The millennium has not been kind to the Washington Redskins and their fans, delivering seven losing seasons and just two playoff appearances since 2000. With some big acquisitions this offseason and a dedicated coaching staff striving to create a competitive football team, things are certainly headed in a more promising direction.
This April, the Redskins gave up the farm to acquire Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III with the second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, but the return they will receive on their investment for many years to come will be well worth the risk. Griffin is not a savior in D.C., but his presence on the Redskins roster will make a dramatic impact from top to bottom.
The Redskins spent the offseason bolstering weaknesses across the board and adding key pieces that should help ease Griffin into his huge role as the franchise quarterback. For the first time in years, the team boasts some legitimate weapons on offense, and they bring a defensive front seven to the table that few can match in the NFL.
The fan base finally has something to be excited about.
Might Mike Shanahan being working his old Denver magic in Washington D.C. after all? That is yet to be seen, but the pieces he has brought in should help the Redskins be a much more competitive team within the NFC East in 2012.
The rookie Griffin will unquestionably struggle, as most rookies do. Though he looked impressive during the preseason, his presence in the pocket has been a little shaky all summer. It will take time for Griffin to get a handle on his dropbacks, but a boost along the offensive line in front of him would help tremendously. Fortunately, veteran receivers Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and athletic tight end Fred Davis should alleviate some of the pressure resting on the Heisman Trophy winner’s shoulders.
The Redskins have a defensive unit that is vastly underrated by most. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are a force to be reckoned with in the pass rush, London Fletcher continues his Benjamin Button-like progression despite venturing into old man’s territory by NFL’s standards (Fletcher is 37 years old) and DeAngelo Hall continues to one of the league’s most feared corners in coverage.
The Redskins defense finished 13th in the NFL last season, a huge jump from 31st the previous year. With defensive guru Jim Haslett calling the shots once again, expect another leap up the rankings as the Redskins’ young players become more acclimated to the coordinator’s scheme.
Their run game will be undeniably explosive. The brute force displayed by Evan Royster, the blitzing speed of Roy Helu, the lethal, trackstar scrambling ability of RG3 himself and any other back Shanahan decides to mix in will have opposing defenses running for days.
The Redskins would likely prefer Griffin keep to the pocket as often as possible, though, recognizing that much like Michael Vick—a player Griffin compares quite well with in terms of physical build and athletic ability—he will be at risk for injury on every play. For a franchise with such bright prospects, the last thing they want is for their quarterback of the future to be damaged goods right out of the gate.
CENTER STAGE – London Fletcher, MLB
London Fletcher refuses to get old, and that’s not something the Redskins are complaining about.
The 37-year-old linebacker appears to have mastered this whole getting old thing, overcoming insurmountable odds by improving with age. His 166 tackles in 2011 were a career high, adding in three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks for a feisty Redskins defense. He earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl trip as a result.
Fletcher’s progression is a conundrum few can understand. Most linebackers have been shuffled out of the NFL by this time, undependable in nearly every facet of the game. They’re too slow, too weak and, well, too old. Not Fletcher. Like fine wine, he gets better. Faster. Stronger. More dangerous.
For a man to record 166 tackles in a season, he has to be around the football on nearly every play.
His mere presence is frustrating for ball carriers unable to escape his grasps. He is everywhere they turn.
And the Redskins are fine with that. They’ll need more from him again this season. They’re hoping this progression continues enough to be a stopping gap against the high-powered NFC East offenses boasted by the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. He is a vital leader in the Redskins locker room and huddle, and a player the ‘Skins were more than happy to give another two-year contract to keep around.
The Redskins have plenty of weaknesses that will need to be addressed in the future, but Fletcher is not one of them. He has played in 224 consecutive games, starting in 176 straight since 2001. He is more dependable than anyone on the Redskins roster, with more tackles than everyone in the league but a guy named Ray Lewis on the all-time list.
The Redskins have not had a lot of consistencies in recent years, but Fletcher is one player—despite being 37 years old—who will be able to balance the team out with much-needed continuity and valuable leadership as they battle through another season sure to be full of growing pains.