The outlook for the 2011 season is bright for the Redskins.  Okay, maybe not bright, but definitely better than the last few seasons.  There are still questions surrounding the team: What is the status of Donovan McNabb? Can the defense that gave up the second most points last year improve?  Which Albert Haynesworth will show up in 2011?  Did Dan Snyder clear payroll to spend unwisely again or has he (finally) seen the light?  Is John Beck the quarterback to lead this team?  John Beck?  Really?

After some careful draft maneuvering that is too complicated to recount here, the Redskins ended up with 12 draft picks.  This might seem like a small feat, but with the NFL lockout – and the subsequent lack of free agency – continuing into July, the Redskins were able to add depth and youth -- two things missing from a 2010 team that went 6-10 in the first year under Mike Shanahan.  The team is old – 17 players on the roster are 30 or older, including key players like McNabb (assuming he comes back), Santana Moss(likewise), Casey Rabach, London Fletcher and newcomer Oshiomogho Atogwe – so any young players that can contribute can only mean good things for the team.  

In typical Shanahan fashion, the team took two RBs – Roy Helu, Jr. out of Nebraska and Evan Royster out of Penn State – both in the later rounds (4th for Helu, 6th for Royster) of the draft.  With the return of Ryan Torain -- and despite the departure of Clinton Portis -- the team looks like it can have the running-back-by-committee that Shanahan made famous in Denver.  Combine these players with the three drafted WRs (most notably Leonard Hankerson from Miami) and the team’s offense at the skill positions could look very different from a year ago.  Factor in the likes of WR Moss (again, assuming he is back) and TE Chris Cooley and things are starting to come together.  Add in some (any) improvement from TE Fred Davis or WRs Anthony Armstrong and Malcolm Kelly and the Skins offense looks pretty formidable.

All of this, however, hinges on someone being able to get these players the ball consistently. McNabb was not his typical Pro Bowl self in 2010, posting a 24th in the NFL 77.1 QB rating, his lowest rating since his rookie year and the first time his rating dipped below 80 since 2003.  All of his numbers were down in 2010, and it was the first season in his career that he threw more INTs than TDs.  He tied a career high (set his last season in Philadelphia) for fumbles with seven.  His completion percentage dipped below 60% for the first time since 2006.  All signs point to a decline in his abilities and, at 34, there is not much hope for a drastic revival.  He was damaged goods when he came to Washington before last season and 2010 only proved it.

With all that being said, is Beck the answer?  Beck, who was let go by the Dolphins before showing anything on the field in favor of… no, wait… I have it here… somewhere… ah, yes, Chad Henne; who was benched at times for Tyler Thigpen.  When he wasn’t benched for Chad Pennington 2.0 (or was it 3.0?) and his glass arm.  You get the point.  If one of these two can get the ball to all the weapons, the Skins will have a better-than-serviceable offense.  But if they cannot….

But the real question is on the other side of the ball.  Can Jim Haslett’s defense improve to where it had been in the years under Greg Blache and Gregg Williams?  The fact that the team used 5 draft picks – including the first two – on that side of the ball under a strictly offensive-minded coach like Shanahan shows just how much of a concern the defense is heading into the 2011 season.  First-round pick DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan will be given every opportunity to start right away opposite DE/OLB Brian Orakpo and second-round pick DL Jarvis Jenkins should get playing time right away as well.  The defense has no choice but to improve.  They were that bad in 2010.

The special teams, as a unit, were about as manic as a team could be.  The plus side: Brandon Banks, who was a rookie out of Kansas State last year.  He was a breakout star, returning the majority of punts and kicks for the team and even took one kickoff back 96 yards for a TD.  The down side: 4 punters, including the kicker.  Speaking of K Graham Gano, 24 for 35 (68.6%) with a long of 49 just will not cut it.  Oh, and Brandon Banks was stabbed in the offseason.  The team needs to improve their special teams if the Skins have any aspirations of competing in the NFC East.

The simple fact is that the Redskins finished tied with the Cowboys for dead last in the NFC East and the Eagles and Giants are not declining just yet.  As for the Cowboys, QB Tony Romo returns from injury and Jason Garrett gets a full year with the team.  They will be better.  QB Michael Vick and QB Eli Manning are still in their prime years and return to teams that are poised to make playoff runs.  The division was down last year, but the NFC East is still tough to win.  The 2011 season will be tough on every team with this summer’s lockout, and with games against the AFC East this year, the Redskins will have no easy path back to respectability.  The team is off in the right direction; how far they go in that direction is yet to be seen.  Assuming there’s football in 2011.  But that’s another story for another time.