Pour Some Sugar On Me - Cautious Optimism Without the Caution

I really want to get excited about the incredible participation in Coach Shanahan's offseason program, but I am going to temper that excitement today. One thing I promised myself at the end of last year is that I was not going to get carried away by the various little things this offseason that don't change our win/loss record, which will remain 4-12 until September. I am easily spun up and in recent years I have talked myself into loving such absurd moves as hiring Steve Spurrier, trotting out Shane Matthews as our starter, and bringing in Adam Archuleta to bolster our secondary (to be fair, Archuleta was a standout safety on my Madden franchise, and his wife is ludicrously hot.) By the time we got to the regular season, I would be thinking we could maybe win 10, 11...12 games based on our offseason prowess. I figured:

  • Watching JC, Todd Collins, and Colt Brennan dodge giant rubber balls in practice was worth a win or two.
  • Hearing all about how strong Ladell Betts looked in practice (in July) translated into a win.
  • Seeing our starting offensive line playing together (in August) surely would net us at least a few W's.
  • Hiring new strength and conditioning coaches to lessen hamstring injuries was going to put over the top in the division.
  • Three young, fast, strong rookie receivers (one a tight end) would give us an edge in a pass-happy league.
  • T.J. Duckett is just the kind of back that will get important first downs.
  • Patrick Ramsey doesn't need more than 4 blockers on any given pass play anyway.
  • Trung Canidate is just looking for an opportunity.

No more. SERENITY NOW!

As Chris Wallace said, "Show me, homey."

That is where I need to be right now and that is where this team needs to be right now. After going 4-12, there is a lot to prove, and the only place you can prove anything in the NFL is on Sundays in the fall.

If it were only that easy for me...I really wish it was. Unless I tattoo the above thoughts on my leg, Memento-style, I wake up each morning completely forgetting all of it. Instead, my brain dwells on the following list-in-progress, which succeeds in making me blindly optimistic yet again. In today's Ten Yard Fight, I give you some of the reasons why I will be beating the drum of 10-6 (at worst) come this August...despite the preponderance of evidence that suggests otherwise.

Ten Yard Fight - 10 Chances To Make One Good Point

1)      The defense is in good hands with Jim Haslett. One thing this franchise has done well over the years is transition to new Defensive Coordinators. Granted, there have been rocky days, but the Redskins defense has been a strength for this club for a long time, spanning several changes to the DC in D.C. Marvin Lewis, Gregg Williams, Greg Blache and even Mike Nolan are all solid coaches that have come and gone, but our defense has (for the most part) kept chugging along. Jim Haslett has his detractors, but when I look at what he wants to do with our personnel, I don't become despondent about our chances to continue playing at an extremely high level on defense.

2)      Clinton Portis is playing for a coach he knows and respects. Now, we can all debate the latter part of this statement. Nobody really knows who Portis respects and who he doesn't (wait...we do know one coach he does not respect.) His attendance at the offseason workout programs could just as easily be driven by dollars and not respect. But my softer, more optimistic side is going to give CP the benefit of the doubt on this one. Sure, he pulled plenty of antics as a Bronco under Shanahan-the WWE-style championship belt he and Shannon Sharpe made up for him to wear and his brash personality chief among them. But Portis knows better than most anyone in the current locker room what Shanahan is all about and he probably knows where the line is that he needs to stay behind (unlike our actual offensive line, which has seemed nonexistent at times and suicidal to stand behind.) The chance for him to recreate some of that early success will be there and CP is no dummy-if he is capable of getting it done, he will.

3)      Devin Thomas and/or Malcolm Kelly will break out in a big way this year.  The magical 3rd year for wide receivers comes for both of these guys in 2010. My money is on Thomas to blow up for us this year, but the truth is Kelly has the potential to have a big year as well. Kyle Shanahan is going to need somebody to step into the Andre Johnson role on this offense, and I don't think Santana Moss is that guy. To be fair, nobody on our roster is anywhere near Andre Johnson, but the point is Kyle will be looking to Thomas and/or Kelly to play big and strong like AJ is so good at doing.

4)      Bruce Allen looks and sounds like a GM.  If any of you out there are like me, your ears are still ringing from the sound of Vinny Cerrato talking. It was like scratching nails on a chalkboard combined with taking a dump on a unicorn...in word form (looking forward to your comments on that one Scott and Carver...and Rekka.) Conversely, Bruce Allen sounds like an honest to goodness football guy capable of communicating to the outside world. Sure, he gets caught up in GM/coach-speak sometimes (where answers and statements reveal nothing at all) but even in those moments, he gives you what you would expect (and perhaps want) out of a GM.

5)      Jason Campbell is getting another offensive system to try on. This is typically portrayed as a bad thing...except when the previous system was woefully inadequate. Imagine going to a restaurant thinking you are going to order steak and potatoes...because that is what you like. But then the waiter decides you should have the vegan platter and so that is what you end up eating. In this analogy, the waiter is Zorn, and the vegan platter is an offense based on quick decisions made behind a crumbling line with receivers who are either unproven or too short to locate. I feel like Kyle Shanahan is going to figure out a way to play to JC's strengths and perhaps his comfort level in the new system will counterbalance his lack of experience in it. (OK...this one was a stretch.)

6)      Dan Snyder seems to have ceded power to football people. This is what we wanted, right? Even when he wasn't meddling, his reputation as a meddler led us to believe he never really stopped meddling. I do believe that at various points over the last decade, Snyder has left the team very much alone to do whatever it was going to do. But in the absence of truly strong-minded and established football guys, he has stepped back in with both guns blazing. We have both established and strong-minded individuals at the highest positions of our franchise. It is clear over the past month that these people are calling the shots. This bodes well for the franchise entering the season.

7)      The kinds of players we are adding/retaining this offseason are the building blocks around which winning franchises are built. How many Artis Hicks jerseys are going to fly off the shelves this summer? Lorenzo Alexander? Kedric Golston? Hell, I would not expect to see too many Larry Johnson jerseys sold either (though I DO expect to see a healthy dose of Grandmama references.) Yet these are the guys that we need to play well in their roles this season if we have any hopes to be successful. And these are the kinds of players you can draft young bucks to come in and complement. As long as you have guys like this who work hard day in and day out, you are one step closer to being a team that is maybe a player or two away from being very special. We are not there yet...but that is the direction we are possibly heading.

8)      Fred Davis and Chris Cooley could be a very special combination in the red zone. So this will be the third year I trot this one out. My rationale this offseason is that Cooley's injury last season gave Davis the playing time he needed to gain confidence and the game film the Redskins needed the rest of the league to see. Davis certainly showed teams what he is capable of and in the red zone, opposing defenses will likely have to make some hard choices about who to cover with a linebacker and who to cover with a safety. It would be nice to see us take advantage of that decision on a weekly basis, since neither Davis nor Cooley should be able to be covered by a linebacker.

9)      Every year, a team comes back from a down year to make a playoff run. Yet another retread of thoughts from previous seasons. Doesn't make it any less true though. First-year/newly acquired head coaches at the helm of rejuvenated teams make noise every year. Why can't that be us? (Don't answer that...but seriously, we can't be bad forever, right?) (Don't answer that either.)

10)   Things feel a lot different than they did at this point in previous years. I readily acknowledge that Bruce and Mike might be perfectly happy to rebuild this year and attack the Super Bowl in 2011 and beyond. Assuming we think there is a chance for us to compete this coming year, the way we are going about getting to September feels a lot more like the way good teams do it. By not chasing big name free agents, not trading away draft picks to bring in older veterans, or resting the hopes of an entire season on offensive linemen who either have never played in the league or have not played in the league for over a year, Allen and Shanahan seem to be employing a very sound process in the shaping of this team (assuming more offensive line help is on the way via the draft.) The legitimacy of this process adds legitimacy to our hopes as fans.

Hopefully, this list grows faster than the one that is filled with the (obvious) reasons why we are still behind the 8-ball.

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