It’s not ‘Super Bowl or Bust’ for these Washington Redskins — certainly not after they needed seven consecutive victories last season to overcome a 3-6 start and make the playoffs, and not while they’re serving an $18 million salary cap penalty. But they are looking to heights greater than their NFC East division title.
So, for the first time in years, the Redskins feel the weight of internal and external expectations as they move toward their season opener Sept. 9, on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Managing them is a welcome challenge, one that will help determine their success.
“The biggest concern you have is being content and kind of having that expectation,” Cofield said. “You should expect to win. You should expect to take the field and feel like you’re prepared and that you’re the better team. Our goal every year is to win the Super Bowl, so we’re not content.”
The start of training camp is a time to consider the big picture, to set goals and map the path to them. Every team talks about the Super Bowl this time of year, but for the Redskins, it finally is not an abstract concept.
The momentum of their first division championship in 13 years boosted that process. Not only did they gain playoff experience last year, but 21 of 22 starters return. The offensive and defensive schemes have been in place for more than four calendar years
But it’s not as though the Redskins sustained dominance in winning 10 games a season ago. So, what are they, really?
Are they a mediocre team that just got hot at the end of the year? Was their poor first half the result of a long injury list that starts relatively clean this year? Or did their rookie quarterback evolve in an offense that is now good enough to win at the rate at which it concluded last season?
“One of the ways to prove you’re not just a one-hit wonder is you do it again the next year,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “I think we have this season to prove what we really are and what we think we are, but it will take a full year to show that.”
Paulsen believes that requires mastery of details, something coaches can emphasize during this training camp because of the team’s continuity. Players will focus on such finer points as knowing proper alignments, splits and snap counts.
“We’ve all been here for a while, so it’s just kind of cleaning everything up and having that super comfort level where you can play fast and be free and execute the offense at a really high level,” Paulsen said.
There also are mental components to building on last year’s playoff berth. Confidence is one factor. Another is maintaining the desire to continue improving.
Shanahan saw both in April when the Redskins began their offseason program. He demands participation in those voluntary meetings and practices, and for the second straight year, everyone did to some extent.
“When you give the type of effort in the offseason and you have success, you believe you’ve earned that success,” Shanahan said. “That’s what I believe our players believe, that they’ve earned the right to succeed. Once you do succeed and you see the aftereffects, you want it even more. So hopefully we take it day by day and keep on improving.”
That’s the approach inside the locker room, as well. When last season moved to the brink of disaster at the bye week, Shanahan prodded them into adopting an underdog’s mentality, the old us-against-the-world outlook.
It worked. Players stayed motivated and played through aches and pains. They worked with a sense of pride that, if you ask them, was essential to winning seven in a row.
These Redskins know they must recapture that feeling.
“When you have that kind of a run, you finish a season like that, and then you bring back the same core, you feel like your expectations are high,” Cofield said. “Then adding the players that we have off of injury and the rookies we’ve added, we definitely feel like we can compete. If you have that feeling, but at the same time play like a team that no one expects to win, it’s a great combination.”