July 29, 2010

Training Camp Ruminations - The Shanahan Dynamic

You can't swing a fluffy unicorn these days without hitting a training camp preview, so rather than subject you to yet another round of position breakdowns and statistics, over the next few days I will be taking a look some issues and questions I see smoldering just beneath the surface.

Hey, you never know from whence the Next Big Story might come.

The Shanahan Dynamic

Next to the addition of a perennial Pro Bowl QB Donovan McNabb, the change at the top—the hiring of GM Bruce Allen and Head Coach Mike Shanahan—is the single biggest story in the Redskins universe.

Plenty has been written about the impact the future first-ballot Hall of Fame Head Coach will have on the team, and rightly so. There are some angles we hear very little about, however. The kinds of things it is easy to brush off here in the warm fuzzy glow of the honeymoon between coach, team and fans, but should surprise no one in retrospect if and when they come up over the coming months when the Shanahan Era record no longer sports a shiny "0" in the loss column.

Looking for monsters behind every tree?  Perhaps. 

A nod to the reality that even steely-eyed future Hall of Famers are, at the end of the day, human beings? 


● Mike Shanahan made his NFL bones developing quarterbacks. The man won thirteen games with Jake Plummer one year, and eleven another year with Brian Griese (fer chrissakes).  He hasn’t had a quarterback with the pedigree of Donovan McNabb, however, since Hall of Famer John Elway retired in the afterglow of his second consecutive Super Bowl victory in 1998.

Once the fur starts flying for real, will Shanahan find it difficult to resist the temptation to work with McNabb himself? And if so, exactly how would that play out with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan? It isn't like the younger Shanahan is just another legacy hire; Kyle is fresh off turning out the league's top passing offense (fourth overall) in 2009, with QB Matt Shaub at the controls, for the forgettable Houston Texans.

Any man who has ever known his father understands in his gut the dynamic there. Clearly the interests of the team are forefront in their thinking. If they weren't, neither of them would have achieved the success they have.  But to deny or ignore the complicated father/son relationship dynamic, particularly in the blazing public glare of NFL football, would be naive and foolish. Here is hoping that the two men have had long, frank and honest talks about how to deal with this potential flashpoint when things inevitably heat up ...

July 22, 2010

QB Theory — Donovan McNabb Could be Redskins Rising Tide

There are two schools of thought regarding the most important position in professional team sports.

Some people believe that acquisition of a Pro Bowl level quarterback is the rising tide that lifts entire NFL franchises.

The rest will believe it—if and when they see it happen to theirs.

QB Theory generally holds that the elusive "Franchise Quarterback" every NFL front office relentlessly pursues makes everyone around him—receivers, offensive line, running backs, defense, scouts, coaches, general managers, owners—better.

He makes a bad team competitive, a competitive team good and a good team great.

A team does not have to have a Franchise QB to be the occasional outlier Super Bowl team (see Ravens, 2000) but does to become a perennial contender or dynasty (see NFL History).

NFL executives certainly know it.

Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo does.
“I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about [acquiring] a No. 1 receiver,” the Bears general manager said at the time. “[But] it starts with the quarterback. It’s all about the quarterback. You don’t win because of wide receivers. You don’t win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback.”
So does former New York Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi.
When the Giants traded for [Eli] Manning, a fan wrote Accorsi. "You do not understand the Giants' tradition of defense." "We win championships on defense. Not with quarterbacks. This was a big mistake."

Here is Accorsi's retort:

"You won the NFL Championship in 1956 because of Charlie Conerly was better than Ed Brown(Bears quarterback). You won in 1986 because Simms had the greatest day a quarterback ever had in an NFL Championship game. However, in 1958 and 1959, you had the best defense in the NFL. You had Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, and Emlen Tunnell on defense. And you also had great players like Rosey Grier, Jim Katcavage, Dick Modzelewski, and Jimmy Patton. And, you know what happened? The great quarterback-Unitas-shredded them both times. I rest my case."
Consider if you will the quarterbacks who have started games in burgundy and gold in the eighteen long years since Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season ...

July 14, 2010

2010 Redskins: Great Expectations?

T minus 14.

With training camp just two weeks away, focus is rapidly turning to the micro—can Donovan McNabb still move; who will start at free safety; how quickly can the offensive line gel and adjust to the new schemes, etc. The obvious macro question, of course, remains ...

How will the Washington Redskins do this year?

If you'll indulge me a minute, allow me to answer with a question:

What is a reasonable expectation?

Given their circumstances—coming off an ugly 4-12 season, replacement of their head coach, general manager and (apparently) entire modus operandi, installation of new systems on both sides of the ball, new quarterback and multiple additional new players—how exactly should one define “success” for the 2010 Redskins?

By wins alone? By some subjective assessment of "progress?"

Scenario 1: the Redskins start fast, say 5-3, stumble a bit down the stretch as the league gets a book on them, but claw out a tough win in the finale to go 9-7 and grab the final playoff spot. They then lose a lackluster road Wildcard game to the Eagles, 19-10.

Scenario 2: the Redskins start slow, say 3-5, struggling to find their new identity, but recover to go 4-4 over the tough second half of the season, including two solid wins against good teams to close out the year, and finish 7-9.

Sitting here today, which scenario would you define as more successful, hopeful, preferable?

I go in to each new season with relatively broad, preconceived notions and level of expectation about the Redskins and rest of the league. I have synthesized those expectations levels down to the four main categories below. Sometimes a given team will straddle the lines, true, but by and large it's a big-picture approach that has served me well ...

July 3, 2010

Brett Favre and Jason Campbell!

PFT is doing what it does best this morning--circulating rumors and framing non-stories as stories.

The latest ...


(The all-caps is theirs, not mine.)

Which of course, if your brain is off, connotes a story.

Wow ... Favre must be coming back!

Whoa ... Jason Campbell's going to kick ass in Oakland (now that he's escaped Washington)!

Or it could just be they're from the same neck of the woods and have known one another since Campbell's senior year in high school.

ASHBURN, Va. — Brett Favre and Jason Campbell grew up 100 miles apart in rural Mississippi. The combined population of their hometowns - Kiln and Taylorsville - is less than 4,000. 
"You have nothing else to do but sit outside and throw footballs at trees," Campbell said Wednesday. "That's how you work on your accuracy. Knock some bark off a tree."

Small-town people not only have their own set of jokes, they are also quite neighborly. So during the offseason Campbell figured he would pay a visit to the Green Bay Packers legend, who now lives in Hattiesburg. The Washington Redskins quarterback walked up - unannounced - to the call box outside Favre's gated home.

No answer. Campbell waited five minutes and went away.

"I didn't want a helicopter to come by," Campbell said.

Told on Wednesday that Campbell had come calling, Favre seemed bemused.

"I didn't know he came by," Favre said. "What did he say he was coming by for?"

Why, to say hello and catch up on old times, of course.

Being a quarterback from the Magnolia State, Campbell has been a Favre fan practically since birth. Campbell was a rising senior in high school when he met Favre for the first time, when they happened to share the same trainer...
Okay, so I'm being snarky.  Might as well go with it.

I have to admit that my first reaction wasn't particularly flattering to either quarterback:

"Bet Jason throws a few more red zone INT's this year."

July 1, 2010

Mark Brunell Bankruptcy Perspective

This week, one of the real-life stories that tend to invade our sports consciousness more and more often happened to one of our recent own, former Redskins QB Mark Brunell.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of understanding many I have talked to have for the man—but cynicism is still the order of the day for many pro football fans, perhaps nowhere more so than among Redskins fans.

For those interested in looking just a tad deeper, below are some observations and notes you may not know about what the filing means, and how it may affect Brunell's short-term financial life.

Here is the AP story itself, as printed in the Wall Street Journal, with my comments interlineated:

Personal guarantees of numerous business loans contributed to National Football League quarterback Mark Brunell’s Chapter 11 filing.

The former Jacksonville Jaguars star filed for bankruptcy protection in the city where he played for nine seasons on Friday. In court papers, he listed $5.5 million in assets and debts of $24.7 million
$21.15 million of that debt amount is unsecured debt, including the personally guaranteed loans. The remaining $3.58 million is various mortgages secured by his residence, three additional investment properties and two car loans.

Of the $21.15 million in unsecured debt, $21.04 million (or approximately 99.5%) is the personal business-related guarantees. Which means that about $107,000 (or 0.5%) of the overall unsecured debt represents other kinds of personal consumer debt such as credit cards, repair/construction loans, etc.

Looking at those numbers in context of Brunell's overall financial picture outside of the real estate investment loans, I believe it's fair to suggest that had it not been for the crash, Brunell would almost certainly have worked out his finances in some other venue than the highly public, highly misunderstood bankruptcy arena.