(photo by Brian Murphy)
Now that 2009 is upon us, it seems only fitting that we take a moment to reflect back on the 2008 season for the Washington Redskins. With a rookie head coach and a veteran team, the ‘Skins headed into this past season with more questions that most any other team in football. While many of those questions are still in need of answers, here are, in our humble opinion, the five biggest storylines of the 2008 season. Feel free to post a comment or email us to let us know if we got it right.
1. The Redskins draft well. Kind of.
Vinny Cerrato and the ‘Skins front office left the 2008 NFL draft with a mind-numbing 10 picks. After trading out of the first round, Washington had three second rounders, which the team opted to use on three pass catchers. Wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, along with tight end Fred Davis, justifiably earned the most attention, but it was the team’s final selection, a little-known safety out of UCLA by the name of Chris Horton, who had the biggest impact.
Horton, who earned the nickname “The Predator” because of his fierce play and dreadlocked looks, burst onto the scene for the Redskins in just the second week of his rookie season. With safety Reed Doughty sidelined due to illness, Horton was informed he would step into the starting lineup alongside LaRon Landry against the New Orleans Saints. While he admitted after the game that his nerves got the best of him the night before his first NFL start, it definitely didn’t show during the game as Horton recorded what defensive coordinator Greg Blache called a “hat trick,” or three turnovers. From there, Horton never looked back.
The jury is still out on Thomas, Kelly and Davis, as well as Cerrato’s abilities on draft day (anyone remember the name of that punter the ‘Skins wasted a draft pick on?), but Horton was a genuine steal with the 249th pick in the draft.
2. So you think you can dance?
For the Redskins, adversity hit on the very first day of training camp when defensive end Phillip Daniels suffered a season-ending injury to his anterior cruciate knee ligament. Just hours later, the ‘Skins moved quickly to fill the void by acquiring six-time Pro Bowler Jason Taylor for a second-round pick in the 2009 draft and a sixth-rounder in 2010.
“We had to act after losing Phillip,” Cerrato said at the time.
What they thought they were acquiring was a game-changing defensive player. What they got was a big name, and not much else. All flash, not much substance. Taylor made a name for himself as a Miami Dolphin, earning 2006 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the 2007 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year awards. Unfortunately for the Redskins, he looked more like the Dancin’ with the Stars Jason Taylor than an award-winning defensive lineman.
Taylor was kicked in the calf in the second quarter of a meaningless preseason game against the Carolina Panthers and had to be rushed to the hospital after team doctors noticed unusual swelling. He was later diagnosed with compartmental syndrome, which explained the mass of blood near his ankle.
Though there was initial concern that it could be career threatening, Taylor was able to bounce back and work his way into the regular defensive rotation. But that didn’t translate into production. A year after collecting 11 sacks, Taylor had just 3.5, his lowest total this decade.
Had the team done nothing after the Daniels injury, they would have been in better shape than trading away multiple draft picks and paying more than $8 million this season for 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble. But the front office panicked and did what they felt was best for the team at the time.
And not all of the blame falls on Taylor. He’s at his best when his team has the lead and he’s set free to cause havoc in the opposing team’s backfield. With the Redskins rarely ever having a lead and the defensive staff seemingly confused over the best way to utilize Taylor, it’s tough to lay all of the blame on the defensive end. That being said, Taylor needs to bring much more to the table than his good looks and witty personality if he’s brought back next season.
3. For Pete’s sake.
Pete Kendall has played in 190 games over an impressive 13-year career. As an interior lineman, he’s consistently done an above average job of protecting the quarterback and anchoring talented offensive lines. Coaches can trust the veteran with loads of responsibilities and never have to second guess the decision. But there’s one thing Kendall isn’t – a running back.
Kendall proved such during an October matchup against the previously winless St. Louis Rams when a Jason Campbell pass that was deflected at the line landed in the arms of Kendall. Instead of moving out of the way and letting the ball fall harmlessly to the ground, the 35-year-old, for reasons unknown, decided to catch the ball and make a dash for the endzone. What happened next was one of the two biggest (and unfortunate) in-game moments of the 2008 season.
Pisa Tinoisamoa of the Rams jarred the ball loose from Kendall and Oshiomogho Atogwe swooped in to recover the fumble. Seventy five yards later, Atogwe scored a touchdown that gave the previously lifeless Rams a 10-7 halftime lead. And the rest was history.
“My instinct was – believe it or not – to knock it down and why I didn’t?” Kendall said after the game. “It will bother me for a long time.”
4. Hall of a catch.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall started the season by signing a seven-year, $70 million deal with the Oakland Raiders. After just eight games (in which he earned a cool $8 million), Hall was let go by owner Al Davis and friends because the team wanted to go in a different direction.
The Redskins then somehow beat out teams like the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys for the services of the former Virginia Tech standout, signing Hall for the remainder of the season for just $492,000. Hall arrived in town with some baggage, namely questions about how a “Me-first” player with potential character issues would fit into a tight-knit Redskins locker room. But fortunately for the maroon and black, Hall was on his best behavior off the field and one of their best defenders on it.
Although he played in just eight games for Washington, Hall finished second on the team in interceptions and gave a top-ranked defense an identity. Before Hall came to town, the Redskins defense had little to no pass rush and an inability to create turnovers. After he arrived, there was still little to no pass rush, but now, suddenly, there was a player in the secondary who was actually capable of picking off a pass from time to time.
Now Hall is a free agent who will certainly command more than the veteran’s minimum to keep in town. If management is smart, and that’s never a guarantee, they’ll make re-signing Hall their top offseason priority – even if that means letting go of someone else in the secondary (see: Rogers, Carlos).
5. A fitting end.
No play summarizes the Redskins’ season more than this one.
Trailing 17-10 against a sorry Cincinnati Bengals team, the ‘Skins faced a third-and-goal situation just nine inches from the endzone. Having failed to score a touchdown on the previous play, a handoff to fullback Mike Sellers, the Redskins decided to run that play again.
Unfortunately, the Redskins suffered the same fate as the previous Sellers carry, as the Bengals again stuffed the bruising back short of the goal line. Adding insult to injury, Sellers actually fumbled the ball when he fully extended in hopes of scoring the tying touchdown. Instead of a 17-17 game or closing the Bengals lead to 17-13, the ‘Skins suffered a stomach punch that they never recovered from.
At that exact moment Redskins fans knew the season was over. Sure, there were two more games to play, but if you can’t beat the bottom-feeding Bengals or the downtrodden Rams, then you don’t deserve to play in the postseason.
Honorable mention: Redskins hire Zorn as offensive coordinator, Redskins hire Zorn as head coach, Blache recommends folks fall in love with strippers, Portis dreams of better offensive line, Portis has words for Brian Mitchell, Portis has words for “genius” coach, Cooley blogs, Cooley blogs in the buff, Campbell grows as franchise QB, Campbell regresses as franchise QB, Wanted: dependable second receiver