The biggest name returning to the Redskins' offense this season isn't manning one of the key positions; in fact, he doesn't even play a position. Head coach Steve Spurrier is back and out to prove that last year's 7-9 record wasn't an indication of how his "Fun n' Gun" offense would fare in the NFL and that his team's 20th ranked offense was the product of growing pains and not an indication of his coaching abilities.
There are high hopes for this season, which starts after another infamous Dan Snyder shopping spree that has brought some talented free agents into the mix in another attempt to buy a championship. Big spending has always been Synder's solution, and so far, all Skins' fans have faced is sub-par results. Hopefully, this year will be different.
First things first. When you're talking Spurrier, you're talking passing. The key to any effective passing game is a solid quarterback, which Steve thinks he has in second-year QB Patrick Ramsey. This season's success hinges almost solely on the maturation of Ramsey, who started just five games last year. He performed slightly above average for a rookie, with nine TD passes and eight interceptions.
Unfortunately, he hasn't shown the ability to take control and show poise in the pocket, either last year or this preseason. Ramsey has all the tools to be a solid quarterback, but it just may be too soon for him to consistently succeed in the NFL.
When the Redskins open the season Thursday against the New York Jets, Spurrier should be pleased that off-season acquisitions wide receiver Laveranues Coles, kick returner Chad Morton, kicker John Hall and guard Randy Thomas will all be lining up on his side of the field rather than with their former team. This, along with the pre-season injury to star Jets quarterback Chad Pennington should allow the ‘Skins to open the season with a W.
Washington will also be aided by the drafting of reciever Taylor Jacobs while newly acquired receiver Patrick Johnson may also greatly improve Ramsey's passing options. Coles, who racked up nearly 1,300 receiving yards last year, is a legitimate number one and Jacobs will fill out the receiving core nicely next to Rod Gardner, who also recorded over 1,000 yards last season.
Another big off-season change was the dumping of running back Stephen Davis, who didn't fit Spurrier's offensive system, and the signing of Trung Canidate, a back better suited for the "Fun n' Gun" offense. Canidate possesses breakaway speed and the ability to catch passes, both of which fit nicely into Spurrier's plans. In 2001, when Candidate still played in St. Louis, he got a chance to start for the injured Marshall Faulk and exploded for 195 rushing yards in week six and 107 receiving yards in week seven. He has shown plenty of talent and versatility in his short career and seems primed to have a breakout season.
Washington's defense, which was fifth in the NFL last year, doesn't have the same promise this season mostly because of huge holes in the defensive line. The only proven lineman is Bruce Smith, who, despite his age, remains the Skins best pass rusher on the defensive line. He will need to rest a lot during games this year, which puts pressure on Renaldo Wynn to step it up.
Washington lacks quality defensive tackles, forcing its league-best trio of potential all-pro linebackers, Lavar Arrington, Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead, to pick up the slack against the run. This linebacking core, to go along with the team's outstanding cornerbacks, Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey, is just the opposite of what an opposing quarterback wants to see when he takes a snap. Unfortunately, losing Darrel Green and Sam Shade will hurt the team's secondary.
In a division that returns two playoff teams that are possible Super Bowl threats, the Redskins don't stand much of a chance of coming out on top. The only team weaker than Washington is the Cowboys, but they won't be easy to bulldoze with Bill Parcells at the helm and a surprisingly good defense. The Skins only went 1-5 record against these three in 2002 and don't expect much headway, each is stronger than last year. Out of division, their schedule is no easier; having to face teams like the Buccaneers, Saints, Dolphins and Patriots may put a winning record out of reach.
Look for Canidate to put up big numbers and fulfill his potential. Ramsey should mature greatly throughout the year, but don't expect him to be flawless. He will still face problems that young quarterbacks do, but should settle in by the latter half of the season and start to put up respectable numbers.
All things considered, 7-9 is an obtainable mark for Spurrier's men this year. If Ramsey blossoms early and the defense holds its ground, the Skins might have a shot at a .500 season. Hold off on your playoff hopes until next year.
Crystal ball awards:
NFC Champ- New Orleans Saints
AFC Champ- Miami Dolphins
Superbowl score- Dolphins win, 24-14
Offensive player of the year- Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs
Defensive player of the year- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Rookie of the year- Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
Head Coach of the year- Dave Wannstedt, Miami Dolphins
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