I didn't even know it was still there. After all these many long months, there it was, screaming for some love: my italics key. On a plane ride to Minnesota yesterday, I knew that today was going to feature a fresh batch of optimism. As you all know, I am the executive chef at this particular Kool-Aid bistro. If you think Ryan Kerrigan is too young to impact the defense in year one; if you think that Mike Shanahan is too ego-maniacal to effectively manage this roster; if you think that no team will EVER win as long as Dan Snyder is the owner--this article is not for you. On the other hand, if you think that Leonard Hankerson can grab 70+ balls in his rookie season; if you think that Jim Haslett is going to make outrageous gains in his second chance to put a decent defense on the field; if you think that the free agent frenzy we are about to embark on will add enough talent to our roster to win a few games that maybe we did not expect to win in 2011--well then you are ready to help me dust off the italics button and rock the next episode in our Boldly Hoping series.
Welcome back y'all. We have kept the peace around here for months in a football-less world. It was difficult at first, but all we missed was the offseason. Granted, we have always cherished our hardware when it comes to offseason trophies. While there is still some offseason left to win, the lack of a traditional offseason really gives this franchise a fresh start.
All the talk of process and rebuilding we have tossed around over the last few months is tabled for the moment. It's a good news day. This Redskins team has an opportunity to make the playoffs in 2011. What?!? Welcome to Boldly Hoping.
Let's start at the top. Mike Shanahan in year two is going to be a lot different than most of the coaches we have seen here under Dan Snyder, except for only Joe Gibbs. When Joe Gibbs came back for his second tour of duty, he started out with a 6-10 record. The next year he turned that around to 10-6, and forgive me if I am off base here, but that team he took to the playoffs in his second season was not-on paper-a team to which people were attributing a lot of playoff buzz. Underscoring the notion that some coaches are, well, better than others, Gibbs made strides in his second season the first time around as well. He went 8-8 in his rookie season and then came back and went 8-1 in a labor strife-shortened season. We'll never know if Marty Schottenheimer could have built something from his 8-8 season, but given the 8-3 finish he had that year, it is likely he would have come back fairly strong. As for Mike Shanahan, he did not get a shot at a full second season under Al Davis as coach of the Raiders. But in Denver, you can see he made a ton of progress from the first year to the second year, going from 8-8 to 13-3 (he won the Super Bowl in his third year...no John Elway on our roster though.)
The point is when you have a legitimate NFL coach as opposed to a college coach wannabe, or an over-promoted quarterbacks coach you get the benefit of accelerated improvement from year to year. I think we have spent so much time this summer looking at our roster and wondering where in God's name the improvement would come from, we may have lost sight of the incremental improvement that could come from the man walking the sideline.
The next logical place to apply some blind optimism is the quarterback spot. Despite the belief that John Beck could be a starter in the league in 2011, I do believe the key to the upcoming season is Rex Grossman winning that competition in camp. Now, at his best, Rex Grossman is no Donovan McNabb in his prime. But McNabb is no longer in his prime and given Grossman's comfort level in this offense, it is conceivable that his performance could be as good as anything this version of McNabb could give. Rex knows Kyle Shanahan's offense as well as, if not better, than any other quarterback in the league. if you believe some reports out of Houston two years ago, Grossman had a better grasp of Kyle's scheme than Matt Schaub.
The truth is if we go the Rex Grossman route, we need him to be able to contribute positively for two seasons and not just one. Assuming we make the move for a franchise quarterback in the draft in 2012, you would hate to throw that guy right into the fire. What better way for the rookie to learn the offense than to have a good year and a half of it on film to study?
While none of us is head-over-heels for Rexy, he was the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl team. He is not the worst we have seen in burgundy and gold and he is not the most depressing figure to start under center for us. The "At Least He Isn't Danny Wuerffel" argument can only get a guy so far though. He is going to have be hitting more than 60% of his throws and he is going to have keep his interceptions down.
And our defense is going to have to return to the top tier of the league's defenses. I think we could all agree that Green Bay is bit longer on talent than us, but in their second year of the 3-4 they really took off. One would hope that in our second year of the 3-4 we would reign in our yards against considerably, ramp up the pressure on the quarterback, and increase the amount of turnovers. It is a lot harder to simply "hope" that this will happen, but if you look around the league, it is not uncommon to find second-year systems making dramatic improvements.
What brings all of this together is the inevitable blitz on free agency that the Redskins are poised to embark upon. Our biggest cause of concern--the offensive line--appears to be a major area the team intends to address. In fact, I would not be shocked to see this team bring in both both a tackle and a guard capable of starting immediately and then staying around for a while.
We are also hearing that the team has its sights set on one of the top wide receivers on the market. I'm still not sold on Santonio Holmes as the answer, but the fact that this team seems to be taking the position so seriously in free agency leads me to believe they refuse to be short-handed or reliant on rookies that may not be ready.
As much as we are prepared for the worst, I think it is more than okay to keep an open heart to the possible. For the Redskins and their fans, yes...that does include the playoffs.