Question: Has Washington’s record fallen to 3-3 because it’s the “same old Redskins” or are the Redskins simply experiencing an NFL season with typical ups and downs?
Answer: They’re having an NFL season with typical ups and downs and are finally in the position fans and media have clamored for the last decade. With injuries to starting wide receiver Santana Moss, tight end Chris Cooley, running back Tim Hightower and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (among other players), Washington will have to look to their draft picks and young guys to step in, step up and fill the holes.
This is what the NFL Draft is all about and the Redskins are finally looking like the kind of team that uses it the right way.
It will take some time for the youngsters to get comfortable in their new roles and it will require patience on the part of everyone involved for them to develop. That’s ok. This is what good teams do. Stay with them, have the patience, let them learn.
Unfortunately, some fans are not in the frame of mind to wait and they seem to have forgotten all about “building from within.”
I could not believe my ears the other day when I heard fans calling in to a local sports talk show saying that they thought head coach Mike Shanahan should give veteran free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens a work out because of Moss’s and Cooley’s injuries.
Have the folks who are screaming to bring in receivers Owens and/or even ex-Minnesota Viking Bernard Berrian not been paying attention? The Redskins have several promising young wide outs and tight ends (some draft picks from the past few years and some undrafted rookie free agents) chomping at the bit to show what they can do on the field.
These youngsters and second-year guys have a lot of talent and a lot of motivation. And several of them are already in “sync” with starting quarterback John Beck because they worked with Beck on the scout team or practice squad last season and earlier this season. These are exactly the guys that should be given an opportunity to get on the field – not Terrell Owens or any other free agent as some have suggested.
“We had a play this last game – actually two of them,” Beck said Monday night during a SportsJourney broadcast, “where it was choice routes for [Terrence Austin] where you just believe he’s going to win. You know, I got to work with him all last year, he worked with me in the preseason games as a scout team guy and even in this year’s preseason games I got to work with him a lot. As a quarterback you want to have that feeling of ‘I know this guy so well.’
“In one of the throws in the game,” he continued, “I did not even see him. But it was just because I knew he was going to win. I had no idea where he was but I knew he was on an in-cut. Now, when I threw it, it wasn’t an accurate throw because I couldn’t see him but, when you trust somebody like that at work, it’s good.”
As SportsJourney host Lake Lewis suggested to Beck and Austin while discussing the injuries, ‘the cupboards aren’t exactly bare.’ In terms of the backfield, the Redskins have Ryan Torain, Roy Helu, Jr. and even Evan Royster, if they choose to bring the latter up from the practice squad. This appears likely as the team just announced that they had added running back Tristan Davis to the practice squad.
At wide out, the Skins still have veterans Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney but even more exciting, they have a mix of youth and speed in Austin, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks (all three make for a veritable track meet every time they take the field); rookies Niles Paul and Leonard Hankerson and; if need be, Aldrick Robinson from the practice squad.
Good coaches build their teams from within. Not only does it remove the requirement to teach a new player a new scheme, it enhances the solidarity on the team.
“A lot of people haven’t seen what we have yet,” Austin said Monday night. “It was seen in the preseason but people have forgotten that. You’ve got a lot of guys that are hungry and that really want to play this game and really want to prove that they‘re able to go out and make plays.
“Going into this next week,” he continued, “it’s just about continuing to get better because we have talent on this team. It’s a lot of young talent and with that; you need the experience so we can continue to build. We’re getting that experience right now and I know that we will continue to get better.”
For all the criticism offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has taken on his play calling, he does spread the ball around pretty well. While I hate to think of the dropped balls we all witnessed during the Carolina Panthers loss, I like that several different receivers were involved.
Mike Shanahan is enthusiastic about his young guys.
“Everybody’s a back up sometime,” Shanahan said during his Wednesday presser. “All these guys are on our team. They’ll get a chance to show people what they can do and some guys really take advantage of it. That’s what you look for, guys taking advantage of an opportunity. I thought [tight end] Logan Paulson did a good job coming in and taking advantage of his opportunity. He’s been practicing like that for the last year and a half since he’s been here. Since he came in as a free agent you could see that the game wasn’t too big for him and when he did get his chance, we thought he was going to take advantage of it and he did.”
This weekend with the Redskins doing without Moss, Cooley, Hightower and Lichtensteiger; in their places, we will likely see Gaffney and/or Armstrong, tight end Fred Davis and Logan Paulson and Torain. Hopefully, we will also see Austin, Paul and/or Hankerson and we know we’ll see offensive linemen Eric Cook and Sean Locklear. And at running back, it could be Helu, or Royster running between the tackles.
The receivers are looking especially sharp and athletic during practice and Mike Shanahan notices everything. If he’s comfortable with Beck and the young receivers, I am. I can be patient since these are our home-grown Redskins.
“We’ve been pretty impressed from day one,” Shanahan said of rookie wide out Niles Paul. “I can’t say he’s just improved in one area but he’s been very mature since he’s been here. He picks things up very quickly at all three wide receiver positions, he’s very physical, he’s been very consistent catching the ball; both in practice and in games.
“It’s hard for a wide receiver during a game,” Shanahan said, describing the process. “The depth of your routes… can you do that when the pressure’s on? Sometimes you get a little bit quicker going against different coverages. If you haven’t experienced all of those different situations during the games… can you handle that? Do you have enough poise to focus on the snap count and maybe check off some things along those lines?
“There’s a lot that goes into it but I think he can handle it.”
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is probably most aware of the impact of losing guys like Moss and Cooley. But the talent of the young guys makes it hard to not be optimistic going forward.
“Santana is our captain and he’s a great player,” the younger Shanahan said during his Thursday afternoon press conference. “He’s one of our leaders so obviously it’ll be tough without him. But we believe in the other guys we’ve got on our team. We’re excited to see these young guys step up. We think they can make some plays for us also.”
While not as serious as on the offensive side of the ball, the defense has its share of medical troubles. Standout linebacker London Fletcher and cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Oshiomogho Atogwe were but a few that were limited in practice today. Safety Kareem Moore is just coming off of the PUP list. Once again, the youngsters and backups have to step up.
“Well, guys have to step up,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said today. “We feel good about [linebackers Keyaron] Fox and obviously [Perry] Riley. We feel we have a little depth there. Fox has played in the system before so I’m sure he’ll step in and do a great job.”
John Beck had a pretty good game last week and I expect him to continue to improve… especially considering the comfort level he already has with a lot of his offensive weapons. The coach appears comfortable as well.
“It’s the first of many games for him,” Shanahan said of his starting QB. “I’m looking forward to seeing him grow as a quarterback and get that game experience. I think he’s a natural leader and now we’ll get a chance to see him in a live situation so it’s something I’m looking forward to seeing.”
This is what the building a team from within and developing young players is all about. These guys are Washington Redskins and have done everything they’ve been asked to do and so deserve an opportunity to prove why they’ve been chosen to wear the Burgundy & Gold. I don’t want to hear the name “T.O.” said in the same sentence as ‘Washington Redskins’ unless it’s because he happens to be on the opposition’s roster.