- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2012

A paradox floated around Redskins Park on Monday as players cleaned out their lockers and departed for the offseason. The Washington Redskins finished 5-11, one game worse than last year in coach Mike Shanahan’s first season, but many insist progress is clear.

“It does feel different,” defensive end Adam Carriker said. “We have one less win, but you can see the team getting better.”

Shanahan believes that, too.

“I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I know we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more depth. We’ve got some young guys. We’ve got some older vets, but we’ve got the people, I feel, that give you a chance to make up something special. That’s where it starts.”

Other players, meanwhile, acknowledged the grim reality of a five-win season and a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East.

“You are what you are: 5-11,” running back Tim Hightower said. “You can say all the right things, and you can have all the right beliefs all you want to; at the end of the day, it’s a results business. With the results, no, we’re not pleased, but I think we’re pleased that we have guys who are committed to the ultimate goal.”

The process of improving in the standings will begin immediately for Shanahan and his staff.

Coaches will spend the next two weeks or so re-watching the games and evaluating the roster. Shanahan also will evaluate his staff during that period.

“No decision is made quickly,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes emotions are so strong from a coach’s standpoint, from a player’s standpoint. To me, you give people a couple of days to kind of settle down a little bit, for us to relax a little bit, look at the film, be a little bit more objective on our evaluations of what went on throughout the season and get our gameplan for next year.”

Regardless of what players and coaches say about progress, that gameplan can’t end with another double-digit-loss season.

“It hasn’t been a fun atmosphere in our locker room,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “Guys are excited and guys have worked hard, but you can sense when you’re losing that it’s disappointing and it’s frustrating.”

See ya, Sean Locklear

Shanahan customarily does not address the team on the Monday following the final game. He prefers to speak to the group in the locker room after the finale and let the emotional toll of the season release from there.

So on Monday a group of Navy SEALs and a Marine addressed the team about teamwork, sacrifice and the importance of preparation. Each NFL team is mandated by the league to meet with them at some point, Shanahan said, and he chose getaway day for that.

Backup right tackle Sean Locklear was not impressed. He tweeted: “Worst exit meeting ever! No coaches, no front office, just physical’s and goodbye to teammates! We spend 5 mos together, WOW”

Shanahan later ripped Locklear with sarcasm during his news conference.

“I talked to Sean after the game, and obviously he must not have liked my speech,” he said. “He must have been disappointed in it, but I’ve only been doing it that way for a number of years. He must be used to a different way. So I apologize, Sean. It will never happen again — at least not with me.”

Special teams coach praised

Shanahan praised special teams coach Danny Smith despite some glaring shortcomings on that unit.

Five field goal attempts were blocked; the other 31 NFL teams combined for only 25. And Washington finished 21st in punt-return average and 27th in kickoff-return average, down from 10th and 14th, respectively, last season.

“If you take a look at his body of work — you just don’t do it this season, you take a look at his body of work over time — I think he’s done a great job with the special teams unit,” Shanahan said.

Extra points

Results of the MRI on outside linebacker Brian Orakpo’s strained left pectoral muscle were not available late Monday. …The Redskins hope rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson (torn labrum, right hip) reaches full fitness by April 1. … Practice squad interior offensive lineman Eric Olsen said he was signed to the New Orleans Saints’ active roster. … The team’s offseason program will start in mid-April, per rules established in the new collective bargaining agreement, Shanahan said.

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