Continued from page 1

Shanahan during training camp spoke those words with cautious optimism. He understands there are no guarantees. But the vision with which he arrived in January 2010 continues to crystallize.

His great task after inheriting one of the league’s oldest teams was injecting character, talent, specialized skills and youth into the roster. He needed a quarterback. The defensive personnel had to be overhauled to suit the 3-4 front he desired. He needed offensive playmakers around the quarterback, and he needed more athletic offensive linemen for his zone running scheme.

Washington targeted committed, dedicated players to anchor the rebuild. Coaches see the effects of that each day.

“We work hard, our guys practice hard, they study hard, they do everything, and it comes from Coach Shanahan, obviously,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who coached the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2005. They won their division his first year but never made the playoffs again.

“They do everything they are asked to do, and they do it right,” Haslett continued. “First of all, it is a good group of guys. There’s guys you can rely on, their reliability. They’re accountable, and that’s the kind of guys you like to surround yourself with.”

That might seem to be trite praise, but actually it’s a vital element of program building for those who have done it successfully — and unsuccessfully — at the NFL level.

“Our mantra was: ‘Hard work, 100 percent effort all the time is the price of admission. No excuses, no explanations. Smart, fast, physical,’” said Polian, who now serves as an ESPN analyst. “Those are the pillars upon which you build your program. I know Mike does the same thing. He may use different words or phrases, but I know he does the same thing because his teams play that way.”

Roster components

Polian bristled at the suggestion that the Redskins‘ 2012 season left something to be desired. That Washington started 3-6 and needed a seven-game winning streak to make the playoffs does not matter to him.

“I’m not into the, ‘You have to win 12 games every year,’ because we won a lot of games every year and only won one Super Bowl, and nobody was patting us on the back for winning 12 games,” he said. “To me, it’s get in the playoffs and then do what you have to do to advance after that.”

The quest for the postseason, then, is simplified into winning the four-team division. Shanahan emphasizes divisional success because all eight champions are guaranteed a postseason home game.

The Redskins compare favorably to Dallas, New York and Philadelphia particularly because of how young, talented and dedicated quarterback Robert Griffin III is.

Last season, Griffin set NFL rookie records for quarterback rating (102.4), interception percentage (1.27) and rushing yards by a quarterback (815). He led an offense that averaged a league-leading 6.2 yards per play. With such a dynamic running and passing threat emerging as a locker room leader at age 23, the Redskins are well situated at the most important position in the sport.

Uncertainty about the long-term health of Griffin’s right knee, in which he has twice had his ACL surgically reconstructed, weakens the Redskins‘ staying power. But he is scheduled to start Washington’s season-opener against Philadelphia on Monday night, only eight months after his latest knee surgery.

“The goal is longevity in the league,” Griffin said. “You also want to win. As a quarterback, I don’t like to conform and say that you can’t win outside the pocket; I think you can win outside the pocket; you’ve just got to be smart about it. That’s what I’ve learned over the past six months about myself and just about what we need to do to win.

Story Continues →