- The Washington Times
Monday, January 10, 2022

Jonathan Allen, Terry McLaurin and Chase Young know what the future looks like.

Well, to be precise, the Washington Football Team stars have gotten an early look at the franchise’s rebrand that’s set to be unveiled near the beginning of next month. Allen described the new jerseys as “phenomenal,” while Young said they were “tough” — a compliment, in this case.

The trio didn’t outright say they have heard the new name, but they didn’t exactly hide it, either.

McLaurin shrugged, laughed and smiled when asked Monday if he definitively knew the moniker.

“I just hope it’s something that we can all rally around,” McLaurin said, “something more so that’s just a significant move in our history to just move forward.”

For that to happen, the Burgundy and Gold will have to do something they didn’t do in 2021 — and haven’t done over the last 30 years: Win consistently. Former Washington running back Brian Mitchell likes to say that no matter what the next name is, fans will embrace it if Washington becomes a perennial contender.

But with the conclusion of a 7-10 season, Washington seems as far from accomplishing that goal as ever.

Coach Ron Rivera’s rebuild hit a snag in his second season as the team failed to make the postseason in a hectic campaign riddled with injuries, setbacks and drama.

The tone of this year’s locker clean-out day — an annual season’s end tradition — was markedly different compared to a year ago, when the team’s young roster and playoff berth left players and coaches with plenty of optimism.

“We need to be very self-critical,” linebacker Cole Holcomb said. “Everybody in this organization can easily go back and ask, ‘What could I have done better?’ Players, coaches, anybody. … Don’t look at what your teammate could have done better, look at what you could have done better.”

Holcomb was part of a unit that failed to live up to preseason hype. Washington’s defense entered the season touted as one of the best in football. Instead, the group under coordinator Jack Del Rio finished 25th in points against (25.5) and 22nd in yards allowed (359.3) per game.

The reasons included a slow start, mismatched personnel and a late-season rash of injuries and COVID-19 cases. As a result, the unit never fully showed what it was capable of, even when the team rattled off a four-game winning streak. The defense played much better over that span, but it was without top pass rushers in Young (ACL) and Montez Sweat (jaw). Other key players like safety Landon Collins (foot) and cornerback William Jackson III (calf, COVID-19) were sidelined down the stretch.

Slow starts have dogged Rivera over course of his two seasons with Washington. After starting 2-7 in 2020, the team was 2-6 a year later — albeit against superior competition. In the first eight games of the 2021 season, Washington faced five teams that ended up with a winning record (three of those made the playoffs).

“I know it’s all about catching stride at the right time, especially when you doing like playoffs and stuff like that, but we just got to be catching stride earlier in the season, winning games faster,” guard Ereck Flowers said. “That gives you more room for error.”

There were bright spots.

Allen had an All-Pro caliber season on the heels of a four-year, $72 million extension. McLaurin and running back Antonio Gibson each broke 1,000 yards. And who could forget Taylor Heinicke, the backup quarterback who started 15 games for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick?

But the what-ifs and the lack of progress in other areas overshadowed the positives. What if Fitzpatrick (hip) had been able to stay healthy? It’s hard to say whether the journeyman would have been that much of an upgrade. Regardless of the answer, the lack of production from Young — who had only 1½ sacks before tearing his knee — might have been the most glaring drop-off.

So much of the 2021 season for Rivera centered around maturity. He often wondered whether his team would be able to handle the previous year’s unexpected success, whether they had the discipline to focus and take another step forward.

Young, in that sense, was a microcosm of that concern. The second-year defensive end’s decision to skip voluntary offseason workouts to film commercials was viewed more skeptically as his production dropped. And the 22-year-old didn’t endear himself to fans when, days before he got hurt, he defended the absences by telling reporters, “I was making money, baby.”

Rivera appeared to send a pointed message last week when, unprompted, he brought up the importance of this year’s offseason practices.

“Hopefully it won’t be a battle to get guys to be here,” Rivera said.

If the sentiment was indeed intended for Young, the defensive end still wasn’t ready to commit to being in Ashburn this spring. Asked if he would attend the practices, Young only said that he and Rivera have talked about “the best plan for me.” Young is recovering from ACL surgery.

A new name and jersey, it turns out, won’t solve everything.

“As a team, we just didn’t have the season that we wanted to have,” Young said. “I didn’t have the season I wanted to have. Obviously. Even with the injury, I feel like the year just didn’t go how you want your year to go, in general.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.