Never mind the winning — twice in two preseason games. What we’re seeing from the Redskins right now is energy, the kind of energy they’ve only occasionally displayed in the last two decades. Players, lots of them, actually look excited to play football. How refreshing.
Let’s face it: In the complacency department, the Redskins have ranked among the league leaders for a long time. Some weeks they’ve turned it on; other weeks they’ve turned it off. And every week, of course, they’ve collected their paychecks (if you know what I mean).
This is what happens when you trade away half your draft picks year after year and fill your roster with veterans whose jobs are too secure. There hasn’t been nearly enough competition in the Redskins’ training camp in recent years. There haven’t been nearly enough positions that were up for grabs. Coaches might say otherwise, but that’s certainly been the perception, at least. And there was no better poster child for their fat-cat ways than Albert Haynesworth, the $100 million defensive tackle who couldn’t be bothered with such trivialities as physical conditioning.
Truth be known, it’s been sickening to watch most of these Redskins teams — sickening, that is, to anyone who remembers the good times in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Those clubs, those George Allen and Joe Gibbs creations, won and won big, but there was never any sense of entitlement. They played hard, they played physical, and if they couldn’t out-talent you, they’d try to outwork you or outthink you.
Since Gibbs won his last of three Super Bowls, though, the Redskins have generally been soft, prone to head-slapping mistakes and ridden with players who acted as if they had nothing to prove, as if they personally had won three Super Bowls. When you think of the Redskins in the Dan Snyder Era, the word “bloat” comes to mind. (But only because the other words that come to mind — many of them, anyway — are unprintable.)
This is the culture Shanahan has tried to change since coming to Washington, and there have been times — such as in his heavy-handed treatment of Haynesworth — when his frustration has gotten the better of him. But the difference between last season and this one is striking. Not only did Shanahan bring in a dozen draft picks to stir things up, he also added some young veterans like Tim Hightower and Barry Cofield who still have That Hunger you look for.
Yes, too much can be read into preseason games. But Redskins fans are perfectly within their rights to be encouraged by the 16-7 win over the Steelers and Friday night’s 16-3 pounding of the Peyton Manning-less Colts in Indianapolis. In both instances, their team controlled the line of scrimmage and just seemed more invested in what they were doing than their opponents.
On the second offensive snap against the Colts, Hightower ran left, found a seam, cut across the field and raced 58 yards to the Indy 20. That was the first lightning bolt — and it led to a touchdown. Two plays into the second quarter, rookie Roy Helu swept the same side, somehow kept his feet in bounds and bolted 51 yards down the sideline to the Indy 23. That was the second lightning bolt — and it produced a chip-shot field goal by Graham Gano.
In between, first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan could be seen catching Colts quarterback Curtis Painter from behind on third-and-7 to keep him from scrambling for a first down. Kerrigan, a defensive end in college, is still feeling his way as a stand-up linebacker, but that particular play showed you his relentlessness — a nice quality for a pass rusher (or anybody else) to have.
Even the Redskins’ 30-year-old QB, John Beck, has much to prove. After kicking around the NFL for five seasons — from Miami to Baltimore to Washington — he’s finally being given a chance to show what he can do. He definitely opened a few eyes Friday night, completing 14 of 17 passes for 140 yards and running the offense with aplomb in his first preseason action. Shanny’s faith in him, so puzzling to many, may yet be rewarded.
At any rate, it’s easy to like these Redskins. There’s a lot of effort being expended out there, a lot of striving going on. It’s a new season, there’s a bunch of new players and they seem intent on taking this franchise in a new direction. What’s not to like about that?
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