We are eight games into the 2011 NFL Season and the Redskins sit at 3-5, which while not bad, is pretty disappointing considering they started the year 3-1. Now is the time to look at the Redskins and see how they are progressing during this rebuilding period (which according to the coaches isn't necessarily the correct terminology). Now I am looking at this as a team building for their future, so a young guy who might have some struggles will be given more of a chance than an older and likely more expensive veteran. I will place guys and coaching decisions in the Positive or Negative categories, and distinguish between minor, moderate, and major positives or negatives.
Rex Grossman- Grossman was essentially what most people thought of him, an average at best back-up caliber quarterback, who can make quick decisions, but turns the ball over (especially against quality defenses) at a high rate. While his play has been poor (it could be better than Beck's), Grossman wasn't expected (at least by most) to be anything more than a stopgap QB. I'd put him as a Minor Negative.
John Beck- While Beck didn't win the starting job, he was the quarterback who had the hype. Now the fault here lies with Mike Shanahan, who spent the lockout pointing to John Beck as his QB, but it got to the point where the fans, media personalities and everyone in between were publicly calling for the John Beck Era to begin. While Beck has some positives in mobility and arm strength, he just doesn't know how to harness that ability in a productive way. Beck is also in the Minor Negative category.
Coaching Decision: This is a mixed bag for me. On one hand I'm quite happy that the Redskins didn't use an early round draft choice for a quarterback, or trade for a veteran like Kevin Kolb or Kyle Orton. I'm also glad that the Redskins turned the Blaine Gabbert pick (and yes they could have had Ponder there) into Ryan Kerrigan, Leonard Hankerson, Roy Helu and Maurice Hurt. On the flip side I'm disappointed that they didn't attempt to help the QB position at all. It didn't even have to be signing an established guy like Matt Hasselbeck. They could have used a late round pick on a rookie, brought in a priority UDFA or signed a young guy who had more upside than Kellen Clemens. I consider the inaction and maybe even arrogance of Mike Shanahan to be a Major Negative.
Roy Helu- Helu got his first real start this past Sunday and showed why he has the potential to be a 4th round steal for the Redskins. Helu has quickly become the Redskins best back in space, and has shown some ability to make plays on the ground even without an offensive line. Helu in 37 attempts is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, that along with his ability in the passing game makes him a Moderate Positive, even with some of the rookie miscue
Ryan Torain- Torain was a fan favorite last year and came in with high expectations. Unfortunately yet another injury sapped his preseason away. And he's been either inactive or ineffective for every game this season with the exception of the Rams game. Against the Rams (his first game of the year) he had 19 carries for 135 yards. Since then he has just 21 carries for 33 yards. Yes the offensive line has been miserable, but both Helu and Tim Hightower (before he got injured) had some better success. Given his inability to step up after Hightower went down, and ineffectiveness on passing downs, Torain is a Moderate Negative.
Fred Davis- Fred Davis is one of the Redskins better weapons, but of late he has been effectively neutralized. Despite having over 300 receiving yards during this 4 game losing streak, Davis has essentially been a non-factor. The majority of his yards have come in the last drive or two of the game, when the defense is playing soft and the game is out of reach. While those yards and catches still count on the stat sheet, they are pretty empty in terms of impact. Davis has also had dropped balls and missed route assignments during that time that has impacted how effective he is. Given the mixed bag, Davis ranks as a Minor Positive (though close to Moderate).
Anthony Armstrong- Like Ryan Torain, Armstrong was a street free agent who came in last season and had a solid impact on the Redskins. Unfortunately like Torain, Armstrong has been a disappointment this year. Last season he averaged nearly 20 yards a catch, this year he is under 10. He was injured earlier in the year, but even prior to the injury he wasn't showcasing his elite speed. Right now he just can't get open and is more of a liability than a benefit. He does have some special teams ability so all is not lost, but he is in the Minor Negative category.
Niles Paul- Paul was a 5th round pick, but started out the year ahead of 3rd rounder Leonard Hankerson. Not much of that had to do with his versatility, as he can play on any special teams unit, and be an effective blocker as a wide receiver. In limited chances Paul has shown some good pass catching ability as well, though he needs to work on gaining separation. Given his utility player role, and his 5th round status, Paul has been a Minor Positive at this point.
Leonard Hankerson- Hankerson looked to be lost early this year, as he was ineffective in training camp and the preseason and was in active for the first 5 weeks of the season. Then in his first game he and John Beck were on the wrong page and it led to a game sealing interception. Since then though Hankerson has earned his way into the starting lineup and has flashed the potential that he showed at Miami. Hankerson is still mainly upside, but even despite being non-existent for the first 6 weeks, he ranks as a Minor Positive.
Brandon Banks- I know Banks is supposed to be listed as a "Special Teamer", but there doesn't seem to be anything 'special' about his play. And given the fact that he only plays on two of the six special teams, he really doesn't deserve to be labeled as a 'special teamer'. Banks has been a huge disappointment making poor decision after poor decision in the return game, and it is cost the Redskins yards in the field position battle. And while neither has happened yet, Banks appears to be closer to turning the ball over than breaking a return for a TD. Given the waste of a roster spot and complete ineffectiveness of his returns, Banks is a Moderate Negative.
Keeping 8 WR's: The Redskins brought in 5 WR's this offseason to go along with the 4 incumbents from last year. While their were a few guys (Moss, Gaffney, Hankerson) who had their jobs locked up, everyone else seemed to be competing for the 2-3 remaining roster spots. Now yes there are some teams who have had 7 WR's on the roster in the past, but that was usually because the team featured 3 and 4 WR sets. The Redskins given their use of two TE's and/or a FB aren't some run and shoot team. The Redskins are now down to just 7 WR's, but the fact that one of them, Banks has zero offensive value, means that they are short-handed when guys get beat up. The fact that they have 6 or 7 guys active on game day, means that other positions are precariously thin, when injuries occur (i.e. the O-line or D-line). This glut of receivers has also led to fewer opportunities for the young guys like Hankerson, Paul and Terrence Austin. I think given all the issues that have come with it, this ranks as a Major Negative.
Trent Williams- Williams has improved from his poor rookie campaign, and has shown flashes of being a dominant offensive lineman. Unfortunately the consistency isn't there yet for him. Also Williams has been hampered by injury and stupidity. His injury forced him to miss 2 and a half games, while his lack of playing with his head in the game has cost Washington. He now leads the line in penalties (despite the missed time), including three personal foul penalties that have just killed the Redskins. The Redskins need more from him, but overall he's been a Minor Positive.
Chris Chester- Chester was the Redskins lone offensive line addition (they drafted Maurice Hurt, but he didn't even make the team out of camp) this offseason as he signed a 5 year, $20 million contract. While his play has been inconsistent this year, with a mix of good and very poor games. Run blocking has been his biggest issue, but I wouldn't label him as a bust just yet. Chester has been an average pass blocker (which on this team is saying something), and has been healthy and penalty free. He isn't doing his job, nor worth the money they are paying him right now, but I'd only label him a Minor Negative at this point.
Jamaal Brown- The former Pro Bowl tackle has been a shell of his former self these past two years in a Redskins uniform. Unfortunately after a bad first season, the Redskins inked Brown to a 5 year $27.5 million deal, which valued him near the top of the RT market. Brown's play has dropped off even from last year, and he is now firmly entrenched as the Redskins worst offensive lineman. His pass blocking and run blocking have been horrible, and he is also among the team leaders in penalties. Given the money they paid him, and his lack of upside, he is easily considered a Major Negative, and could very well be the worst value on the team.
Steve Shoup has been a Redskins fan his entire life and dreams of the day they get back to the glory days of his youth. In addition to his regular piece on Hogs Haven, you can find his daily writings at Fanspeak.com.