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Thursday, May 29, 2003
Updated: June 5, 10:57 AM ET
Offseason Overview: Washington Redskins

By Kieran Darcy
ESPN The Magazine

2002 RECORD: 7-9
TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (5th); Offense (20th)
Free agents -- G Randy Thomas (Jets), G Dave Fiore (49ers), DT Brandon Noble (Cowboys), DE Regan Upshaw (Raiders), G Lennie Friedman (Broncos), QB Rob Johnson (Bucs), K John Hall (Jets), WR Patrick Johnson (Jaguars), WR Laveranues Coles (Jets), KR Chad Morton (Jets), DT Jermaine Haley (Dolphins), RB Trung Canidate (Rams).
Draft picks -- No first-rounder. 2. WR Taylor Jacobs (Florida); 3. G Derrick Dockery (Texas); 7. QB Gibran Hamdan (Indiana).
RB Stephen Davis (Panthers), TE Walter Rasby (released), S Sam Shade (released), P Craig Jarrett (released), DB Darrell Green (retired), DE Carl Powell (Bengals), G Brendan Stai (released), WR Derrius Thompson (Dolphins), DT Daryl Gardener (Broncos), QB Shane Matthews (Bucs), WR Chris Doering (Steelers).
Team news | Roster | More on Redskins draft

Tue., June 3
Will the offensive additions and return of Ramsey lead to more production?
One of the great ironies of the Redskins' offseason spending spree is that, even with all the new additions, improvement likely will come down to a pair of holdovers preparing to enter their second NFL campaign: quarterback Patrick Ramsey and coach Steve Spurrier. Far more than the arrivals of wide receiver Laveranues Coles, return specialist Chad Morton, tailback Trung Canidate and guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore, the maturity of the quarterback and the man who wants to be the quarterback, puppeteer Spurrier, will determine just how much the Washington offense progresses. For his part, Spurrier has to move beyond the I'll-show-them mindset which marked his inaugural season, and worry about winning games, period, more than winning games his way. That means running the ball, not only more often, but between the tackles and with some degree of physicality. The Redskins scored just 33 offensive touchdowns in 2002, slightly below the league average, but certainly have the potential to be more explosive this time around. But the expensive makeover will only be effective if Spurrier is more prudent and Ramsey is more precise.

Year 1 of the Steve Spurrier Fun 'n Gun era in Washington was far from fun, as the Redskins finished at 7-9. Spurrier's offense sputtered in its NFL debut (ranked 20th overall) without the proper personnel to run it effectively. Spurrier juggled his starting quarterbacks almost every week it seemed -- first Shane Matthews, then Danny Wuerffel and Patrick Ramsey. Before long, the cycle was repeated and Ramsey finished the season as the starter.

Ironically, the 'Skins were 5-1 in games they ran the ball more than they passed -- but power back Stephen Davis is not a good fit for Spurrier's pass-happy offense. The defense performed much better, ranking 5th overall (although 21st in points allowed). But that couldn't make up for a struggling offense and abysmal special teams.

What they've added?
Spurrier originally planned to do more through the draft than free agency this offseason. Obviously those plans changed. The 'Skins signed so many restricted free agents that after paying out compensation they had only three draft picks left. But in the second round they got a first-round talent in wideout Taylor Jacobs -- another former Florida Gator who played under Spurrier, but who could immediately become a solid third receiver.

They also signed a legit No.1 receiver in Laveranues Coles, who collected over 1,200 yards with the Jets last year. Trung Canidate replaces Stephen Davis at running back -- he's a smaller, quicker runner and a much-better receiver who played behind Marshall Faulk with the Rams. Canidate has yet to live up to high expectations, but could flourish in the Fun 'n Gun. And the offensive line will be vastly improved with the addition of starting guards Randy Thomas (from the Jets) and Dave Fiore (from the 49ers).

On defense, the 'Skins will have at least two new starters on the line. Brandon Noble started every game at tackle for the Cowboys the past two seasons, but he has big shoes to fill replacing Daryl Gardener. Defensive end Regan Upshaw missed most of last season with a torn ACL -- but when healthy he can terrorize an opposing quarterback. Tackle Jermaine Haley, formerly of the Dolphins, should also see time. And safety Matt Bowen, acquired from Green Bay, will likely crack the starting lineup.

The Redskins' special teams should be vastly improved with the addition of two standouts from the Jets, kick-returner Chad Morton and kicker John Hall. Morton is always a threat to run one back for a score, and Hall has a very strong leg.

What they're missing?
Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, perhaps the best defensive mind in the NFL, is now in charge in Cincinnati. But linebacker coach George Edwards, the unanimous choice of the players, was promoted as the new coordinator, so there should be plenty of continuity in the team's defensive schemes.

A more noticeable loss will likely be Gardener, who bolted to the Broncos. Despite a recurring back injury, Gardener was probably the Redskins' best player last season, and will be missed -- as will young defensive end Carl Powell, who followed Lewis to the Bengals. The secondary and linebacker corps should remain solid, but the D-line is a bit of a question mark.

On offense, Stephen Davis was a salary-cap casualty -- but clearly wasn't a fit for Spurrier's offense anyway. His replacement, Canidate, still must prove he can succeed at the NFL level. Wideout Derrius Thompson departed for the Dolphins, but the additions of Coles and Jacobs, plus Patrick Johnson from the Jaguars, more than make up for that. The 'Skins don't have a top-of-the-line tight end, but that position isn't regularly utilized in the Fun 'n Gun.

Fantasy Focus
Trung Canidate is the favorite to be the featured runner over Ladell Betts, Kenny Watson and Chad Morton because of his breakaway speed. Coach Steve Spurrier's spread offense will allow Canidate to turn screens and draws into long gains. Aside from once recording a 4.25 in the 40-yard dash, Canidate has proven to be an explosive all-around player on the field. In the 2001 season, Canidate started in Marshall Faulk's absence and ran 23 times for 195 yards in Week 6 and had 10 catches for 107 yards in Week 7. Although the fourth-year back has encountered injuries and fumbling troubles, he won't have Marshall Faulk looming over him. Just like Priest Holmes (Jamal Lewis), Shaun Alexander (Ricky Watters) and Deuce McAllister (Ricky Williams) escaped the shadow of big-name backs, Canidate is primed to do the same.
-- Roger Rotter, fantasy editor

Finally, Spurrier plans on going with Patrick Ramsey, the second-year quarterback, as his full-time starter. But if he falters, his only veteran backup is the injury-prone veteran Rob Johnson. The improved offensive line needs to protect their quarterbacks much better this season.

What it all means?
The simple fact that Steve Spurrier has a year under his belt in the NFL -- and that this team won't have to adjust to a new coach and system yet again under owner Daniel Snyder -- should pay dividends. Spurrier learned a lot last year -- including that he has to pay attention to both sides of the ball. That's why he has designated running backs coach Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator, even though Spurrier will continue to call the plays.

Spurrier also learned that he can't simply rely on his system for success at this level -- he needs more talented players to play it. The Redskins have improved in that regard. Ramsey is young, but he got some starting experience last season, has a strong arm, and more weapons around him. The entire offense should perform much better in Year 2 of the Fun 'n Gun.

Chemistry is a big concern -- the Redskins once again had more offseason turnover than any other team in the league. They're also in a tough division, in which they went 1-5 last season -- and will face four very tough AFC East teams this year. It won't be easy -- but the Redskins have a chance to finish above .500 record and snag a wild-card berth.

Kieran Darcy works for ESPN The Magazine.