I know we are in lockout mode still, but I sense a thaw amongst us. It seems we are all at least a little optimistic about there being football in 2011, however misguided that optimism may turn out to be.
That inches us closer to the prospect of Bruce Allen becoming active once again in shaping our roster. Setting aside the Donovan McNabb trade momentarily, I would say that Allen and Shanahan have done a remarkable job changing over the personnel since they arrived on the scene. Where Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn struggled--albeit with Vinny Cerrato at the helm--Shanahan has thrived. His ability to retool his roster to fit what he wants to do in an expedited fashion will hopefully pay dividends in the years to come.
(Yeah, but the McNabb deal really hurt...I'm done there today.)
This will likely be the second straight year where we see 20+ new faces from the previous season. Whereas in 2010, a decent amount of the new faces were older, seasoned vets, 2011's crop of new Redskins will probably be--on average-- much younger.
Play them. Put them on the field and give them reps in 2011.
Unless Shanahan believes that a player stands to get himself hurt or jeopardizes the safety of players around him, I think the best thing we could do this season is trot out as many of these players as possible and find out what we have.
This strategy is dangerous on a number of levels. First, it is typically a coach-killer. Very few head coaches survive a youth movement long enough to reap the benefits from it. Secondly, most fanbases have little patience when it comes to watching a bunch of green players make costly mistakes that lead to loss after loss. And let's not forget that in order to commit to a full-fledged youth movement, you have to ignore that little voice in your head that says, "Anything can happen...if we sign one or two vets, we could make the playoffs and then who knows?"
This is not an exhaustive list of pitfalls for a team looking to rebuild, but let's address these.
Mike Shanahan is not getting fired if we have a losing year. That is a fact. Snyder loves him, has coveted him for years and has pretty much nowhere else to go if he fires Shanny two years into this contract. Shanahan is very much the YMCA of head coaches for Snyder right now. So if there was ever a head coach who could get away with putting 25 new guys on film for a season, it is Big Mike.
As for our fanbase...hmmmmm. One thing I have found this offseason is that even though the reality of this franchise is--well, we all know what the reality is, even if we shove it way down into the pit of our stomachs sometimes and try to deny it--we are not currently a contender. This is easily seen when you compare where we are versus where actual contenders are. The years of losing have not decreased our expectations though. I kind of respect that. But what those years have done for us is make us appreciate more and more the championship teams we did have and has maybe given us a bit of an appreciation of the somewhat obvious differences between our current state and the state of former iterations of Redskin teams.
I like to think we have grown wiser over the last decade--in spite of our own unwillingness to attribute intellect and reason to anything going on at Redskins Park. Based on reactions to articles I have posted over the last few months, I know that Redskins fans are not willing to concede 2011. However, I do think the fanbase is prepared to weather the storm in 2011...IF, IF, IF it means we take a very tangible and obvious step forward. Wins and losses this season will not be as important as the growth and development of the latest batch of Redskins talent.
Finally, nobody wants to throw in the towel on a season when you can look at the list of playoff participants each year for the last decade and see that new and different teams pop up every season. But there is a difference between embracing the idea of a losing season and demanding that a fresh batch of raw players push themselves to the limit each week to hopefully find themselves in positions to win. There are no good losses, but watching a team grow up before your eyes can be rewarding for fans and coaches alike.
How do we get this accomplished? Not by signing high-priced free agents that have starting jobs guaranteed. Not by trading for veterans that cost us precious draft picks and playing time for developing players. And certainly not by straddling the fence when it comes to committing to the long-term development of a Redskins brand of football that can only materialize when the core of a roster has been given valuable experience playing in the system.
By all means, bring in some hard-working free agents that can push our young players in training camp and throughout 2011. Continue the trend of acquiring players who served as team captains in college, mentors in the NFL, and solid citizens in their communities. I am not suggesting we simply hand starting jobs to guys either. They have to earn it.
But please...err to the side of playing our young guys NOW. We all know Ryan Kerrigan will get plenty of playing time in 2011. It is the reps that his fellow rookies and second-year players end up earning that will determine how good we are for the next decade.
It may be true that we can't win the Super Bowl in 2011...but we can lose the next FIVE Super Bowls in 2011--if we don't invest time, energy and REPS in the future of this roster.