfway home. He had some outstanding returns. The Skins need to reserve a spot on the roster for him. He's that good as a return guy -- and he runs with a little power.
|Geoff Burke-US Presswire|
|Albert Haynesworth gives Washington's defense a credible and consistent threat.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If you simply looked at the overall rankings from the 2008 season, the Redskins' defense was among the best in the league. But that number couldn't cover up the fact that the Skins didn't create enough pressure and cause enough turnovers.
That's a big reason why owner Dan Snyder paid former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed to become the centerpiece of his defense. Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and he's capable of drawing double and triple teams. With that one move, the Redskins' defense gained instant credibility in terms of becoming a disruptive force.
"It's pretty amazing to see how he goes about his business," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He can blow up the pocket on his own and that creates a lot of opportunities for the rest of us."
According to several players, the presence of Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with.
Haynesworth told me that he and Orakpo have been coming up with "games" during practice that will hopefully lead to sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth is coming off an 8.5 sack season, but says that is a total he is not worried about surpassing in 2009.
"I could have two sacks and still be happy as long as I'm taking on triple teams," Haynesworth said. "I love it when a team has to send everyone my way. That's when I really feel like I'm doing my job."
Haynesworth's only made it through all 16 games once in his career, but that doesn't concern him in the least.
"I'd rather play in 14 games at 1,000 percent than go out there and limp around through 16," he said.
Who is going to end up as the No. 2 receiver?
Coach Jim Zorn is pleased with the progress that second-year wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are making. Kelly has shown a lot of maturity since struggling in last year's training camp. Quarterback Jason Campbell told me that Kelly has "crazy hands," which basically means he's snatching the ball from the air in traffic. Thomas is more of a deep threat. He's learning how to approach the game in a more structured way, which is helping him avoid some of the injuries that hampered him in 2008. I think he'll be the No. 2 receiver, but Kelly's not giving in.
|Drew Hallowell/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Jason Campbell enters this season with some extra motivation.|
How will Campbell fare in the final season of his contract?
Well, he couldn't have handled this situation with more grace. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent April looking for Campbell's replacement, but the quarterback kept showing up at the facility and trying to lead his teammates. The most important step he has taken is that he is getting through his reads a lot quicker. He'll take a peek at a receiver and then quickly move on. Last year, that wasn't happening all the time. He did a good job protecting the ball in the first half of the season, but now he needs to trust his instincts and take more shots downfield.
Could the lack of depth along the offensive line derail this season?
Absolutely. The Redskins haven't done a good job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Right tackle Stephon Heyer is ready to take the next step at right tackle, but right now they have Mike Williams backing him up. Williams has been out of the game for three years and I still don't think he is anywhere close to being a starter. Derrick Dockery is certainly an upgrade at guard and left tackle Chris Samuels has recovered nicely from being banged up last season. But the season will hinge on the starters staying healthy. Jeremy Bridges gives you at least one backup with some experience, but things get dicey after that.
Carlos Rogers and Campbell played together at Auburn. They're both in make-or-break seasons. The Skins went out and spent big free agency money on DeAngelo Hall because he makes plays on the ball. Rogers has the size and athleticism to be a solid starter, but he hasn't always played with confidence. And I don't like hearing how inexperienced wide receiver Marko Mitchell keeps burning him in practice. This is the season Rogers needs to prove the Redskins made the right move taking him in the first round in 2005.
Newcomer to watch
I'm anxious to see how Orakpo takes to the SAM linebacker spot. He was a starter from Day 1. But what makes him an exceptional player is the fact that he chased down a bunch of Big 12 quarterbacks. Every time Orakpo has to drop back in coverage on first or second down is time he should be spending chasing the quarterback. Even Haynesworth told me he was surprised Orakpo wasn't lining up at defensive end all the time. But perhaps Orakpo will become a great linebacker. I just know that he could have a minimum of 10 sacks playing next to Haynesworth this season.
|Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE|
|Tight end Chris Cooley is showing improvement and could be poised for a huge season.|
Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake in the draft and simply cut your losses. The Redskins should do that with second-year cornerback Justin Tryon from Arizona State. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't have the size or the elite speed to cover wide receivers at this level. He made the Ravens' receivers look like world beaters last week. And that's not a talented group of wide receivers. ... Santana Moss is the heart and soul of the offense, but not many people know that. He's a relatively quiet guy who commands a lot of respect. Some veterans wouldn't want to groom the players who will eventually replace them. But Moss has jumped in and been a great mentor for Thomas and Kelly. ... Chris Cooley is about to have a huge season. He may be a little goofy off the field, but his speed and improved route running make him the perfect target for Campbell. Cooley could break through as an All-Pro this season. And yes, I know Anthony Gonzalez is playing for the Falcons and Jason Witten plays for the Cowboys. ... Trent Shelton is one of those wide receivers who shows up to a training camp and makes it impossible to cut him. He's not a speedster at all, but he can help you on special teams and he has pretty good size and body control. He always worked over the Texas A&M defense while at Baylor and he's taken that confidence into this camp. ... I like Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson as the safeties for the Giants, but for my money, LaRon Landry and Chris Horton could emerge as the best pair in the NFC. Horton loves playing downhill and he made some game-changing plays in 2008. Landry has the potential to replace Ed Reed as the best safety in the game someday. Now's a good time for him to start on that project. ... Colt Brennan likes to talk big, but he didn't back it up against the Ravens. He needs to bounce back with a nice performance this weekend to have any shot at overtaking Todd Collins as backup QB. ... Tight end Fred Davis is showing a lot more maturity in this camp and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact this season.
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