That crunching sound you hear is the eggshells the Washington Redskins are walking on. When you have lost four straight and your season is vaporizing before your eyes, almost nobody is feeling very secure. Not with four new players arriving the past couple of days (and another last week).
After flirting with respectability for a month — then being undone by subpar quarterback play and a slew of offensive injuries — the Redskins wisely have turned their attention again to team building. They need players at virtually every position, so why not turn the second half of the season into a tryout camp of sorts?
If there’s a guy on the waiver wire who intrigues them, they should claim him. If there’s a street free agent out there who might be better than what they’ve got, they should sign him. We’re midway through Year 2 of the Mike Shanahan era, and things already are well behind schedule. If most of the holes in the roster haven’t been patched over by Year 3, there’s a good chance there won’t be a Year 4.
On Wednesday, offensive guard Tyler Polumbus, wide receiver David Anderson, defensive end Kentwan Balmer and defensive back Domonique Johnson suited up for their first practices as Redskins. All four were on the unemployment line after being cut by the clubs they played for last season. Joining them was running back Tashard Choice, who was let go by the Dallas Cowboys a week ago (but has been rehabbing a hamstring).
Five new faces, almost a fifth of the squad. Yowzer.
Maybe one or more of them will pan out. Polumbus, after all, started for Seattle last season in its playoff win over New Orleans; Anderson caught 38 passes one year for Houston; Tashard averaged 5.8 yards a carry as a rookie with the Cowboys; and Balmer is a former first-round pick.
Let’s face it, the Redskins haven’t been nearly aggressive enough in this area, especially for a team that’s 9-15 since the start of last season. There are always players out there that can make you better, kids languishing on somebody else’s practice squad or veterans looking for another chance. If you’re in a rebuilding mode, it behooves you to bring some of them in, if not a lot of them in.
It’s just doing your due diligence. It’s also — and his can’t be underestimated — giving yourself a chance to get lucky. There’s no telling, really, when something might click for a player, when he might go from being mere training-camp fodder to something more. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting an opportunity. As far as the Redskins are concerned, what could they possibly have to lose?
Two years ago, Arian Foster was passed over in the draft and spent 10 weeks on the Houston Texans’ practice squad before he was activated. At any time in those 10 weeks, another club could have swooped in and grabbed him. And now he’s arguably the best all-around back in the league. Who’s to say there isn’t another Arian Foster out there, waiting to be discovered?
Last season, it was LeGarrette Blount. Tennessee cut him at the end of camp — with the intention of keeping him on the practice squad — but Tampa Bay claimed him. All he’s done since is average 74.1 rushing yards a game (and 4.8 a carry). Wouldn’t either of those backs look good right now in a Washington uniform?
First-round picks are nice to have, but useful players can be found just about anywhere. Consider the offense Shanahan put together in Denver in 1998, the year the Broncos started 13-0 and won their second straight Super Bowl. The unit scored 501 points, had seven Pro Bowlers and a 2,000-yard rusher, yet only one starter was drafted before the third round — and just three before the sixth. Here’s the breakdown:
• Round 1 - QB John Elway.*
• Round 3 - WR Ed McCaffrey* (signed as a free agent), RG Dan Neil.
• Round 6 - RB Terrell Davis.*
• Round 7 - TE Shannon Sharpe*, C Tom Nalen*, RT Harry Swayne (free agent).
• Round 9 - FB Howard Griffith (free agent).
• Round 10 - LG Mark Schlereth* (free agent).
• Undrafted - WR Rod Smith (who would later play in three Pro Bowls), LT Tony Jones* (acquired in a trade).
See? You just need a little imagination.
Sunday in Miami, the Redskins will have to contend with one of the best pass rushers in the game: Cameron Wake, a Pro Bowl linebacker. Wake, who played his high school ball at DeMatha, toiled in Canada for two years before the Dolphins repatriated him. If I were the Redskins, I’d be combing the CFL for the next Cameron Wake. Heck, if I were the Redskins, I’d have scouts monitoring games of touch on the Ellipse.
So take these recent developments — the entrance of Anderson, Balmer, Choice, Johnson and Polumbus and the exit of short-term rental Dominique Byrd and thirtysomethings Donte Stallworth and Darrion Scott — as a hopeful sign. Shanahan and his general manager, Bruce Allen, are at least making more of an effort to acknowledge the obvious: The talent on this team isn’t nearly where it needs to be … and the clock is beginning to tick louder.