This isn’t an article so much as a published comment. Apologies to anyone looking for actual football news.
Every year there comes a point where my rational mind switches off and my irrational “fan” mode kicks in. This year, it probably waited longer than it ever has before.
The way the 2018 season finished up for the Redskins (from Weeks 9 to 17) really sucked the life out of my fandom. I’ve probably never reached a lower point than I did during the Week 17 debacle at FedEx Field when Eagles fans painted it green and the Redskins fielded a junior college team to line up and take the inevitable loss.
By the time the first quarter was in the books, I had already lost faith that the team could return to competitive football in 2019.
This offseason was a revelation in terms of how much a roster can be resurrected. Personally, I’m much more confident about Case Keenum than anyone else outside of his immediate family, so the announcement of the trade to acquire him was the first opportunity I had of feeling a little better about things. I actually didn’t want to draft a quarterback in the first round, preferring to roll with Keenum and add non-quarterback talent to make the roster deeper and more competitive.
When the team came out of the draft with Haskins, Sweat, McLaurin, Love and the rest, however, I started to feel as though 2019 might not be lost after all. The post-draft high was a bit intoxicating.
But the Trent Williams holdout really put a pin in it for me.
Watching the offensive line bumble through four preseason games started to bring back the funk that had surrounded me following the Week 17 embarrassment against the Eagles.
It wasn’t until this weekend that anything really changed.
Because of the difference in time zones, I can’t really watch Thursday night football live. The Packers-Bears game was on while I was teaching Communication and Presentations Skills class to two dozen sophomore Engineering students on Friday morning here in Bangkok.
Eventually, sometime on Saturday, I got some free time and turned on Game Pass to watch the NFC North matchup on replay. It was a shitshow of bad offensive football. The Bears were getting boo-ed by their home crowd on opening day. Both teams looked beatable.
In case anyone isn’t aware, the NFC East plays the NFC North this year. The Redskins host the Bears at FedEx Field in Week 3.
Watching the Packers-Bears game, a familiar feeling started to creep in. I enjoyed the competition. I was surprised by the way the game played out, and by its outcome. I began to be reminded of the lack of predictability that makes sports in general and the NFL in particular the exciting part of life that it is.
I started getting impatient to see my own Redskins on the field. I wanted to see my lifelong team battling it out with a division rival, and maybe (like the Packers) shocking them with a 10-3 win in their home stadium.
All of a sudden, I realized that Jon Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Iaonnidis were the types of players that could (collectively especially) wreck a game plan.
I remembered suddenly that Ryan Kerrigan is one of the most consistently effective pass rushers in the game, and that Cassanova McKinzy’s speed, Montez Sweat’s length & power, and Ryan Anderson’s experience and leadership are going to challenge the edge of every offense they play.
I started to think about the Landon Collins signing, and how perfect a fit he seems to be with the Redskins team that he had hoped, coming out of college, would draft him. The awareness of how he has been a nightmare for the Eagles in past seasons began to emerge. I remembered how much I had enjoyed watching Montae Nicholson play, and thought about how much better he’ll be as a third year player on the field beside Collins.
The development of Quinton Dunbar, and the loss that the team felt when he was unable to play last season started to come back to me. I remembered how seldom opposing defenses ever throw at Josh Norman, limiting his statistics, but limiting their own offensive production as well. I smiled as I recalled the excitement that has been generated by Jimmy Moreland since he was drafted.
Inside linebacker play will be something I look forward to watching. Last year, even my untrained eye was drawn to Foster and Brown as they repeatedly guessed, and guessed wrong, about run plays instead of playing their run fits. Can Bostic, SDH, JHC and rookie Cole Holcomb play better? The reports in pre-season suggest that they can. I’m keen to see for myself.
Offensively, there are a lot of questions. Most people with an opinion equate that to weakness; the fan in me sees that as heretofore untapped and unbounded potential that merely needs to be unleashed.
The wide receiver group has less than 1,700 career yards in NFL regular season games between six (well, this week, five) of them. That will change quickly as McLaurin, Quinn and Harmon start showing why they are in the NFL. Fortunately, Jay Gruden has an offensive system that doesn’t need to ‘feed’ a single featured wideout — he can stress the defense at multiple points, allowing the quarterback (as Kirk Cousins used to regularly remind us) to simply be the “distributor” of the football. Having multiple capable targets is a huge plus in this offense!
Speaking of the distributor, being able to put Case Keenum on the field as the starter with a $3.5m cap hit seems like a real blessing given where the team was at the end of last season. I feel pretty good about Keenum’s ability to use his experience to give the Redskins a chance to win week in and week out, and I expect him to play with a more dynamic style than Alex Smith did — pushing the ball deep when he sees the opportunity.
I think the team can win with Keenum, but if they can’t, then what could be more exciting than having Dwayne Haskins ready to come in and show the magic arm and attitude that allowed him to throw for 50 touchdowns last season against the highest level of competition college football has to offer? I don’t know when we’ll see Dwayne Haskins on the field, but when the moment comes, I’m confident that there’ll be excitement at the prospect of watching him play in an NFL regular season game for the first time.
The same is true for Derrius Guice. Remember the sense of palpable excitement that we felt around Redskins Nation last summer as the newly drafted rookie endeared himself to the fan base? Remember the excitement of the big run — the one that he looked so good on, but which ended his season? Well, this preseason has allowed Redskins fans to get another few glimpses at what made Derrius Guice such an exciting player at LSU, and before today is finished, we’ll see it again, this time with Guice making his NFL regular season debut.
When Guice needs a breather, we have the prospect of last year’s thousand-yard rusher and future Hall of Fame running back, Adrian Peterson, coming on the field to terrorize defenses.
Reports are that Chris Thompson has regained his 2017 pre-injury form, and that season — until Kirk Cousins broke Thompson’s leg — CT was leading the league in receiving yards for a running back and looking like an offensive weapon of mass destruction. It sounds like he’s back, and if he is, it’ll be a sight to behold!
Jordan Reed may be out for a week following the dirty hit in the side of his head from Keanu Neal in preseason, but he is likely to be a force for the balance of the season. Again, beat reporters who see this team every year in training camp reported all through July and August that Reed was back to his 2015 form, a season in which he pulled in over 900 receiving yards and added a bunch of touchdowns. Waiting a week to see him play in the home opener should be worth the wait, and I sense that this may be the year that Jordan reminds us all that he is among the NFL’s elite pass-catching tight ends.
While he is still in concussion protocol, another future Hall-of-Fame player will fill in for him. Vernon Davis is winding down his football career, but he still has the speed and physique he had in his mid-20s. It’s not really a step down when the Redskins go from their young stud tight end to the ‘old man’ at the position. I’m also excited to see Sprinkle and JP Holtz, who are known more for their blocking and less for their receiving.
It is only the offensive line that keeps me somewhat grounded this season. With Brandon Scherff, the Redskins have one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL. He can maul his opponent in a phone booth or he can get out in space and block equally well. In addition, with Roullier and Moses returning, the team has 60% of its starting offensive line intact from last season.
The issue, of course, is on the left side, where the Trent Williams holdout has exacerbated the weakness at LG that the Redskins seem to struggle with annually.
Penn, Christian, Flowers and Martin give the team 4 chances to fill two holes. It may not always be pretty, but I’ll be interested to see what Bill Callahan can get out of his guys in this crucial season.
All in all, I came away from watching the Packers-Bears game fired up for the season!
It happens every year. I reach a point where all of the off-season rationality and pre-season analysis gets thrown out the window in a burst of irrational emotion. I hit that point this weekend, and now I am fired up for football.
THIS is my team. They are part of me and I am part of them.
I don’t have to wonder anymore about which individual is gonna win a camp battle; 53 guys are now set and wearing burgundy and gold, and, regardless of the numbers and names on the backs of the jerseys, I’ll be supporting them every time they step out on the field.
I hated Desean Jackson for years, but then for three years I loved him like a brother. He’s now the enemy again with a green target painted on his back.
Landon Collins was a guy I didn’t like last year. Now? I love him.
I laughed at the Giants for drafting Ereck Flowers. Now? He’s a promising prospect at the LG position and I am rooting for his success.
The list goes on — Adrian Peterson, Donald Penn, John Bostic, Paul Richardson, and more. These guys were nothing to me until they put on the burgundy and gold. Now they are my team; today is the start of a new season where anything is possible.
Today, they go out and represent generations of Redskins fans one more time.
I can’t wait for kickoff!