- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vinny Cerrato would have rather spent Wednesday outside in a 23-degree wind chill than inside answering questions about the front office’s role in the Washington Redskins‘ season.

But a 2-6 second half sent the Redskins to a .500 finish and out of the playoffs, forcing Cerrato, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, to hold his postseason briefing earlier than he had hoped.

“I’m standing here, and we’re 8-8,” he said. “I would much prefer standing on the practice field and watching us get ready to play. You want to be performing in the playoff games, not watching them.”

Cerrato, entering his second offseason as the front office boss, did not offer anything close to a specific plan of action for the Redskins to climb out of the NFC East cellar. He and his staff are reviewing the Redskins’ roster, determining which free agents from other teams might be attractive and preparing for the college draft.

“I don’t know [the greatest areas of need] until we get through everything,” he said. “You have to evaluate everything, and it takes a while. It’s only been a couple of days, and there are a lot of things you have to look at, evaluate and put it all together before you make assumptions.”

At least this January, Cerrato can focus on the roster. He and owner Dan Snyder were the two-man search committee last January finding a replacement for Joe Gibbs, eventually hiring Zorn after a monthlong process.

“The No. 1 thing was finding the coach,” Cerrato said. “You go from 33 straight days of 18-hour days right into free agency, the combine and draft. It was no nonsense.”

The draft was the Redskins’ primary way of adding last April - nine of the 10 picks spent the entire season on the active roster. This year, the Redskins have only four picks - in Rounds 1, 3, 5 and 6.

The lack of production from the 2008 class has been well-documented. The Redskins struck gold with seventh-round safety Chris Horton, but the second-round trio of Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis combined for only 21 catches and no touchdowns.

Cerrato said injuries held back Kelly and Thomas, though Thomas played the last three preseason games and all 16 regular-season games.

“If they would have been healthy through training camp and not missed [time], maybe you could say something, but I think they made progress,” he said. “With receivers, you have to give them time. … I think we’ll see great strides from this year to next year.”

As for the rest of the draft class, Cerrato said: “I think absolutely [some can be starters]. I think you’ll see marked improvement from all those guys, and their contributions will have to be a lot more next year. We’ll be expecting more from them.”

The Redskins have a decent mix of young and old at several positions, but offensive line isn’t one of them. If no changes are made and Kendall is re-signed, the ages of the five starters Aug. 1 will be 36 (Kendall), 33 (Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas), 32 (Chris Samuels) and 31 (Casey Rabach).

Have the Redskins put themselves in a tough spot because the group is about the same age - and the potential to make wholesale changes at the same time is looming?

“I don’t know the answer to that question right now,” Cerrato said. “We’re going to back to evaluate everything, and we’ll look and see what decisions have to be made.”

Cerrato did say the Redskins need to protect quarterback Jason Campbell better and develop a more consistent pass rush. Other decisions need to be made on players under contract, including Jason Taylor, Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington and in-house free agents Kendall and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who has become a priority after starting the last four games.

“We just have to see what the market is [for Hall],” Cerrato said. “Of course, we’ll touch base with all the agents for our guys [before free agency starts Feb. 27]. … In the cap world, it comes down to choices.”

Cerrato also touched on a variety of topics, including:

cCampbell’s season: “He did make some strides. Is where he wants to be? No. Does he still have a high ceiling? Yes. He’s still making a lot of progress.”

cZorn’s first year: “You make a lot of progress from Year 1 to Year 2 because you’ve had an opportunity to learn a whole bunch. Jim’s had a chance to see a lot of different things and go through those things for the first time.”

cReplacing Antwaan Randle El with a new punt returner: “I think you look at everything. You evaluate every aspect of everything.”

The full-roster examination will continue through next week.

“You look back at everything - every decision and every situation,” Cerrato said. “What happened? Why did this happen? If we had done something different, would that have given us a different result?

“If you want to improve, you’ve got to look at the things you did because 8-8 is not where we want to be.”

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