Washington’s hope to challenge the Eagles in the NFC East is tied to the health of QB Robert Griffin III, and they’re hoping a healthy off-season and a new head coach in Jay Gruden can breathe life back into the team in 2014.

By Annie Ross

One year after winning the NFC East with a 10-6 record and ending a four-year playoff drought, the 2013 season got away from the Redskins rather quickly with three straight losses and a 2-5 record by Week 9. It didn’t help either that quarterback Robert Griffin III hobbled through a 3-13 season after undergoing knee surgery.

Mike Shanahan was dismissed in the offseason and recorded a 24-40 record in his tenure as head coach. His son, Kyle, was also relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator and the Shanahans never seemed to build the type of relationship coaches should have with a franchise quarterback.

Enter Gruden.

“I look forward to the challenge,” said Gruden, who doesn’t have any NFL head coaching experience.

“I don’t know what happened last year and I don’t care what happened last year,” Gruden added regarding the reported dysfunction within the Redskins’ football ranks. “I am only concerned about the future.”

Gruden helped develop Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and the team reached the playoffs the last three seasons with him as offensive coordinator. Now Gruden tries to take Griffin under his wing and make sure he’s comfortable with what the new regime wants to accomplish.

The Redskins have the unfortunate pleasure of playing in the competitive NFC East and it won’t be easy for them to get back on top. Philly has improved, Dallas is always a problem and New York usually finds a way when its back is against the wall.

Washington has recorded 10 or more wins only twice since 2000. Will year three under Griffin reap more victories? Griffin has the smarts, arm strength and athletic ability to make plays, and will try to get back to his dominant form from his rookie campaign in 2012.

Griffin has proven he can play at this level when he’s 100 percent. He has the weapons at his disposal and a running back to turn to when it gets rough.

Alfred Morris has emerged as one of the top backs in the league, while wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed give Griffin strong targets in the pass game. The Redskins gave Griffin another toy to play with when they signed former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.

Jackson adds another dimension to Gruden’s offense and it just may put the Redskins over the hump.

2013 RECORD: 3-13 (last NFC East)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2012 (lost to Seattle Seahawks Wild Card round)

HEAD COACH: Jay Gruden (first season)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Sean McVay (fifth season with Redskins, first as OC)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett (fifth season with Redskins)

KEY ADDITIONS: S Ryan Clark (from Steelers), DL Jason Hatcher (from Cowboys), WR DeSean Jackson (from Eagles), OL Shawn Lauvao (from Browns), QB Colt McCoy (from 49ers), OL Mike McGlynn (from Colts), OT Morgan Moses (3rd round, Virginia), CB Tracy Porter (from Raiders), WR Andre Roberts (from Cardinals)

KEY DEPARTURES: S Reed Doughty (free agent), MLB London Fletcher (retired), S Tanard Jackson (suspension), OL Will Montgomery (to Broncos), WR Josh Morgan (to Bears), P Sav Rocca (free agent) CB Josh Wilson (to Falcons), DE/DT Adam Carriker (free agent)

QB: Griffin (3,203 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT) may have rushed back too early after undergoing knee surgery following a playoff loss to Seattle and struggled through 13 games. He was benched the last three as a precaution, much to the chagrin of the former Baylor standout. Griffin hopes his career will be revitalized under Gruden, who helped Dalton to a 30-18 regular season record as a starter. Dalton’s 80 passing touchdowns rank third-most in NFL history for a quarterback in his first three seasons, trailing only Dan Marino (98) and Peyton Manning (85). Griffin passed for 3,200 yards as a rookie with 20 TD passes and only five interceptions. He ran for 815 yards and seven scores, only to follow that up with 489 yards rushing and no TDs last season.

Kirk Cousins will be the backup to Griffin and appeared in five games last season. He is a serviceable player and could serve as trade bait down the road, and possibly supplant RG3 as the starter if things don’t go quite as intended.

Washington signed Colt McCoy in April and he will most likely end up as the No. 3 QB. This is McCoy’s third team since 2010.

GRADE: B+ (when RG3 is healthy)

RB: Morris (1,275 yards, 7 TD) has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his first two seasons in the NFL and has established himself as one of the best in the business. Morris doesn’t possess track speed, but has game speed and the moves to make tacklers miss. Morris, who had 1,613 yards and 13 scores in his rookie campaign of 2012, could be used more out of the backfield under Gruden and will split more carries with Roy Helu.

Helu (274 yards, 4 TD) appeared in all 16 games in 2013 after playing in just three the previous year. He is entering his fourth NFL season and is just as powerful between the tackles as Morris. Both backs must polish up on their pass catching skills. The Redskins who were fifth in rushing (135.2 ypg) and ninth in total yards (369.7 ypg) last year, drafted Lache Seastrunk in May and also have veteran Evan Royster.


WR: The Redskins were 16th in passing yards last season with 234.4 per game. They hope those numbers increase with Gruden running the show and Jackson in the fold. Jackson (1,332 yards, 9 TD) played his first six seasons in the league with Philadelphia and was rumored to be a cancer in the locker room. Either way, the Eagles lost a dynamic piece of their offense and the Redskins wasted no time scooping him up. Perhaps the change of scenery will alter Jackson’s supposed bad attitude because, like it or not, the guy can play and gives defenses nightmares. He didn’t do much in last year’s playoff game versus New Orleans and Washington hopes that won’t be the case if it gets back to the postseason. Jackson will surely open more windows for Griffin, and both Garcon and Reed.

Garcon (1,346 yards, 5 TD) hauled in a career-high 113 passes last year and is both bigger and stronger than Jackson. Veteran Santana Moss (452 yards, 2 TD) enters his 14th season and can still get open at his age. Aldrick Robinson and Andre Roberts will battle for time, too.


TE: Reed (499 yards, 3 TD) showed signs of promise in his rookie year last season and can only get better. Reed, though, needs to stay healthy and has been a victim of the concussion bug. Logan Paulsen will back up Reed and is also an excellent blocker in the run game. Paulsen has been with the Redskins since they signed him as a free agent in 2010. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser out of Indiana in May and Niles Paul is expected to fill a roster spot.


OL: Griffin was sacked a career-high 38 times last season and Washington’s first priority is keeping the franchise QB unscathed. Yes, Griffin played less than 100 percent in 2013, but the offensive line still has to do its job.

The left side of the line is solid with tackle Trent Williams and new guard Shawn Lauvao. Kory Lichtensteiger was moved from guard to center, while Chris Chester is penciled in to start at right guard. Center Will Montgomery was released. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus will be pushed by rookie Morgan Moses out of Virginia.

Also, rookie guard/tackle Spencer Long out of Nebraska will vie for playing time. Last year, the Redskins played well in the ground attack, but must give Griffin enough time to dissect opposing defenses.


DL: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is lucky to have a job with how poorly the Redskins played last season. The ‘Skins were 17th against the rush (110.6 ypg), 18th in yards allowed (354.1 ypg), 20th against the pass (243.5 ypg) and 30th in points surrendered (29.9).

When the offense is barely putting up 24 points per game, the defense has to do something. Well, the Redskins didn’t do much to tinker with the defense and may have signed a few players to use as spackling paste. In Haslett’s four years from 2010-13, the Redskins accumulated 105 takeaways, the team’s highest four-year total since recording 110 across the 2002-05 seasons.

They run a 3-4 scheme and lining up at nose tackle will be Barry Cofield (32 tackles, 2.5 sacks). Cofield is a veteran run-stuffer and will play between ends Jason Hatcher (11 sacks with the Cowboys) and Jarvis Jenkins. Hatcher was pulled away from rival Dallas and signed a big contract this offseason. Chris Baker, Kedric Golston, Clifton Geathers and Chris Neild provide depth up front.


LB: The strength of Washington’s defense comes from the outside linebacker position with Ryan Kerrigan (66 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and Brian Orakpo (60 tackles, 10 sacks).

Orakpo led the Redskins in sacks and is a nightmare for offensive coordinators, who must make sure they know where he is lined up at all times. Orakpo signed his franchise tender in March and that deal is believed to be worth $11.45 million in 2014. Orakpo earned his third Pro Bowl selection and recorded his first career interception while starting 15 games. He missed only the season finale with a groin injury. In 2012, Orakpo suffered a torn pectoral muscle in a Week 2 loss at St. Louis and missed the remainder of the season.

The Redskins also exercised their fifth-year option on Kerrigan’s contract and he finished with a career-high in tackles last season. He has started all 48 of Washington’s regular-season games and one playoff game since the team selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Kerrigan was a 2012 Pro Bowl selection and could have another one after this season is over.

Replacing the departed London Fletcher will be a major chore and it appears Keenan Robinson is up to the task. Robinson is in his second year. Perry Riley (115 tackles, 3 sacks, INT) led the team in stops last season and is the other linebacker in the middle. Darryl Sharpton (87 tackles) was brought in to compete for a middle spot. Linebacker Trent Murphy was drafted out of Stanford.


DB: Pass defense was brutal for the Redskins and that’s an area that must be corrected in the NFC. There are too many high-scoring, pass-loving teams in the conference and especially the NFC East.

Veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall (78 tackles, 4 INT) returns on a big contract and sometimes plays lackadaisical in the secondary. Hall has to avoid giving up the big plays, but at least he has Jackson on his side instead of wearing Eagles midnight green. Josh Wilson is gone and David Amerson (48 tackles, 2 INT) is back to start opposite of Hall at right cornerback.

Hard-hitting safety Brandon Meriweather (69 tackles, sack, 2 INT) will have to adjust to even more new rules this season with his physical style of play and is already suspended for two games for failing to do exactly that in the preseason. Ryan Clark (104 tackles, 2 INT), who played for the Redskins from 2004-05, is back in burgundy and gold following an eight-year stint with Pittsburgh. Cornerback Tracy Porter (67 tackles, 2 INT) was another free agent acquisition this offseason. Phillip Thomas will compete for playing time, as will rookie Bashaud Breeland out of Clemson.


SPECIAL TEAMS: The Redskins had more returners last season than Christmas Day shoppers. Paul, Josh Morgan, Nick Williams, Chris Thompson, Moss and Adam Gettis all saw action on special teams. It appears Roberts will handle kickoff return duties and Moss is the punt returner. Moss returned 18 punts last season for an average of 7.2 yards per game.

Kai Forbath was 18-for-22 on field goals last season and nailed 4-of-6 between 40-49 yards. Rookie Zach Hocker could make a run for the starting kicker spot.

Punter Sav Rocca is gone, so it looks as if Robert Malone will take over. Malone was with the Jets the last two seasons and played in only two games last season. Malone, though, hit 84 punts in 2012 for an average of 45.8 yards.

Nick Sundberg is the long snapper and has been with Washington since 2010. Ben Kotwica was named special teams coach in January and has a lot of work to do before Week 1.


COACHING: Gruden did a fine job with Dalton and the Bengals, but had no playoff wins to show for his efforts. The Redskins took a gamble on Gruden and hope he can have even more success with Griffin, who is an even better quarterback than Dalton. Gruden, who has a lot to prove as a first-year NFL head coach, likes to throw the ball and has plenty of weapons to utilize in his system.

McVay served as the Redskins’ tight ends coach the previous three years and probably understands the players and system better than Gruden. The defense, of course, is an area of concern for Haslett and the unit has to improve in order to return to NFC East championship status.


THE SKINNY: Gruden was called upon to clean up the mess left by Shanahan, and luckily has a manageable schedule on the horizon.

Give the ‘Skins a month or so to see if they’re ready to roll like they did in 2012. Griffin is healthy and happy with his new coaching staff and offensive philosophy, so that’s a step in the right direction.

Oh yeah, RG3 now has Jackson to throw to. The Redskins, though, have to put up more points this season in order to compete with Dallas, New York and Philadelphia in the division because the defense may struggle once again even with Hatcher in the fold with Orakpo and Kerrigan.

Look for eight or nine wins, which is an extreme upgrade from the previous season and could push Philly for division bragging rights.

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