Nobody likes to clean up somebody else’s mess. But that’s usually the first order of business for an NFL coach. After all, teams that bring in a new head man aren’t usually oozing with talent. They’re usually oozing with losing.
In his first year with the Washington Redskins, though, Mike Shanahan chose the nip-and-tuck approach over the total makeover — at the outset, at least. Part of this was circumstances. The owners had opted out of the labor deal, free agency rules had changed and there were fewer available bodies.
But another part of it was ego. Like all successful coaches, Shanahan believed he could make chicken salad out of the mishmash of players left behind. His expertly drawn X’s and O’s might not cure all of the club’s ills, he figured, but they would certainly enable it to contend for a playoff spot.
So he went for the quick fix at quarterback with 33-year-old Donovan McNabb and did some temporary patching here and there. The plan was clear: Win now and, once the roster is rebuilt to the coach’s specifications, win bigger later. It wasn’t until the Philadelphia Eagles swept into town in November and subjected the Redskins to a 59-28 Monday night mauling that Shanny’s folly was fully exposed. The Redskins didn’t need tinkering; they needed TNT.
By the end of the season, the blowing-up process was well underway. (Witness Rex Grossman, the two-time castoff, replacing McNabb, the six-time Pro Bowler, in the final three games.) And now, after an offseason that seemed more like a two-minute drill, the Redskins are, in many areas, barely recognizable. By my count, only 28 of the 53 players on last year’s opening day roster made this year’s final 53 — barely half. The windows in Ashburn have finally been opened, and fresh air, lots of it, is blowing through.
This isn’t change for the sake of change. This is change because there was a crying need for change. Let’s face it, the 2010 Redskins were a mutt, a mixed breed with too many fathers — Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, Vinny Cerrato, Dan Snyder (and for all we know, Dan’s limo driver). The roster, meanwhile, was as unstable as something a kid might build with an Erector Set. Too many weak spots. Too many imbalances. Too prone to going ka-boom.
Shanahan didn’t make many friends in his first season here with his brusque ways and 6-10 record, but say this for him: He learned, and quickly, from his mistakes. When he saw that more youth was called for, he added it with ruthless vengeance. Never mind the 11 draft picks he brought to training camp; consider how he transformed the offense — his (and son Kyle’s) baby. Seven players who didn’t start in the opener against Dallas a year ago are expected to start Sunday against the New York Giants. Every one of them is younger than the man who started in Week 1 last season, in some cases considerably younger.
Take a look for yourself:
• WR — Joey Galloway (38 years old) out, Jabar Gaffney (30) in.
• LG — Derrick Dockery (30) out, Kory Lichtensteiger (26) in.
• C — Casey Rabach (33) out, Will Montgomery (28) in.
• RG — Artis Hicks (31) out, Chris Chester (28) in.
• FB — Mike Sellers (35) out, Darrel Young (24) in.
• RB — Clinton Portis (29) out, Tim Hightower (25) in.