- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Many of the Redskins’ problems this year can be traced to one unavoidable fact: Joe Gibbs and his offensive staff simply didn’t know their players very well before they started spending — in large quantities — Dan Snyder’s dough. “That’s the thing you don’t have when you go in [to a job],” Gibbs said after the season-ending victory over the Vikings. “You think” you have a feel for certain players, but you never know for sure until the helmet-knocking starts.

Gibbs thought he needed a quarterback, a veteran, to run his offense. As it turned out, young Patrick Ramsey proved to be a more productive QB than $43Million Man Mark Brunell.

Gibbs also thought he was pretty well set at wide receiver. As it turned out, the Redskins desperately lacked a deep threat all season. Laveranues Coles proved a capable Underneath Guy, but neither he nor Rod Gardner put much pressure on defenses.

Finally, Gibbs thought his offensive line depth would be sufficient. As it turned out, there was nobody to step in for Jon Jansen when he tore his Achilles’ in the first exhibition game. Kenyatta Jones tried but failed — so miserably that he was later released — and Ray Brown, the oldest starting O-lineman in modern NFL history, wound up holding down the right flank for most of the season.

You could even make the argument that had Gibbs known Ladell Betts a little better, he might not have been so eager to plunk down $50.5million on Clinton Portis. Imagine the improvements Coach Joe could have made to the offense if he’d spent Portis’ $17million in bonus money — and Brunell’s $8.6million — on Other Things.

All this is hindsight, of course, but it helps explain why the Redskins finished 6-10 and out of the playoffs again. Gibbs, having been away from football since 1992, and his offensive staffers, none of whom had much familiarity with the players they were inheriting, were essentially flying blind last offseason. Sure, they could look at some game tapes — and even get a peek at players during minicamps. But that’s not enough.

“I think we can pinpoint [better what needs to be done],” Gibbs said yesterday. “We’ve lived with ‘em 20 hours a day for six months. … We know our players and what we can expect from them.”

For that reason alone, you’d expect the Redskins to have a more fruitful offseason — or at least a more cost-effective one — than they did last year. Gibbs and his staff know they miscalculated badly on the offensive side of the ball; the unit they put together averaged just 15 points a game, the second-lowest total in the league. They need to do a lot better than that if they’re going to catch the Eagles in the NFC East.

(It’s interesting. The Redskins were much more successful shoring up the defense last offseason. Why? Well, it might have been because Gregg Williams and his coaches had had prior association with Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave’a, Walt Harris and Ryan Clark, among others, and knew exactly what they were getting. All four of those players made major contributions, the last three at bargain-basement prices.)

We’ll find out in the coming months how much Gibbs has learned about his personnel. It’s a little disconcerting, though, to hear him continually stick up for Brunell, who has given no indication he has much of anything left. Does Coach Joe really think his handpicked quarterback wasn’t one of the offense’s biggest problems in the first half of the season? (If so, yikes!)

Gibbs is also much too casual about the salary cap. He said he feels “real good about where we are” in the team’s three-year plan, but maybe that’s because Year3 hasn’t arrived yet. In Year3 — 2006 — the Redskins already have $104million committed to just 37 players, putting them $14million over a projected $90million cap (with 14 guys still to account for!).

And while Coach Joe is proud of the work the front office did last offseason — adding Portis, Griffin and a number of other “keepers” — let’s not forget that the Redskins won a grand total of six games this year, one more than the year before. (And spent a record number of dollars doing it.)

I keep thinking back to the Sunday night game between the Giants and Cowboys. Did you catch any of it? Neither club had anything to play for — except mutual enmity, that is — but that didn’t keep them from whaling on each other for 60 full minutes. The Giants rallied, then the Cowboys rallied, then the Giants drove the length of the field to win it in the final seconds.

It was as contentious a fourth quarter as I’ve seen all season — and there wasn’t a single thing at stake. This is what Joe Gibbs has gotten himself into in this second go-‘round. Not only is he trying to Go Home Again — a difficult enough task — he’s having to compete in the same division with Bill Parcells’ bunch, the always surly Giants (now armed with Eli Manning) and the Eagles, the class of the conference.

He — and the Redskins — had better have a good offseason.

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