There’s always that magical week or weekend when the days get shorter…it gets chillier by the pool and football preview magazines begin to take precedence over the crossword/summer reading. While September 21st is almost two months away, late July marks the end of one season– and the beginning of the onramp to the marathon/sprint that is college and pro football. Is it really time- can’t I get just one more week?
The Redskins are in Richmond with a new regime; Jay Gruden sorts through a pretty decent cupboard left by Mike Shanahan. Say what you will about last year’s 3-13 descent from awesome expectations to awful execution…not all 3-13’s are created alike. And this team is one year removed from winning the NFC East. The major question is, which year was the outlier–2012 or 2013?
Prepare for the Positive– it’s almost fitting that training camp takes place when the skies are sunniest and the temperatures are highest. EVERYBODY is optimistic. Even teams that are in their 3rd “five year plan” since 2010. That’s the beauty of the NFL– worst to first is not an anomaly: you can almost guarantee that we’ll have 4-6 different playoff teams this winter. Last fall saw Kansas City go from 2-14 to the playoffs…so even a Houston that lost 14 straight can have hope. Or a Redskins team that crash-landed with 8 straight losses…
What to Watch For–OFFENSE:
Life begins with RG3–HOW healthy and ready will the face of the franchise be? How will the new Jay Gruden system maximize his strengths and limit his weaknesses? Will we see rookies Spencer Long or Morgan Moses push the starters on the offensive line or be routed into the “rookie year learning laboratory” that’s high on enrichment but low on game-snaps? And what’s the deal with Jerry Rice Junior? Is the undrafted rookie good enough to leapfrog Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant–or is he more Pete Rose Jr than Eduardo Perez? (if he were Griffey Jr he would have been taken first overall by Houston, set the world on fire, before eventually returning to San Francisco where he would’ve never been healthy)
What to Watch For–DEFENSE:
It’s Jim Haslett’s turn to shine. Year five of the 3-4 means execution and not excuses: of the projected week one starters only Kedric Golston and Bryan Orakpo pre-date his arrival– and if they didn’t fit his vision they’d be gone by now. Will Jason Hatcher recover from surgery in time to be a factor in September? Even healthy, Hatcher has to change from being a tackle in a 4-3 to a three-man front. How much will the linebackers miss the leadership of London Fletcher? Even at the end of his career, the John Carroll University product was averaging 7 tackles a game while holding together a unit under siege. The biggest questions aren’t necessarily about the 3-4…it’s the 4 behind them. Can Deangelo Hall, Ryan Clark and Brandon Merriweather still contribute as starters in this league? After losing his rookie season to injury, will Phillip Thomas be more rusty or ready? Can Bacarri Rambo live up to having the coolest name on the team? (sadly,
having an awesome name is almost a curse: Notre Dame’s Hiawatha Francisco, Baylor’s J.J. Joe and Nebraska’s I.M. Hipp never lived up to their names in the pros)
What to Watch For–SPECIAL TEAMS:
The kicking game can’t be the absolute disaster it was last year…right? From coughing up game-changing returns to allowing kicks blocked…2013 was a major nightmare for the Burgundy and Gold. Can they identify the right guys to be put in place on these units? Meanwhile, Saved by the Bell meets Karate Kid. Is there actually a kicking competition between Kai Forbath and seventh round pick Zach Hocker? Despite making 35 of 40 career attempts (numbers that would make Ali with an I swoon), the Johnny Lawrence of accuracy is Daniel LaRusso-like when it comes to kickoffs. Will Zach be accurate enough to make his kickoff length a factor in late August? (never count out a Zach–from fronting a band to a foiling diamond thieves to hitting on homeless girls at the mall)