- The offseason is...almost...over. We have one final episode left in the second season of “Offseason On the Brink,” and it promises to be a very fun night in the basement indeed. Yes, there was pain this summer—losing Derrius Guice is not going to stop hurting anytime soon. There was also Payne this summer though—our top draft pick, Da’Ron Payne looks every bit the part of elite prospect at a position where you can’t overstate the importance of talent. We said farewell to a guy drafted and developed in-house who put his name on some all-time Redskins records (Kirk Cousins). We said hello to a guy whose “dirty toughness” provides a stark contrast to the manner in which teammates interact with their quarterback (Alex Smith). There are 32 fanbases who are holding onto some form of hope and optimism today, and the Washington group is firmly in that category this week. To that, I say, “Rightfully so.”
- I have seen my fair share of early Septembers around here. I understand the difference between being hungry to watch NFL games and being starved to watch Redskins football. Under Dan Snyder’s stewardship, the Redskins organization has delivered some whoppers when it comes to contentious, blood-boiling, love-killing offseasons. I have watched fellow fans as their eyes glazed over, signaling a turn from passion to apathy in the wake of endless shenanigans. Despite a few soap operas that we would have all rather avoided (McLovin, Kirk drama, Shanahan/RG3, Bruce Allen “fill-in-the-blank,” etc.), I would argue that this past offseason has loosely followed what just about officially can be called a trend: the Redskins are getting younger and more talented in the most stable coaching regime we have ever seen under Snyder. Let that truth sink in for a moment...and ask yourself if you are appropriately psyched for this season. Ask yourself if you would trade in the ability to watch every other game going on this weekend to watch just the Redskins game. For many of us, the question seems crazy on its face—of course we would eschew all other NFL action to just watch our boys—but the rise of fantasy football has coincided with the decline of the Redskins the last 10-15 years. I think it’s fair to say that more than a few fans have gravitated towards a more general love of the game from the singular love of the burgundy and gold.
- We as Redskins fans absolutely have reason to be optimistic and hopeful, and not because “every year, some team that nobody expects to do well turns around and does well.” That has been my argument once or twice in the past...likely when it was literally the only hope that existed. I know the feeling that goes along with that and it is very clearly not that feeling this time around. Despite my pair of burgundy and gold-shaded glasses, I can honestly see through the fog of perfunctory Redskins coverage done at the national level. I get it. Redskins news doesn’t drive national sports traffic...positive Redskins news that is. Sure, everyone loves watching us try to tread water in a tank full of mud, but the undercurrent of real professional football activity at Redskins Park is not going to win many viewers in the nooks and crannies of this great sports-loving nation.
- Seeing national power rankings authors consistently put the Redskins at #20 or worse is okay with me. Just as I am annually told that I am too high on this team, I know that your average sportswriter is not exactly turning over every rock when it comes to predicting the 2018 season here in Washington. To many professional outsiders, they see a Lombardi Trophy in Philadelphia, Eli Manning to Odell Beckham in New York and...whatever it is about helmets with stars on them that makes sportswriters act like teeny bopper girls at a Justin Beiber concert. The only thing there that makes any sense to me is the trophy up I-95...as much as it kills me, I get it. It matters. Still, Eli Manning has proven perfectly capable of being just good enough for his team to be just bad enough. Dallas is losing offensive linemen like Montgomery Burns lost softball players from his team of ringers. In fairness to these writers, they don’t know what a sound and contending Redskins team/roster looks like. They just know that if they wait long enough, the Redskins themselves will offer a compelling reason why it...just...won’t...work. As far as I can see...that is not the case right now at all. Not at all!!
- For example, I know as a Redskins fan that I have not seen a defensive line like the one I am about to see on Sunday anchored by Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne. I know that it becomes the reason why a secondary stands out on gameday. I have been the guy who tried to argue that Josh Norman would be so good it would make his defensive linemen better. It did not make me look smart (to be fair, that is a tough job already). That is not how it works. If your defensive line stinks, everyone behind them is going to look bad. Of course, we have to see it on Sundays, but for the first time in a long time, we have the right ingredients. Even in men like Tim Settle, Matt Ioannidis and even Caleb Brantley, the team has size and talent that should give opposing offensive coordinators fits at the point of attack. Ask yourself this: when is the last time you were ever legitimately excited about a Redskins team/season because of their defensive line? Continue the line of questioning: where are games won and lost? What did Bobby Beathard teach us? What is this site named after? You win in the trenches. If we were going to tout any one thing that is guiding our preseason emotions, it should be that our defensive line is poised to be dominant. That is the kind of thing that fans of contenders point to in the days leading up to a season-opening game. And when you are touting the big guys up front, you have a lot more than the whimsical hopes attached to historical cinderella stories.
- I’ll close out my offseason Sixpacks with a thought I have been hitting often on the podcast and in this space: this is the Year of Jay Gruden. I think I saw that he is up to 6th or 7th on the sports betting list of coaches most likely to be fired. Again, I get it. There have been few owners that have churned through as many head coaches as Dan Snyder. Certainly his pace of hiring and firing has put him on that map. Still, in Gruden, we have the best semblance of continuity and stability on the sidelines as we have seen in the last 20 years. Does it need to get better? Most assuredly, but it needs the chance to get better and that comes with the pairing of a veteran quarterback mind and an offensive guru that feels he finally has the right trigger man on the field (with all respect to Kirk Cousins). People always ask me what will be different with Alex Smith on the field. It is a tough question to answer. At times, you might not notice much difference at all. After all, the Redskins offense has been pretty productive the last few years. That said, only Redskins fans truly understand the very unique form of EBC (extreme butt clenching) that occurs while watching Redskins games. It is like a dream where you are behind the wheel of a racecar going full speed toward a hairpin curve, and you realize there is no steering wheel or brake pedal. To me, Alex Smith is both of those things to this team. He has won over his teammates with his leadership and work ethic, and he has demanded as much from them as he has from himself. His experience in the league should give him a leg up when it comes to being able to do a few things Kirk Cousins could not. Jay Gruden is counting on the calculator in Alex’s head being that much more refined than Kirk’s, just enough to make that crucial third down read, or just enough to avoid that drive-killing mistake. The difference may end up being subtle, but I believe it will manifest itself most in the confidence that Smith inspires in both his teammates and the fans. In other words, the EBC quotient should decline. That ought to give Kevin and T something to chew on tonight!
**Make sure you call out Bryan Stabbe tonight to get a mention on the air—questions, comments or anything else welcome on Facebook Live, where The Audible comes to life each Tuesday night.