(photo by Brian Murphy)
After an action-packed offseason, which saw the arrival of a new general manager, head coach, quarterback and at least 30 other new faces, the Washington Redskins officially kick off training camp today. In keeping with tradition, I present to you my 10 (semi-) bold predictions for the 2010 season.
Last year, you may remember, I had pretty solid results: Stephon Heyer over Mike Williams at right tackle, Colt Brennan continued to be irrelevant and Antwaan Randle El did, in fact give me an aneurism. I do feel obligated to point out though that I missed badly on DeAngelo Hall as the defensive MVP (should have been London Fletcher) and Ladell Betts as a fantasy football sleeper pick (Fred Davis).
Okay, enough about the past. Here’s the list:
1. Kyle Shanahan was the team’s best offseason addition.
The Redskins improved drastically at several key positions, including general manager, head coach and quarterback. But the acquisition that has me most excited is Kyle, not Mike, Shanahan. I’ve had a chance to talk to a couple players this offseason about his philosophy, and everyone we speak to on the subject gets excited. He’s not trying to wow anyone with a 700-page playbook or his bingo-calling skills. No, he’s known for turning mediocre offenses into juggernauts.
Take, for example, the Houston Texans. They have Matt Schaub at quarterback, Steve Slaton at running back and Andre Johnson at receiver. Of the three, only Johnson can truly be considered a top-10 talent at his respective position. The rest of the roster is even more obscure, with no names such as Arian Foster, Joel Dreessen and David Anderson logging playing time. And yet, Houston had the NFL’s top offense in 2009. Why? Because of Kyle Shanahan.
I asked one of the Redskins players what makes his offense different than others and the answer surprised me.
He trusts his players. If they’re covered, then he wants them to do what’s necessary to get open. He doesn’t want his wide outs to run exactly seven yards, turn around and hold their hands up in the air praying the quarterback can beat double coverage. No, he encourages the receivers to think like they’re playing basketball, rather than football.
It might not sound like much, but it could be enough to finally get solid production out of a guy like Devin Thomas, who doesn’t exactly have the reputation for running the most crisp routes. This is just one of the reasons I’m legitimately excited for the Kyle Shanahan era. He’s playing by a different set of rules and encouraging his players to think outside the box. That’s the kind of mindset that’s been sorely lacking over the better part of a decade as the Redskins have consistently struggled to put points on the board.
2. Malcolm Kelly isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Albert Haynesworth.
Nothing against beat writer Ryan O’Halloran, who was the first guy to suggest Kelly won’t survive roster cuts, but I highly doubt the Redskins release Malcolm. Even with his injured hamstring, I find it difficult to believe the Redskins would cut the cord on a youngster heading into his third season.
Honestly, what’s the biggest difference between Kelly and Thomas at this point in their young careers? Opportunity and injuries. Thomas has been given the opportunities, while Kelly has battled injuries.
But here’s something you may not know – Mike Shanahan has suggested to his players that Kelly might just have the best hands out of the 11 receivers currently on the roster. He apparently sees enough from Kelly to think he’s got someone who can contribute offensively, so it would come as a surprise to me if Kelly was seeking employment elsewhere by the end of training camp. The only way I could see him being let go is if he simply cannot get healthy and a guy like Joey Galloway has the best training camp of his life. And nothing against Galloway, who has had a lengthy and productive career, but he’s only one year younger than his position coach. If Kelly and Galloway are close, you’d have to figure a tie goes to the 23-year-old.
Oh, and no need to spend a bunch of time hypothesizing about why Haynesworth isn’t going to be traded or cut. He’ll show up and begrudgingly play wherever the team wants him to. Or he won’t. Either way, he’ll be wearing the burgundy and gold this season.
Speaking of Fat Albert …
3. Ma’ake Kemoeatu will start more games at nose tackle than Haynesworth.
The biggest reason for all the drama this offseason was because Haynesworth got it in his head that the coaching staff was going to ignore his impressive eight-year career and suddenly ask Albert to completely overhaul his game. But the only reason things got to this point is because he was too immature to pick up the phone and ask what exactly his role in this 3-4 defense will be. Had he done that, I’m confident that the Redskins could have enjoyed their first drama-free offseason in a long, long time.
4. The Porta-John backfield will party like it’s 2006.
I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that a slimmed down and motivated Clinton Portis will revert back to the running back we all know and love. It’s not difficult to envision Portis eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark, and it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if Larry Johnson somehow finishes the season with 10 touchdowns. Sure, these two are competitors and they’d both like to start. But I think they’ll see that, at this point in their careers, they’ll be good for each other as they work together to wear down opposing defenses.
Two more thoughts on the Redskins running back situation:
4a. Brian Westbrook ends up somewhere else.
This one is pretty self explanatory.
4b. Willie Parker gets beat out by Ryan Torain and doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
For a guy with the nickname “Fast,” he’s been anything but in the practices I’ve seen over the last few months. When I’ve mentioned to some of his teammates that I don’t think Parker will be on the roster Week 1, none of them seem shocked. I’ve even had one or two guys basically say, “Yeah, that wouldn’t stun me.”
5. Carlos Rogers will set a career-high for interceptions.
Okay, out of everything on this list, this is the one folks have a right to openly mock me for. I fully admit it.
But look at it this way – Rogers only needs three picks to set a new personal best. If nothing else, the bar is set so low that he almost has to make this happen. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is going to be much more aggressive than Greg Blache was, which hopefully translates to more turnovers. If so, Rogers, who is still playing for a long-term contract, could be one of the guys who benefits most, right? It could happen.
6. Trent Williams will play right tackle at some point this season.
I’m not taking anything away from Williams, the talented rookie who the Redskins drafted with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. I just know that when Jammal Brown is healthy, he’s a dominant force. For that reason, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team flip flop the two tackles at some point to see if there’s any significant difference. Either way, that left tackle is going to have to be a stud this season, with the number of skilled pass rushers the ‘Skins will face this season.
7. Justin Tryon is who we thought he was.
It appears that Tryon is the new Taylor Jacobs. And by that I mean, he’s the guy we’re going to hear stories about every offseason about how far he’s coming along and how he’s on the verge of busting out and becoming a bona fide breakout player. I mean, even Darrell Green himself is talking about the guy as if he’s watching highlights of … well … Darrell Green rather than a guy who averages one tackle a game and has a grand total of one career interception.
I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid until I see it for myself. Tryon is serviceable, but let’s see him win the nickle corner job before we rush to anoint him … or should I say, before we “crown his ass.”
8. Donovan McNabb will have better numbers than Kevin Kolb.
The Eagles are hoping Kolb is the next Aaron Rodgers or Phillip Rivers, and he may turn out to be someone on that elite level. But it’s not necessarily going to happen overnight.
If McNabb stays healthy, he’s going to be highly motivated to show Philadelphia that he’s still got a few dominant years left in the tank. The Redskins have what appears to be a significantly improved offensive line, they’ve got a couple running backs with proven track records and a pair of tight ends who have shown they can make good things happen. If McNabb and Kyle Shanahan can get anything out of the receivers, then this offense could be fun to watch.
9. Chris Cooley is headed back to the Pro Bowl. Ditto for Brian Orakpo.
I’m a big Fred Davis fan and I think he’ll continue to improve as he gains more and more experience. But too many people seem to be rushing ahead to push Cooley out the door. That’s something I just don’t get. He’s been the team’s best weapon for a while now and McNabb loves a dependable tight end. Without having a skilled pass-catching running back like Westbrook to dump swing passes to, McNabb is going to be looking for a tight end as his safety valve when defenses turn up the heat. That guy will most likely be Cooley.
As for Orakpo, this is the year he officially takes over. Nothing against London Fletcher, Haynesworth or anyone else, but Orakpo is going to be the face of the defense sooner rather than later. Mark my words.
10. If the Redskins win the Super Bowl, Phillip Daniels will do his Madden dance.
This isn’t a prediction, as much as it’s a promise. Daniels can’t stop laughing at the goofy dance the fine people at EA Sports made him bust out in one of their commercials for Madden 2010. But because he’s a good sport, he’s sworn to do that little shimmy if the Redskins bring home the hardware this year.