- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It didn’t have the tragedy or high drama of the 2007 season, but 2008 was still a memorable year for the Washington Redskins because of Jim Zorn, who brought enthusiasm and new ideas with him from Seattle.

After a clunker of a nationally televised opener at the defending champion New York Giants, Zorn’s methods worked beyond even his expectations as Washington reeled off consecutive victories over New Orleans, Arizona, Dallas and Philadelphia.

The rest of the rookie’s ride was a heck of a lot bumpier. The Redskins went 4-7 in their final 11 games, with losses to lightweights St. Louis, Cincinnati and San Francisco costing them the chance to make consecutive playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Here’s a look back at the season gone by and ahead to what could come to pass in 2009.

Q: OK, Mr. “I Know Everything About The Redskins,” tell me you saw them losing to the Rams, Bengals and 49ers.

A: No, of course not - or winning in Dallas or sweeping the Eagles either, but Washington has defined NFL mediocrity for almost 15 years. Whether it’s Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs or Zorn coaching the team, it’s pretty safe to pick the Redskins to be 8-8.

Q: What were some of the best things we learned about the Redskins in 2008?

A: Jason Campbell can make it through a 16-game season as a bona fide starting quarterback. Carlos Rogers and Rocky McIntosh bounced back from major knee surgery to be regulars every week. London Fletcher can still play at 33. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton is a find. Clinton Portis can still produce as well as any back when fully healthy. Greg Blache really knows how to run a defense. Zorn, unlike some other X’s and O’s types, can be a leader of men.

Q: What were some of the worst things we learned about the Redskins in 2008?

A: Jason Taylor, because of injuries, scheme or age, couldn’t transfer his pass-rushing wizardry from Miami to Washington. Time is catching up fast to Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas, Marcus Washington and Shawn Springs. Shaun Suisham’s super 2007 season might have been the exception rather than the rule. Rookie pass catchers Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis weren’t ready to contribute. Campbell’s not at that next level yet.

Q: So how do the Redskins go about fixing those problems?

A: In the salary cap era, fixing everything at once doesn’t happen, especially because something else will break down in the meantime. The Redskins need to draft a pass-rushing end or linebacker in the first round and maybe another in the third (they traded the second-rounder). They need to add a starting-quality tackle or guard because second-year tackle Stephon Heyer is far from proven. They should re-sign cornerback DeAngelo Hall before he hits the free agent market and make the tough farewell decisions on Washington, Springs and/or fellow corner Fred Smoot.

Q: That sounds like pretty much everything to me. Are you sure that’s it?

A: Actually, no. They need to find serious competition for Suisham and punter Ryan Plackemeier. Devin Thomas and Justin Tryon should work on returning punts. Thomas and Kelly should battle to start opposite Santana Moss. Blache needs to repair his relationship with Rogers, who sank from the defense’s top player in the first half to a spare part by late December. Overriding all of those is that Zorn has to figure out how to translate his scheme and his players’ talents into more points. Lots more.

Q: So what’s your early forecast for next year?

A: This is a repeat question from Sunday - and it’s still too early. But here’s a projection well before all the rosters change. Carolina and Atlanta will be losses on the road, but Washington will beat Tampa Bay and New Orleans at home. The Redskins will go 2-2 against the AFC West, losing to San Diego and either Denver or Oakland. They’ll split with their three NFC East rivals and beat Detroit and St. Louis. That’s 9-7. Happy new year.