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“Maybe that’s keeping me in the pocket a little bit more. Maybe that’s throwing the ball away a little bit more, sliding, doing all of those things that are necessary. I think I proved how tough I am and the heart that I have on the football field and my teammates know that.”

Shanahan spent his first three offseasons in Washington building a quality supporting cast for his quarterback. Eleven total wins in the first two years show the difficulty of that process, but the Redskins finally have amassed playmakers on offense and the core of a fine 3-4 defense.

Sixth-round running back Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie last season, and Pierre Garcon had 633 receiving yards and four touchdowns in only 10 games.

Washington’s 3-4 front requires an exceptional nose tackle and pair of outside linebackers. Both outside linebackers, Orakpo (age 27) and Ryan Kerrigan (25), have made the Pro Bowl. And Barry Cofield (29) has evolved into one of the NFL’s quickest and most effective 3-4 nose tackles in just two years at the position.

“I don’t see any reason they should not be contenders,” Polian said. “They’ve got the coach. They’ve got the quarterback. They’ve got some defensive difference makers. They’ve got the receivers. And most importantly, they’ve got a running game that’s going to be there week in and week out.”

Intangibles make a difference

Talent alone doesn’t win titles, though. The high-priced 2000 Redskins and the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles could attest to that. Critical intangibles make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, Polian said. Good injury fortune is imperative, as are confidence, team chemistry and leadership.

Several members of the Redskins organization are optimistic they’ve achieved the right blend of youth, talent, experience and leadership. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris opined as such, drawing on his head coaching experience from 2009-11 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay won the AFC South title with a 10-6 record in 2010, but it was sandwiched between three- and four-win seasons, the latter of which cost Morris his job.

Morris saw proof in Washington during the offseason in his position meetings. After the Redskins drafted cornerback David Amerson in the second round, veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Brandon Meriweather ensured he would adjust to life as a pro.

“It’s the voice of those veteran leaders going to Amerson in a meeting, handing him a paper and a pad and teaching him how to use his iPad and learn and get better every single day,” Morris said. “Those guys are the guys that are leaders amongst men, and once you get those kind of guys, that’s the difference between the young team we had in Tampa and the young team that we have in Washington.”

Amerson, in turn, enjoys using veterans such as Hall as resources.

“If I have a question, I’ll go to him and ask him,” he said. “For one example, as far as press technique, pressing outside leverage. Just really let the guy come to you, be patient and squeezing inside routes and kill all outside routes.”

That’s part of the positive culture Shanahan has tried to establish. It includes an expectation to win. Shanahan during team meetings constantly reminds his players of their statistical achievements to reinforce belief in their abilities.

Redskins veterans, though, know the importance of navigating the difference between confidence and complacency.

Santana Moss adjusted his receiver’s gloves as he sat at his locker before practice last month. The team’s longest-tenured player stopped for a moment when asked to contemplate how close the Redskins are to being elite.

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