March 12, 2009

Meanwhile, back at Redskins Park ...

Ninety-nine percent of Redskins talk these days centers on the nut-and-bolt specifics of certain roster spots---primarily SAM linebacker, defensive end and offensive tackle---and what the team plans to do about them via free agency and the April draft.

Fair enough, I've been indulging in it somewhat myself. The discussion is topical, relevant and pure offseason gold for the serious fan feeling the absence of the game itself more acutely with each passing week.

What I found myself thinking about this week, however---in short bouts between fretting over the relative size of potential SAM linebackers and the inexorable process of determining which particular college player the Redskins simply cannot live without come draft day---is what is going on out at the Redskins Park practice fields when no reporters are around, and in the offices not plastered floor-to-ceiling with player evaluation cards.

What is Head Coach Jim Zorn up to? What does he believe he learned during Year One as an NFL head coach, and what specific things is he doing to incorporate said lessons into Year Two?

How different will his offense be in 2009? Will it look more like the "modified" West Coast Offense he envisioned at this time last year, or, with a year under his belt and resulting familiarity with his quarterback, line and receivers, will he take it in a noticeably new direction? And if so, how far along is he in that process?

What is QB Jason Campbell up to? Who is he throwing to and how often? Has he spent time studying with and/or throwing to Moss, Randle El, Cooley, and more importantly, rising sophomores Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis?

Where is Campbell's head these days? It's a pretty good bet he wonders from time to time exactly what his future holds in Washington, given the window to sign a new contract prior to the season has apparently closed and he will head into the last year of his rookie contract playing for free agency in 2010. How does he feel about that, and will it affect his play?

And speaking of QB's, there's the whole Cult of Colt thing always hovering in the background. Personally, I'm not a cultist---to me it's a no-brainer Campbell is the incumbent heading into the season, and until and unless the wheels are clearly falling off at mid-season, he's the man throughout the year---but like a whole lot of other Redskins fans, I won't deny it was pretty damn electric watching the kid move around, make plays and ignite the offense last preseason.

If nothing else, I'd sure like to know what kind of progress young Mr. Brennan is making learning the pro game between the ears, and what his chances are of mounting a legitimate challenge to Todd Collins for the #2 spot behind Campbell.

What is defensive coordinator Greg Blache thinking? As you recall, he was seriously considering retirement before last season, and was convinced to return by some combination of the owner, general manager and incoming head coach. After last seasons' successes and frustrations, and with the addition of Albert Haynesworth, who might give him something he's not had here before---serious push up the middle---is Blache re-energized? Is he at the blackboard scheming up nasty new ways to let opposing QB's know the Redskins will, in fact, plant you in the turf from time to time?

And assuming he is (I mean, with AH on board, who wouldn't?), wouldn't it just be amazing to be a fly on the wall?

Point of all this being, as important as personnel acquisition during these frenzied weeks of free agency and the draft are, the fortunes of the 2009 Redskins will turn at least as much, if not considerably more, on the answers to the kinds of questions posed above.

It won't always be easy, but as fans we would do well to remind ourselves of that fact as the free agent market continues, the draft draws closer, the mock drafts proliferate, and whenever we catch ourselves obsessing too much about such things as what as-yet-undetermined player will draw the starting assignment at LDE come opening day in September.

You know what they say about forests and trees.


Blake said...

I'm really curious to see how Blache and Zorn are going to change our schemes (if at all). Supposing that the rookies are now ready to be members of the offense, are they still going to be running the routes that are no longer than 20 yards, or is Zorn going to open up the playbook and start sending some of them deep? Is Blache still going to play with a stop the run first mentality, or is he going to send the line to attack the passer more?

And outside of the rookies you mentioned, whats on the mind of guys like Chris Wilson, Rob Jackson, and Chad Rinehart? I'd think the first two are licking their chops to get a chance to be the starting LDE this year. And I wonder if the signing of Rinehart takes us signing Dockery as a blow to his confidence. Does Buges think he's just a backup, or does he have the potential to replace Thomas in a few years? And what about Blades and Fincher? I bet they are trying to impress coaches and become starting SAMs right now.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


A resounding YES on your second paragraph.

Given the endless talk about the lack of *any* promising OL, DL or LB depth in-house, the big hope is that the guys you mentioned, as well as DL’s Buzbee and L. Alexander and LB’s Matt Sinclair and Tyson Smith, are absolutely chomping at the bit to step up and stake their claim.

If even one of those guys suddenly emerges as a viable option at one of the “positions of need,” the offseason dynamic changes again.

It’s not the kind of thing a team can count on, but sure has hell needs to be watching and nurturing. Here’s hoping the team is watching, and the guys are busting their backsides.

Anonymous said...

Defensive Depth, and 20/20 hindsight,
The Defense ranked number 4 last year. When Buzzbee and Daniels went down I too thought another DE needed to be signed, and as alway the Redskins got a "high" polished name.
But due to circumstances Taylor was limited in what he was able to contribute to the Defense last year...And with the reserves who were on the team, stepped-up and played the Defense was number 4.
My point is the Redskins didn't need to run out last year and get players they had unproven players that could play. With the 4 picks in 2009 the Redskins need to add depth to the areas of concern but it's time to have SAM, DE, Lineman, WR, TE and everyone on the team to step up and might be amazing what the Redskins actually have available.

Blake said...

Another thing thats been on my mind has been the training camp schedule. I wonder if our having such an early start to training camp had any impact on our late season collapse. And whats more, I wonder if this is something thats on Zorn's mind. We definately have less preseason games this year, we'll see if the training camp schedule is any lighter though.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

dr wnc,

That's the double-edged sword of roster building, unfortunately. On the one hand, you absolutely need to find out what your youngsters already on the roster can do, but on the other, you better have a Plan B in place in case they can't. And the only real avenue to fill that Plan B is going out and getting a known quantity via FA.

Like anything else, it comes down to whether or not a team is able to find a healthy balance between the two. The Redskins FO is definitely being put to the test in that regard this off season.


Hopefully one of Zorn's lessons learned last year was getting a better sense of how hard to push the team early. There's no way to learn that w/o going through it, and now he has at least some data to go on.

I do feel better about playing just 4 preseason games this year, as well as not starting camp a week early due to having a new coach. On a team heavy with veterans like the Redskins, I'd like to think that would translate into at least some benefit in terms of fresh legs during the season.

That said, in the grand scheme of things I don't think the extra week/game last year had a whole lot to do with the 2-6 finish. I'd probably put the over/under on how big a factor it was at around 5%.

Anonymous said...

I'm very interested to see how Zorn changes his offense, if at all. I think that what led to his unit ranking below the Lions in scoring was the result of different factors, including subpar play at WR and QB, injuries to the offensive line, and lack of solid scheme adjustments. By now, Zorn should have a good handle on his players' strengths and deficiencies, and can plan accordingly.

As for Blache, I'm not too worried . . .