Just about recovered from a month in China covering the Olympics, the Washington Times’ Ryan O’Halloran and Channel 4’s Lindsay Czarniak return for a second season of Point-Counterpoint.
1. Jon Jansen is out at right tackle, replaced by Stephon Heyer, and Derrick Frost is out as the punter, replaced by Durant Brooks. How much did those personnel moves surprise you and is it a sign that some other veterans are on notice that slow starts will send them to the bench or off the team?
Lindsay: I’m surprised about the offensive line move because I don’t think this was something that Jansen himself expected. I understand the thinking is that Heyer has an edge against the pass rush and I’m interested to see how he matches up against Justin Tuck Thursday. The other interesting thing I heard in the locker room from a couple players, namely Mike Sellers and Chris Cooley, is that they feel pressure to still “prove” themselves to their new coaches. That’s a different position that they haven’t been in before and I think that shows that every veteran, especially of the moves made with Jansen and Frost, feels to some extent, “on notice.”
Ryan: The Frost release wasn’t surprising — he knew his days were numbered as soon as the team drafted Durant Brooks. Frost would have had to clearly out-punt Brooks to retain the job. The Jansen situation was more surprising. I didn’t like the way it was handled and I hope Jim Zorn learned a lesson that if making a personnel move, notify the player (especially if it’s a veteran) before starting the storm through us. Jansen deserved to hear it from Zorn, not a member of the media. If there’s a message, it’s that Zorn isn’t afraid to bench a veteran regardless of his tenure or salary.
2. All 10 draft picks from this year’s class have made the 53-man roster. Of the group, which players do you expect to contribute anything to the Redskins this year?
Lindsay: No question – Durant Brooks, because he has to. He has to perform under pressure or the Redskins will have to answer to critics who thought it was ridiculous to cut Derrick Frost. I like the preparation that you see in Brooks, the question will be how he can handle pressure in game situations and if he continues to improve as a holder.
Ryan: This draft class isn’t looking too great in terms of producing this year. Brooks is the correct choice. I thought receiver Malcolm Kelly had a chance to do something but he’s been slowed by a knee injury and hasn’t exactly made a speedy recovery. Of the defensive guys, they’ll play mostly special teams.
3. The offense has sputtered the last few preseason games. How difficult will the transition be for Jason Campbell as the quarterback and Jim Zorn as the play caller in the first few games?
Lindsay: I don’t think anyone is expecting a magic light-bulb to go off in game one. They’ve said from the beginning that they will make up for Jason’s growing pains by turning to the running game. I also think we’ll see a lot of Chris Cooley. I think Jason is slowly plugging along and that he is gaining ground with his decision making but that will be the area he needs to speed up the most. Zorn has said he wants higher tempo and he wants the decisions and quick thinking to become second nature. It’s not there yet and I don’t expect it these first couple games but my prediction is that by Dallas, we see a marked difference in someone who feels more natural in this offense.
Ryan: For Campbell to make the throws and execute Zorn’s offense, he needs to stay upright. That falls on the offensive line, which needs to be better than it was in the Carolina preseason game. What fans have to remember is it took Matt Hasselbeck a couple of years to learn the ins and outs of this system so patience is paramount. Cooley will be a regular target and Clinton Portis will have to carry a huge load.
4. Prediction time. Who wins Thursday night in the Swamp and why?
Lindsay: Sometimes in football, I think looking at it through a “glass half empty” approach works. That is what I’m going with here. I don’t think the Redskins win this one. I think the atmosphere, the growing pains in this offense are going to prove too much but this game is valuable just to get it out of the way. I say Giants take it 24-21.
Ryan: The Giants aren’t a great team – they just got hot at the right time and ended up winning the championship. New York has issues with its defense and that’s something the Redskins could exploit. But I agree with Lindsay that winning at that stadium, in that atmosphere is too tall an order. Giants 27-20.
5. Prediction time, part II. The NFC East is loaded with three returning playoff teams plus Philadelphia. How does the division shake out and where do the Redskins finish?
Lindsay: I think the Redskins are going to pull it together more than people think. The offense will get into a rhythm but I think the biggest difference will be the defense. I say the Skins finish third behind Dallas and New York. I’m not getting behind the Eagles.
Ryan: The Redskins may have a winning record and still finish last in the league’s best division. I’ll go Dallas-Philadelphia-Redskins-Giants. The record will be 8-8. The first five games will tell the story of this season. If they’re 2-3, they could make the playoffs. If they’re 1-4, it’s trouble.
Both of you spent most of August covering the Olympics in Beijing. Favorite event you attended in China and events you’re looking forward to in Vancouver?
Lindsay: My favorite event in Beijing was the gymnastics all around final. Besides the fact that I think there is no way a handful of Chinese gymnasts are older than 14, I loved watching the competition come down to Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson. I’m blown away by how composed those athletes remain under such high pressure circumstances. For Vancouver, no matter where I’m watching from – here in the states or there in person, I’m a sucker for ski jumping.
Ryan: I hit a bunch of different sports but the best atmosphere – and also a good match – was the Brazil-Argentina men’s soccer game. The match featured two of the world’s top handful of players with Messi and Ronaldhino and the quality of play was high. Looking ahead to Vancouver – and by that time I predict Lindsay will have moved from hosting a show on Oxygen to hosting a show on NBC – it’s all about hockey.