- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2011

Don’t try to have a conversation with Mike Shanahan about whether the Washington Redskins are rebuilding unless you have your definition of that nebulous concept figured out. That much was apparent by how he bristled at that question during his weekly Monday meeting with reporters.

Then again, perhaps the entire discussion is pointless nitpicking. No matter what you call the process the Redskins are undertaking, it’s clear after their fourth straight loss Sunday that the scope of it is quite vast.

Another lifeless offensive performance, this time in a 19-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, added to the mounting evidence that the chasm between the Redskins and contender status is much wider than their 3-1 start signified.

That injuries prompted Shanahan to start three rookies on offense is a strong indication that it will take time for him to add layers of talent to the roster.

“When you lose a starter that’s a better player and you play a young guy, you’re playing your next-best player. Is that considered rebuilding, because you’re playing your next-best player? No, I don’t believe so,” Shanahan said. “You’re trying to win a football game. If those are the 46 guys on your team, then the next-best guy is going to go out there and play.”

The Monday afternoon game breakdown sessions with the media are on hold for the time being. Four-game losing streaks require assessments of the big picture, and the outlook at Redskins Park is clouded with the team at 3-5.

A week after the Redskins were shut out for the first time in Shanahan’s 267 games as an NFL coach, they scored only 11 points. The offense hasn’t scored more than 22 points in a game.

Running back Roy Helu, receiver Leonard Hankerson and left guard Maurice Hurt started against San Francisco in place of injured first-stringers at their respective positions. What some might have interpreted as a youth movement and a concession that the postseason is out of reach, though, was really just Shanahan playing his best option, he said.

Those fill-ins, however, weren’t enough to spark the Redskins out of their offensive doldrums. So perhaps the franchise needs another offseason to add talent to the offense through free agency and the draft.

Shanahan in January 2010 inherited a 4-12 team made up of the oldest roster in the NFL. Major changes obviously were necessary, especially considering Shanahan’s desire to install a new 3-4 defensive front.

Shanahan proceeded to overhaul the roster. Of the 53 players on the team for Sunday’s game, he acquired 37 of them.

“I said when I first came in that we had to change,” Shanahan he said. “If you look at [it], our center has changed from when I came in, our left guard has changed from when I came in, our left tackle has changed, our right tackle has changed. Our tight ends changed through injury. Both our wide receivers, our halfback. I say that is rebuilding a football team.”

The process appears further along on defense. That unit is significantly improved after the Redskins made that side of the ball a priority when acquiring players last offseason. Washington ranks 16th in yards allowed per play, much better than 30th last season.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall believes it’s fair to expect the offense to improve if it receives similar attention next offseason. But that’s not much consolation with eight games remaining.

“It’s a process,” Hall said. “We’ll continue to practice and try to battle and get each side better as best we can. Nobody wants to live through losses, obviously. At the same time, all you can do is put forth your best effort.”

The players on offense will do the same, starting with quarterback John Beck. With only seven starts on his NFL resume, his development is a critical part of the process.

The short-term results might not be pretty, but they will push forward.

“If you lose your confidence in what you’re trying to do, you stand no chance of getting better,” Beck said. “It’s when you stay confident, you put your foot in the ground and you say, ‘We’re moving forward, we’re continuing to take our steps,’ that’s when things can happen. Right now, I believe that’s our mindset.”



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