ASHBURN, Va. -- Having lost at least 10 games for the second consecutive season, Washington coach Mike Shanahan admitted Monday the rebuilding project he took on was a more difficult task than he expected.
"A lot longer than I first anticipated," Shanahan said in the wake of the 33-26 home loss to the lowly Minnesota Vikings that dropped the Redskins to 5-10 heading into Sunday's season finale against the Eagles in Philadelphia. "We had less depth than I thought. We were a little bit older at a few different positions. I thought we might keep those players a little longer than we did."
Since he took command of the Redskins in January 2010, Shanahan has overhauled the aging roster he inherited from Jim Zorn. Only 12 of the 53 current active players ever suited up for the Redskins before his arrival. And yet, Washington has clinched a fourth straight last-place finish, a first in the NFC East's 42-year history.
"I never would have imagined," said third-year outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. "It's tough to swallow. But that's the NFL, man. We thought (last week's 23-10 upset of the New York Giants) was the turning point as far as us taking another step forward. Obviously we took a step back (against Minnesota)."
Shanahan agreed with nose tackle Barry Cofield's assessment that the defense that had been carrying the Redskins most of the season had its worst day against the Vikings. Minnesota ran for 241 yards despite losing star running back Adrian Peterson and starting quarterback Christian Ponder on the first series of the third quarter in what was then a tie game.
"It's depressing," Cofield said. "The way we got trampled, it's the worst defense we played all year. When teams run the ball like that, it hurts me personally. It's very disappointing, especially coming off of last week where we played well.
"We got a lot to think about for next week. We got a lot to think about for the offseason. Hopefully guys use it as a driving force."
Still, Shanahan and Orakpo remain upbeat about the future, which is symbolized by a newly solid front seven on defense, and rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster, who combined for four 100-yard games the past five weeks.
"I see a big difference from two years ago," said Shanahan, who could lose 11 games for the first time in his 17 full seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, Denver and Washington. "We have a much younger football team. We have a lot more depth at a lot of different positions. I feel good about the type of players that we do have. I feel good about the direction we're heading."
Aside from adding more talent via free agency and the draft, particularly at quarterback and on the offensive line, Shanahan's goal for 2012 is to slash Washington's 34 turnovers (23 by quarterback Rex Grossman). Only Philadelphia and Tampa Bay have more.
"We've got the right guys in this locker room," Orakpo said. "Guys are fighting hard. We don't really have any issues. Guys play for each other. Got a great coaching staff. We got an owner (Dan Snyder) doing everything possible to win. ... 5-10 is a terrible season to have, but I'm a very optimistic guy, I want to keep building and hopefully get this organization on top eventually."