After the linemen had traipsed off to the showers Thursday — their second week of OTAs in the books — the rest of the Washington Redskins engaged in some 7-on-7 action in the red zone. And a spirited competition it was, too. At one point, when Robert Griffin III, with no rush to worry about, took his sweet time finding an open receiver for a touchdown, secondary coach Raheem Morris pleaded, “Can we get a shot clock?”
Of course, in the spring, nothing goes quite like clockwork in the NFL. Players still are shaking off the rust after months of relative inactivity. New acquisitions are trying to commit to memory the playbook that’s just been dropped in their laps. And rookies are acting like rookies — taking your breath away one moment and looking like works-in-progress the next.
All this goes double for the Redskins this year. Their OTAs aren’t just get-acquainted-with-the-system sessions, they’re get-acquainted-with-one-another sessions — for the offense, at least. Not only is Mike Shanahan building his attack around a quarterback who has never taken an NFL snap (Griffin), his top two wideouts figure to be Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, who just joined the team as free agents.
It’s not a complete makeover of the passing game, but it’s a pretty radical one. You don’t often see change of that magnitude in pro football from one year to the next.
I mean, Cam Newton at least had holdover Steve Smith to lean on heavily as a rookie in Carolina last season. And in Indianapolis, the Colts re-signed Reggie Wayne a few months ago so Andrew Luck would have an Established Guy to throw to early in his career. But not the Redskins. They still have Santana Moss around, sure, but who knows for how long or in what (reduced) role?
This tells you how dissatisfied Shanahan really was with the offense last season. It also tells you how willing he is to take risks. And make no mistake, this is a roll of the dice, folks. It remains to be seen how well these pieces fit together and how quickly they fit together. Morgan, after all, is still taking it slow after breaking his right leg in 2011; and even for players as experienced as him and Garcon, the transition from one system to another is never seamless. (See Chad Ochocinco with New England last year.)
Throw in a rookie quarterback, and the timetable becomes more uncertain still. Even Griffin conceded after practice that he’s comfortable only with about “60 to 70 percent” of the playbook. That’s commendable at this stage, actually, but 60 to 70 percent is still 60 to 70 percent. Do you think Peyton Manning, Garcon’s QB in Indy, ever functioned at 60 to 70-percent capacity in recent years? More like 110 percent.
“Peyton, he knows everything,” Garcon said. “He tells you where you have to be.”
Someday soon, the Redskins hope RG3 will be the kind of quarterback who tells everybody where they have to be. But in terms of his football education, he’s still working on his master’s, never mind his Ph. D.
Still, Morgan doesn’t come across as too worried that he and Griffin won’t mesh. “It’s the same West Coast system I was used to in San Francisco,” he said. Besides, he added, “I had four head coaches [in four seasons with the 49ers], four different offensive coordinators, four different offenses and four different quarterbacks. I’m used to this.”
To RG3, meanwhile, the offense has “the perfect combination of guys who’ve been here and know the offense — Santana Moss, Terrence Austin, [Anthony] Armstrong — and a good balance of guys who are just starting to get to know it. We can add our own flavor to it, you know, instead of doing it the old way. I’d rather have it that way than me coming in by myself and being the only guy who has to learn the offense.”
What the Redskins’ offense is more than anything right now is a blank page, a page you can project almost anything you want onto.
Griffin, for instance, could have a first season comparable to Newton’s (4,051 yards passing, 706 rushing) … or be better or worse than that. Garcon could put up the kind of numbers he put up with the Colts last year (70 catches, 947 yards, 6 TDs) … or be better or worse than that. Morgan could return to his 2010 level (44-698-2) … or be better or worse than that.
In the bright sunshine of the offseason, all things can seem possible for a football team. We’ll have to see how it all plays out for the Redskins.
This much is clear, though: In Year 3 of his Great Rebuild, Mike Shanahan isn’t doing anything halfway.