1. I thought today would be a good day to toss out a variety of topics that have the potential to give us some hope in both the short and long term. Sometimes we get so bogged down with the sustained losing year after year that we lose sight of those reasons that could be very much responsible for sustained change. I would be shocked if we all agreed that each of these areas of discussion are reasons to be optimistic, but at least we can hopefully agree that these are the spots from which hope would naturally spring.
2. For better or for worse, Jay Gruden is talking about turning Robert Griffin III loose in the manner we grew accustomed to seeing during his rookie year. There is more to it than that though, as Gruden will be using elements of offensive schemes that Griffin is most comfortable with as he tries to guide the quarterback through the growth that everyone hopes he can achieve in the next three years. It is more about helping Griffin maximize his potential than simply transitioning him into a "pocket passer." I like the way Gruden is talking about working with Griffin because it really seems to reflect Gruden's intent to make this a collaborative effort with the player. We heard similar rhetoric from the Shanahans, but what we read about as well as what we saw with our own eyes on the sidelines and on the field struck us as a very different kind of situation.
3. Mike Shanahan, like all of us, had his share of shortcomings. One that was widely reported was the size of his ego. I didn't know Mike personally, so I can only go on what players and members of the media shared with me over the last few years. It struck me how some guys who coach in this league believe so much in their way of doing things that they cram it down the throats of players and assistant coaches. Not everyone is Vince Lombardi. When I hear Jay Gruden talk about how it is his intention to craft a style that conforms to the skill sets of the players he will have on the field, I get excited. A lot of coaches suggest this but never mean it. If Jay Gruden is as sincere as I believe he is, I think that alone could translate into two or three more wins. Calling plays you know your guys are comfortable running and installing game plans that are meant to put players in the best position possible for success seems like something every coach would just automatically do. Unfortunately, we have seen coaches in this league refuse to bend that way.
4. The Redskins could be pushing the "fresh start" angle more than they are. This could just be the way I perceive things, but it seems that this "new direction" is not just ignoring how the "old direction" got us here. Without drilling down on whether or not Bruce Allen is your first choice to be picking players, I give him a lot of credit for building a staff on the sidelines that is based on its ability to work together. It would be easy to suggest that this point is overblown by me because...shouldn't every coaching staff be constructed with cohesiveness in mind? If you are asking questions like that, you clearly don't remember making Marvin Lewis work for Steve Spurrier, or the time we used three guys to relay plays in to the quarterback. Some would say that by the end of last season, we had a father-son problem on our coaching staff. Overblown point? Perhaps, but we have made the mistake before, so I welcome the manner in which Allen has at least attempted to sidestep such mistakes.
5. As for the "fresh start" marketing strategy that we have all been bombarded by at various times, I feel like we are not getting hit by it as badly this time around. Two reasons come to mind immediately why I like this, though there are certainly more reasons to be discovered. The first is that by eschewing an all-out "This Time We Got It Right" campaign, the Redskins marketing department is not blatantly insulting our intelligence. The second is that it at least appears to show that the organization is slightly embarrassed about its behavior. The inherent hand-washing that has taken place in regimes past has come off as nothing more than passing blame backwards. It is still early in the process--and to be fair, some of this has happened already--but it seems to be less so than what we have previously seen.
6. While I have argued that even though we won the NFC East two seasons ago, we weren't necessarily a "good team," that doesn't mean that there was nothing there worth building on. Going to the playoffs was the result of some very good things the team was able to accomplish and you just can't throw it away because the head coach is gone. In a similar vein, I don't think we were as bad a team as our record says we were. Don't get me wrong--we were not good--but there were things we did well that can be brought back. (We didn't miss any extra points, did we?) No need to throw the baby out with the bath water, I guess is what I'm trying to say. I think this is a positive development because we have thrown a number of babies away with the bath water.
6. I guess we can't talk about the staff Bruce is building without addressing the Haslett in the room. Listen, did I beg for a new defensive coordinator? Yes. Did I wonder aloud how a guy whose defense was responsible for multiple disastrous statistical seasons continued to keep his job? Yes. Have I had Budweiser-induced hallucinations where a mastermind defensive coordinator came in to D.C. and built a defense so strong it could successfully defend both Chris Christie AND Obamacare? Who among us has not? Where was I? I guess the continuity and stability so many of us have yearned for has arrived. His name is Jim Haslett. He's the Reed Doughty of our coaching staff. No matter what happens, he will always be here. No matter who else there is to conceivably do a better job, Haslett will somehow, some way end up being in charge of our defense. At this point in time, I don't even recommend that anyone else interview for the job. That candidate would essentially be inviting a car accident or house fire into his life. Haslett is the guy that no single, attractive girl ranks at the top of her "hot" list, but at the end of the night when options wane, they settle for the Haz. I am at a loss here. I think it is time we embrace the Haz.
7. When has our team not had a guy associated with it that causes every other fan in the league to ask us, "Uhhh dude...what's with (insert name)?" The names in that spot have included the likes of Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Jeff George, Rex Grossman, Albert Haynesworth, Adam Archuleta, Rob Johnson, Sherm Lewis...the list goes on and on. Not every example was necessarily an embarrassment. They were all head-scratchers, though. In this case, people will look at what we have done on defense and wonder how the defensive coordinator was continuously retained. As for me, well...I'm just embracing the Haz these days. Hoghunter...I nominate you to create our "Embrace the Haz" poster. I want everyone embracing the Haz by the end of the week.
8. Call me crazy (or any of the other less complimentary things you call me) but I think we are in position to add a very impactful free agent class. (This leads me to a general discussion of the word impactful. It is a real word, but it feels like a fake word. It perfectly sums what I mean to say here, but I hate like hell to use it. I do it in the interest of brevity, and because of the commitment I have to trying to keep this column to less than 2,000 words.) There is no question we need to bring in guys who can start right away on our squad. There is no question that at least one or two mid-tier quality guys would be considered upgrades at certain spots on our squad. This will of course require a bit of faith in Bruce Allen to get it right, but the silver lining here is that with the cap room we have, we are going to be able to sign a decent crop of players that will have the ability to change our fortunes immediately.
9. This roster has a very youthful core that has yet to assert itself. It is true that guys like Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas may very well never amount to impactful NFL players. There is a chance they might, though. Guys like Richard Crawford and Keenan Robinson are capable of turning into very reliable starters. Players like Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson still have lots of upside for the Redskins. It is possible that some of our needs can and will be filled by players that were drafted in the last two years. There was a time when we simply could not say that.
10. I list it last because it seems the most "Redskins fan" thing to say, but the potential removal of the brace will potentially have a huge impact on Griffin's abilities next season (which is to say that the lack of the knee brace will be impactful). Players will tell you that anytime you place a piece of hardware like the one Griffin wore last season on an elite athlete's leg, the result is a limited player. How limited Griffin was last season because of the brace is a real murky area. We don't need to answer that question though if we believe that he was limited at all. With no brace, there will be no limits as a result of a brace. Less Limits=More Griffining in 2014.