The Redskins enjoyed a breakout year in nearly every way in 2012. They found a franchise quarterback, they had their first winning record in the Shanahan era, they had a breakout running back and they won their first division title since Norv Turner was their coach.
All the good vibes came crashing to a violent halt in the ‘Skins loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round of the playoffs.
During the game, Robert Griffin III sustained the second major injury to his right knee, and questions have lingered all offseason about the decision making process on the sideline.
Famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews is an employee of the team, and he, Shanahan and Griffin have taken turns swiping at each other through the media.
Meanwhile, the Griffin trade left the Redskins with few draft picks to address one of the NFL’s worst defenses.
If Washington is to have any hope of replicating last season’s success, these questions need answering in training camp.
No. 5: Name Games?
Like Many teams using names, symbols or mascots inspired by the Native populace, the Redskins have faced a lot of fire over the years for the ostensibly offensive name and logo of the team.
The rhetoric against the team has been turned up to 11 lately, with Congress even getting in on the act.
Owner Dan Snyder and commissioner Roger Goodell have told everyone the Redskins aren’t changing their name.
Meanwhile, the media has continued to beat the drum about how “harmful” the name is to Native cultures, even going so far as to recommend some truly inane replacement names.
For the fans part, they are overwhelmingly against a name change, and a business worth somewhere north of $1.6 billion isn’t likely to antagonize its customer base with such a flagrant disregard for their wishes.
Patrick Imig summed up this issue perfectly over on the Cold Hard Football Facts, but there is an on-field component here
The relentless media pressure and scrutiny from something completely out of the players’ hands could keep their collective focus in the wrong place. Wait, is John Mara involved in this somehow?
No. 4: Can they cover anyone?
The Redskins’ pass defense last year was awful. Despite scoring the fourth most points in the NFL last year, the Redskins only posted a +48 scoring differential, due in large part to coverage breakdowns.
Compounding the problem, the defense was only able to register 32 sacks, meaning quarterbacks had plenty of time to dissect the poor coverage.
The Washington braintrust fittingly addressed this need in the draft, picking David Amerson from NC State in the second round and Bacarri Rambo from in the sixth. The two were noted ballhawks in college, with Amerson collecting a staggering 13 picks two seasons ago.
Amerson fell off a cliff last year though, and there is ample reason to worry.
Rambo, meanwhile, is a first round talent with character concerns. Sound familiar?
There is reason for hope for the pass rush with Brian Orakpo returning to health, but Amerson, Rambo and the incumbent “burn unit” in Washington’s secondary need to prove they can get the job done.
No. 3: Just another Shana-back?
Alfred Morris had one of the most impressive debut seasons by a running back in a long time, setting the franchise record for rushing yards with 1,613 yards. In fact, that was the third best total for a rookie in league history, behind Eric Dickerson and George Rogers.
It wasn’t just a product of workload, either, as the rook averaged a sterling 4.8 yards per carry. He tacked on 13 touchdowns for good measure.
There are a couple obvious reasons to wonder how good Morris really is, though.
First is the head coach. Mike Shanahan has a history of plug and play at running back, getting career seasons from basically everyone. Early round picks, late round picks, ex-Marines, you name it, he’s gotten their best years from them. All of them looked like Hall-of-Famers running in his system – for a little while.
The second concern is the “running quarterback” halo effect that allows running backs to look better.
Both of these concerns are mitigated, oddly enough, by themselves. After all, if it’s the scheme and RG3 that make Morris look special, shouldn’t any back be able to fill in?
Don’t tell defenses that. At any sign that Morris isn’t as good as he looked last year, or that he can’t go, expect to see Griffin bum-rushed by every slavering 280 pound pass rusher out there. With six games against the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul and Trent Cole, that can’t be an appetizing though for Washington.
No. 2: Dissension in the ranks?
There has been a lot of speculation in the D.C. media that Griffin doesn’t like Mike Shanahan. That seems to be borne out by some of the quarterbacks cryptic comments in the wake of his injury last year, and his seeming contradiction of his coach’s depiction of events.
Robert II, Griffin’s father, even went so far as to say the team misused RG3 last year and needs to have him throw the ball more.
Talk radio scuttlebutt has been that Griffin has developed a wonderful, professional rapport with the Redskins’ offensive coordinator, and said OC will be made the head coach possibly as soon as 2014.
The fact that the coordinator in question is Shanahan’s son Kyle makes this even stranger.
All speculation aside, the NFL is a coach/quarterback driven league. If you have one right and not the other, you can be good, but not Super Bowl good. If you have both wrong, you are the Browns since they came back (sorry, Cleveland). If you have them both right, you are fighting for the brass ring every year with New England, Green Bay, the Giants, Pittsburgh, and the other usual suspects.
Shanahan has two rings as a headman, so we know he has coaching ability.
Griffin was as dynamic a playmaker last year as the NFL has seen, so we know he has quarterbacking ability.
It seems like the ingredients are all there, but somewhere in the process something happened to sour the reaction.
Everyone in Washington is surely hoping that the story is a media-driven hobgoblin, destined to be laughed about over beers in 15 years.
The rest of the division sure hopes it’s the real deal, because contending with that offense was pretty tough for them last year.
No. 1: Health Insurance?
Every other story about the Redskins is related to this one. Nothing is more important for the long-term health of the franchise (lame pun intended).
Kirk Cousins might have looked good filling in for RG3 last year, but RG3 led the league in yards per attempt, rushed for 815 yards and won the offensive rookie of the year.
The Redskins jumped 22 places (!!!) in scoring offense from 2011 to 2012, and Griffin was obviously the difference.
Increasingly, it seems that Griffin will start in Week 1.
With Adrian Peterson tearing the league a collective new one after his ACL surgery, everyone seems to be all aboard the Griffin express for this year.
Griffin tore his ACL, LCL and meniscus against Seattle. Peterson tore only his ACL.
This was Griffin’s second major knee surgery, while it was Peterson’s first.
The Redskins, and Griffin, should be a lot less concerned about week one and a lot more concerned about the weeks, months, and seasons after that.
The team paid a huge price to move up in the draft and take Griffin, and his talent justified the move. His performance last year justified the move. But if the ‘Skins don’t find a way to keep his knee protected, they will be hard pressed to continue to justify it.
No player has ever returned from three major surgeries on the same knee to play in the NFL. The Redskins surely don’t want Griffin to attempt to be the first.