- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Washington Redskins’ offense did its part for most of the season as the team reached the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.

The team won four more regular season games as receiver Santana Moss and running back Clinton Portis had record-setting campaigns. The offense averaged 7.4 more points a game and had 49 plays that gained 20 or more yards, up from 34 last year.

“Definitely satisfying,” H-back Chris Cooley said. “We couldn’t score points at all last year, so we came a long way. We did a lot of good stuff this year, and we’ll continue to improve.”

But the Redskins remained inconsistent during the regular season, and then things bottomed out in the postseason with two offensive touchdowns in two games. That raised questions about what needs to be addressed during the offseason.

“Everything is on the table,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “We didn’t have the production we wanted late in the year. But we did make a big jump. It’s a matter of evaluating everything and seeing the ways that we can help ourselves get more production. It’s a little bit strategy, and it’s certainly personnel.”

This offseason’s to-do list is slightly shorter — the Redskins conceivably could add only one starter.

1. Hand Jason Campbell the keys — It won’t happen, but why not? The Redskins went 10-6 in the regular season. Does anybody really expect a marked improvement — or even the status quo — with a 36-year old Mark Brunell at quarterback?

Gibbs said Monday he was confident Campbell would have played well this season had he been forced into the lineup. The Redskins should follow Cincinnati’s example of two years ago when Carson Palmer sat his rookie season before the coaches handed him the job.

Campbell is the Redskins’ future. The team should take a step back in 2006 so it can take a bigger step forward in 2007. The Redskins’ best skill players — Moss (27 at the start of next season), Portis (25) and Cooley (24) — are young enough to afford a building season under Campbell, even if it means going 7-9 or 8-8 next season.

2. Get Moss help — Moss had 84 of the 132 catches made by Redskins receivers, partly because he was so good and partly because he was the only receiver who consistently got open.

The Redskins have to decide how they view David Patten, who had only 22 catches in nine games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Is he a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver? He’s probably in between, which creates a need.

James Thrash is a Gibbs-beloved “character” guy and a special teams standout, and he would make a fine No. 4 receiver. Taylor Jacobs had 11 catches this season — his third — and doesn’t warrant another opportunity.

3. Develop a short-yardage runner — When at the 5-yard line or closer, the Redskins had nine touchdown passes and seven runs. Eventually, teams will start paying attention to Mike Sellers coming out of the backfield.

Portis was better in short-yardage situations this year, going 8-for-9 on third-and-1. But the Redskins should use the preseason to develop Sellers or second-year player Nehemiah Broughton as a goal-line running back. It would save some wear and tear on Portis and make the Redskins more unpredictable near the end zone.

4. Build offensive line depth — When right guard Randy Thomas went down with a season-ending broken leg against Dallas on Dec. 18, the Redskins’ offense suffered. Ray Brown, 43, was his replacement, and while he played hard, Brown could not pull for the Redskins’ key running plays.

Brown is retiring, and questions remain about Jim Molinaro, so the need to add depth is important.

If the Redskins want to go for a big name, they could pursue Seattle left guard Steve Hutchinson and make Derrick Dockery a reserve. Chances are, though, that Dockery did enough late in the season to earn another chance and Hutchinson will prove too expensive.

5. Fine tune the play calling — Portis threw three passes in the final four games, and it worked only once. Not enough passes were thrown in the direction of Moss and Cooley down the stretch. An effective screen pass to Cooley or Ladell Betts wasn’t used enough. And second-and-long yardage, for some reason, typically meant a running play.

Gibbs adjusted this season by adding the shotgun and more outside runs for Portis and by taking more shots 30 to 40 yards downfield.

But against Seattle, it seemed as if the Redskins waited to fall behind by two touchdowns before opening the offensive game plan.

Expect Gibbs and his staff again to spend the offseason finding new ways to get Moss and Cooley the ball and to use Portis effectively.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were a year ago,” Brunell said. “We should be very pleased, but there is a ways to go, and this year was a real stepping stone.”

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