A few notes as the Redskins have opened training camp:
* The following quote should warm any Redskins’ fan’s heart: “I know I’m here to do a certain job, and that’s to protect the blind side. If I go out there thinking about the bucks and not doing my job, I won’t be here long.” That quote is courtesy of Trent ‘Silverback’ Williams, who signed his deal before anyone else among the top 7 picks in the draft. I like him already. Given the revolving door of overpaid fat-cats that have came to and left Washington, having a Redskins’ player thinking about playing his position – instead of how fast he’s going to go and cash in his game check – is amazingly refreshing
* The problem with today’s media is that if one person spouts an educated opinion with some reasonable facts backing it up, it gets repeated enough to where people start taking it for fact. With the Redskins, case in point for this would be the supposed “running back by committee” that Washington will be using with Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, Ryan Torain, and maybe even Brian Westbrook.
Let’s get a few things straight: Portis came into camp woefully uninspired last year, got his brains beat-in while he played in a a laughably inept offense, and suffered a nasty season-ending concussion midway through the season. With his bloated contract (thanks to some ridiculous back-loading from Vinny Cerrato), Portis had to have known that his days were numbered and he wouldn’t have a job much longer without any production to justify it. Add in the fact that he’s being reunited with a coach that he actually respects (and knows how to use Portis) in Mike Shanahan, and you get Portis coming into camp looking like the running back we saw in during the majority of the Gibbs II era.
As I’ve mentioned, Mike and Kyle Shanahan know that they’re not going to win games on the back of the passing game, so if Portis is playing well (and I predict he will), expect the coaches to lean on him heavily. I’m seeing over 1100 yards rushing and 7-9 TD’s for Portis this season.
As for as the rest of the running backs, I think Larry Johnson will be a change-of-pace back at best (if he even makes the team), and Willie Parker is a lock to get cut before the season begins. His performance has been dismal in camps so far, and for a player whose game was predicated on speed but has significantly slowed down over the year, does anyone really expect him to contribute? I’m going on the record as saying that Parker won’t even be on the team’s opening day roster.
If the Redskins do sign Westbrook (I think they’re the favorite), I think he immediately becomes the change-of-pace/3rd down back, leaving Johnson to fight for the last roster spot with Ryan Torain, a guy whom Shanahan originally drafted and thus has familiarity with his system. I could really see LJ getting cut in favor of Torain due to the fact that the latter could contribute on special teams, as the Redskins represent his last chance to stay in the league.
* A point from journalist wunderkind & Redskins beat reporter Grant Paulson made in a radio interview with Lavar & Dukes on 106.7 the fan the other day piqued my interest, probably moreso than your average Redskins fan:
The Redskins have been tinkering with the idea of lining up Tight Ends Chris Cooley or Fred Davis from the slot receiver position on offense, similar to the way the Indianapolis Colts have used Tight End Dallas Clark over the years. Clark has routinely lined up from the slot position because he’s a match-up nightmare for most defenses: he’s too fast for tight ends to cover, and too big for nickel corners to tackle in the open field.
I would make a wager that Shanahan has taken notice of this in his attempts to get the most out of a Redskins offense which is lacking consistency from the wide receiver position, and I think it could actually yield big returns. Cooley works the seams and the middle of the field as well as any Tight End in the league, and is relentless when fighting for yards after the catch. Davis is bigger than some of the outside linebackers in the league, yet he’s as fast as many receivers. Both are marginal blockers (even though he’s a bit smaller, Cooley is definitely the better blocker of the two), but can get the job done enough to where defenses can’t key in on a certain player lining up in certain positions on certain plays.
Getting both guys on the field shouldn’t be hard, either. The Redskins can either go three wide and one back, with a TE at the slot and on the line of scrimmage (like the Colts), or line in the Ace formation (Two wideouts, Two TE’s, one tailback) if they want to get Cooley and Davis on the field.
Not only would this allow the ‘Skins to get both Cooley and Davis on the field as options for the passing game, but it would give Portis the chance to play without a lead blocker, where he is most effective. Portis will be able to utilize his strength as a one-cut-and-go-type runner without having to wait for a pulling guard or fullback in front of him in either formation.
Tight Ends like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have thrived for years on offenses without a top 10 receiver because of their talent and their offense’s ability to put them in a situation to exploit match-ups down-field. I’d expect to see a lot of that from the Redskins in 2010.