It's no secret that the Washington Redskins are a team in transition. This offseason, they had an "infusion of youth" with the help of a twelve player draft class, and look to further improve the roster by being active in free agency once the lockout is finally lifted.
But if the team is still a non contender after two consecutive seasons of roster upheaval, has there really been progress?
It's an interesting question, because while the team is certainly taking on a new approach in 2011, it makes you wonder if this was the one they should have taken in 2010. Granted, there were less draft picks to work with last offseason (even before the McNabb trade) paired with a small and aging free agent class. But if the team is more willing to take their lumps in 2011, you have to consider if it makes last year look a bit futile.
After all, the team is likely to: dump a quarterback that just last year they traded two draft picks to acquire, get rid of aging or ineffective players on the defense who should have never played in the 3-4 to begin with, and go with a younger core of players that could take time to develop.
So if a good chunk of the 2010 roster will be purged, what good came out of last season?
The installation of new offensive and defensive schemes: For the defense, this is especially a big deal. For those players who are coming back for year two of Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme, there will be plenty of familiarity with how to play within that defensive front. Lorenzo Alexander mentioned at the team's player-only workouts last week that when he and fellow linebackers were going through drills, things seemed much easier now than they were a year ago because of having that year of experience under their belts. Now, that's an obvious consequence of getting reps with any scheme for an entire season, but it's something that should yield tangible benefits for Alexander and the rest of the returning defensive players in 2011.
The very same could be said about the offense, sans quarterback. We all know that the team is in flux at the game's most important position. But for the offensive line, for example, to now have a year of experience in the zone blocking scheme, that can only help players like rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster become the type of runners that usually excel in Mike Shanahan's scheme. Yes, the interior of the line still needs to add depth, but it was obvious that by season's end they were playing much better as a unit than they were at the beginning.
The unearthing of young role players: Players like Brandon Banks, Anthony Armstrong, Kory Lichtensteiger and Ryan Torain all seemed to be fighting for dear life for roster spots during least year's training camp. But by the end of the regular season, they were among the team's top contributors from both a production and playing time perspective. There were other examples of younger players who carved themselves up a nice niche at seasons end, and will hopefully look to carry that into 2011.
The new culture: If a player doesn't practice, he doesn't play. Doesn't matter if it's a rookie or someone that was given a $100 million dollar contract. No favoritism, just a hard-line stance that applied to everyone on the roster.
Policies like that were just a taste of the new, more disciplined culture Mike Shanahan and company have brought to the team. Did this new culture breed winning in 2010? No. Did it prevent the team from having two of the bigger dramas in the NFL in 2010? No.
But as numerous players have mentioned both during the season and after the season, they kept their poise during tough times because of the strength of the locker room. There was a focus on winning football games that started from the top of the organization all the way down. A great example of this was how the team rebounded from an embarrassing 59-28 Monday Night loss to the Eagles by defeating the Titans 19-16 in OT the very next week. The team may not be very talented, but (minus one very notable exception) they do not have quitters on the team.
So there you have it. The three tangible benefits from last year and how it could translate going forward. The roster not only needs help, but it needs time to gel and form a true identity. Looking from a glass half full perspective, 2010 could be seen as step zero. But others aren't so optimistic, viewing last season as step -1 or perhaps -2.
But the one certainty is that the team is in a much better place now than it was just two short years ago. Obviously there have been some critical missteps in the past year, but as long as the
team ownership stays patient, they will hopefully realize that there is still plenty of time (and resources) to get things corrected in just a few years.