The Redskins are coming off of their worst season since 1994, and had a lot of work to do in the offseason. They went from worst to first to worst again over the last three seasons. The roster depth was extremely thin, and the combination of the $36 million salary cap penalty, and the Redskins inability to make the hard decisions needed to mitigate the effects of it, culminated in a disastrous season(along with other reasons).
Now we're 8 days away from Redskins Training Camp, and we've seen a lot of changes take place on the team following free agency and this year's draft. When you finish the year with the 2nd worst record in the NFL, there are going to be a number of areas that need to be fixed short-term and long-term. The Redskins worked to bring in some free agents to help with the receiving and pass rushing issues, and also drafted to help areas like the offensive line and special teams. What areas of the team concern you the most going into the 2014 season?
The Redskins offensive line gets a ton of blame for last season, but they are the same group that won the division in 2012. With Jay Gruden taking over, the focus has shifted to getting more size on the OL, and the process started with eliminating one of the weakest links on the line in Center Will Montgomery. His inability to call protections, block, and consistently snap in the shotgun led to his release. Montgomery's dismissal was immediately followed by news that Kory Lichtensteiger would be moving over to Center from LG, and would begin bulking up for next season.
The team made OG Shawn Lauvao one of their first offseason signings which was met with mixed reviews due to his contract and his history at the position in Cleveland. They also signed C/G Mike McGlynn from the Colts as a reserve in free agency. The Redskins made several efforts to bring in another RT, first by signing Bruce Campbell who failed his physical, and then by bringing in Donald Penn who eventually signed with Oakland to play LT.
They were not done making additions to the line and used two draft selections to add more competition. Morgan Moses, RT, and Spencer Long, G, were both added in the 3rd round, and will compete to take over the jobs currently held by Tyler Polumbus and Chris Chester. They will both have training camp and preseason to prove they are ready and allow the team to cut the expensive veterans. But as of right now, the projected starting offensive line has 4 of the 5 starters from last year starting this season, and that scares the hell out of a lot of people.
The defensive line got some attention this offseason with the signing of Jason Hatcher in free agency. Hatcher had 11 sacks last year which was more than the Redskins DL has had in the last two seasons combined. Hatcher also had the best season of his career in his contract year, and the Redskins "blew the doors off" with their contract offerto the 32 year old defensive lineman. He will need to be very productive for the next 2-3 years to justify his contract. He had to have arthroscopic surgery on his knee following OTAs, and is hoping to be ready to go for training camp in a little over a week.
Hatcher joins a defensive line with a lot of question marks. Last year's other starters, NT Barry Cofield and DE Stephen Bowen, are also 30+ and coming off of surgeries. Barry Cofield's hernia surgery shouldn't cause him to miss any time, but Stephen Bowen could start training camp on the PUP list. Bowen's microfracture surgery makes him a possible cut this year if he can't return soon, and many people are wondering why he is still on the roster given his current contract.
Chris Baker received a new deal this year, and has developed into a nice addition to the DL. Swaggy stepped in for Bowen last year following his injury, and showed an ability to get to the QB which has been lacking on the defensive line. The team also signed DE Clifton Geathers who played for the Eagles last season, but he is here for a rotational/backup role.
Some returning players will be fighting for spots on the bottom of the roster like Chris Neild(NT), Kedric Golston(DE), and Doug Worthington(DE). The team didn't draft anyone ready to play DE or DT this year, and the only undrafted free agent who is getting consideration for a spot is Arkansas' Robert Thomas. Haslett is reportedly trying to employ a 1 gap system to allow the line to get more pressure on the QB. Will this, along with the addition of Hatcher, make the DL an area of strength instead of concern this year?
Safety is one of the biggest concerns here. Both of the projected starters going into camp are 30+ and are on 1 year deals. Ryan Clark was signed for his leadership and a hope that he has one good year left in him, which the Steelers did not believe. Brandon Meriweather was healthy when he wasn't concussing himself with missile headbutts, but he missed a ton of tackles and needs to be upgraded sooner rather than later. Bacarri Rambo started training camp as the starter due to a lack of other options. But the 6th round pick was not ready, and was quickly benched. There were some bright spots, but his lack of special teams play and poor tackling kept him out of the lineup. Phillip Thomas got the stamp of approval from Bruce Allen this season when he said that Thomas probably would have started last season if he didn't suffer a Lisfranc injury in the preseason. The hope is that he is healthy and ready to start this year, taking over Meriweather's spot. The Redskins also did the unthinkable and didn't re-sign Reed Doughty this season. Everyone assumed this would happen when the safety situation was stable, but we're not quite there yet.
Cornerback is in a little better shape, but there is still a lot of room for improvement from last season. DeAngelo Hall is coming off of his best season in a while during his contract year. He was rewarded with a 4 year deal, and will probably assume a leadership role in a defense that lost London Fletcher to retirement. David Amerson had good games last season, but was also routinely targeted by teams like the Chargers. His progression into the #2 CB on the team, and eventually the #1 CB will be essential to the future of the Redskins secondary. Tracy Porter was signed to replace Josh Wilson, but he celebrated his first full 16 game season with an offseason surgery. Bashaud Breeland was drafted in the 4th round and the team also has Chase Minnifield waiting to be active for his first game, and Richard Crawford recovering from a significant knee injury. Most people are counting on the pass rush to help out the secondary this year, otherwise it could be a very long season.
I'm just going to lump special teams together because it was such a clusterF last season. I don't need to review how bad it was on all levels, but Keith Burns made no fans in the DMV and he was shown the door along with the Shanahans. Enter Ben Kotwica and a renewed focus on improving special teams by the front office.
What changes were made to improve on the 2nd worst special teams unit in recorded history? New Coordinator, Sav Rocca was released, Team Captain Reed Doughty was not re-signed, a Kicker was drafted in the 7th round, and a slew of free agents and draft picks were added. Replacing Rocca should have happened after the 2012 season, and he struggled mightily last year.
Kai Forbath was injured for part of the year leading the Redskins to also keep John Potter on the roster. Potter's field goal accuracy was laughable on one kick, but his kickoffs were markedly better than Forbath's. Potter was released when Forbath's groin injury healed, but Cobra Kai's kickoff touchback rate is one of the worst in the league. Now he has competition from Zach Hocker, and they will battle throughout training camp and the preseason for the job.
Robert Malone looks like he's the favorite over the other punter on the roster Blake Clingan. Malone was the punter for the Jets when Kotwica was an assistant, but was replaced the year that Kotwica became the team's Special Teams Coordinator. Like any new coach/scheme/player, we will have to see the results on the field before knowing what all of these changes mean.
There are probably other areas we could discuss like Inside Linebacker and Tight End, but these are your choices and you are welcome to make your case for any other area in the comments. I asked our Leader Ken Meringolo for his answer last night:
I know I should be more worried about our defensive backfield, but too much rides on our offensive line this season. They have to be good for our offense to succeed, for our quarterback to survive and to keep our defense off the field. I think there will be some real churn this preseason along the offensive line, so until that settles, color me scared.