- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

When training camp began on the steamy final day of July, all was right in Washington.

The Redskins had on hand newly minted starters in Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, Andre Carter and Adam Archuleta. The distraction of LaVar Arrington was just a memory. The addition of Al Saunders, architect of the Kansas City Chiefs’ dynamic offense, would upgrade that side of the ball. Gregg Williams’ fierce defense would remain among the elite. Even kicker John Hall was healthy.

The Redskins seemed primed to improve upon their surprising run to the NFC semifinals last season. The Monday Morning Quarterback reserved his tickets for Super Bowl XLI in early February in sunny Miami in anticipation.

One hundred days later, our mood ring has turned gray with touches of black.

None of the high-priced additions has been a hit — Randle El’s punt return for a touchdown in Indianapolis notwithstanding. Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, the most dangerous players of last season, have been unspectacular. Mark Brunell has had more calls for his job than touchdown passes. The defense has summoned unhappy memories of the Norv Turner era. And, of course, Hall was hurt yet again, probably never to return to burgundy and gold.

The Monday Morning Quarterback is as disappointed as he has been at midseason since Dan Snyder bought the Redskins.

Q: How do you figure this ugly 3-5 start?

A: It’s hard to explain. Sure, Portis has been hurt and defensive linchpins Shawn Springs and Cornelius Griffin missed eight starts between them. But every team has injuries by this point. How a team with this many weapons on offense can score so few points is baffling. And Williams’ defense has been worse than mortal, particularly against young quarterbacks (Tennessee’s Vince Young in the third start of his career and Dallas’ Tony Romo in his second).

Q: So is Al Saunders not a genius?

A: Saunders’ system didn’t kick into gear until the second half of his first season in Kansas City. And Brunell’s popgun arm is not a good fit for Saunders’ preferred attacking style. But a genius still would have found a way to adjust to his quarterback and make better use of serious weapons Moss, Portis, Lloyd, Randle El and Chris Cooley.

Q: And what about one-time defensive genius Williams?

A: Maybe dumping LaVar cost “Mr. Packages” his mojo because Williams’ moves this season certainly haven’t worked. Was the departure of unheralded safety Ryan Clark on top of the departure of middle linebacker Antonio Pierce the previous winter too much? Archuleta, replaced last week by Troy Vincent, certainly couldn’t quarterback the defense as well as Clark; he was lost himself. And Lemar Marshall is solid, but he’s not a leader like Pierce.

Word around the league is that offensive coordinators are catching on to Williams’ schemes. The Monday Morning Quarterback doesn’t buy it; opponents would have figured it out earlier. Maybe Williams should dump FedEx and start using UPS because his packages aren’t being delivered properly anymore.

Q: OK. I’ve waited long enough for the real tough questions. When will Gibbs pull the plug on Brunell?

A: Those two have been one since Gibbs went to Jacksonville in March 2004 to talk Brunell into accepting a trade and the quarterback drove the coach to the hospital following a diabetic reaction.

Gibbs finally benched Brunell, who had a 63.9 rating, during the ninth game of the already lost 2004 season, and that was with former starter Patrick Ramsey in the wings. The Redskins now are having a similar season, but the conservative Brunell has a 91.5 rating and the only alternatives are the totally raw Jason Campbell and career backup Todd Collins.

Campbell should start as soon as the Redskins no longer have a shot at the playoffs in order to have enough games left to discover whether he is indeed their future. If he’s not, they had better get another quarterback for 2007 because, unlike wine, Brunell isn’t getting better with age.

Q: You aren’t optimistic that beating Dallas was the start of a Redskins renaissance, are you?

A: The stunning, last-second victory over Dallas was more karma than convincing. The remaining schedule is brutal. Figure Washington wins at Tampa Bay and St. Louis and beats either Carolina or Philadelphia at home to go 6-10, matching the worst record of Gibbs’ previous 14 years. That also would be the opposite of my forecast of 100 days ago.

Q: If the Redskins indeed finish 6-10 or worse, does Gibbs return next season at 66?

A: Gibbs has two years left on a $5 million per-year deal. He should be better rested now that he’s no longer in charge of the offense. I believe that Gibbs will return to work with Campbell and to fulfill his contract, but that’s far from a sure thing. If Gibbs retires for good, it would be hard to justify Williams or Saunders as his successor now.

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