Chances are, the Redskins will do better than 2-14, and better than last season’s 5-11. Not by much, perhaps, but better. And the credit will go to a willingness to change — especially to change the roles of current players and when that doesn’t work, to change players.
Let’s look at the offense. A year ago, in the season opener, Tim Hightower started at running back. He was cut Friday, caught and passed last season by Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster after a season-ending injury and outplayed this preseason by Alfred Morris, a sixth-round draft pick who is looking like a steal.
The team also appears deep at wide receiver. It’s a far cry from last season, when the corps was a cobbled together group of youngsters and geriatrics — by football standards, if not AARP guidelines — and the starters were Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney. Now the team has Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe.
And although it’s easy to overlook Brandon Banks, because he’s so tiny, let’s not. The Redskins told him he would have to do more than return kicks this year, and he must have made them happy, because he survived Friday’s cuts. (How successful that plan will be is anyone’s guess. He can be a deep threat — if he can get open. If he’s covered, he’ll be hard for Robert Griffin III to hit. Heck, he’ll be hard for Griffin to see. But he’s on the team, and Terrence Austin, who filled both roles at times last season, is not.)
Last year’s starting tight ends have been reduced by 50 percent with the release of fan favorite Chris Cooley earlier in the week. The Redskins moved yet another of their receivers, Niles Paul, to tight end and also have Logan Paulsen for blocking situations.
Then there’s quarterback. Last year: Rex Grossman. This year: Griffin. Enough has been written, said, thought, felt, mimed, telepathically signaled and interpretively danced about Griffin. The tweak here is the arrival of Kirk Cousins and the departure of John Beck. And that seems to be a significant upgrade.
Would I rather have seen that pick used for a lineman? That’s the one area of the offense that still needs work. Injuries haven’t helped but by now it should be assumed: There will be at least one major injury at any point during the season on the line, and probably more. Heck, we already have one: Barring drug test failures or shower slip-and-falls, Jammal Brown is the only starter on either side of the ball who will miss the season opener against New Orleans.
Ankles are rolled, knees are wrenched — it’s not a game of Twister on the line of scrimmage. I’d have gone for line depth in the draft but that ship has sailed, and if the line can’t keep RGIII unharmed, the presence of Cousins may make Mike Shanahan look like a genius. Then again, Shanahan thinks the Redskins have enough depth on the offensive line. Same thing he thought last season.
Genius or not, though, Shanahan has shown a knack for moving pieces around the board: Linebacker-at-the-moment Lorenzo Alexander has played more positions than Bert Campaneris, and if Billy Cundiff shanks a few field goals early in the season, expect Danny Smith to try Alexander at kicker. Or safety. Apparently there’s an opening. (I’m a child of the ’70s, and even I’m surprised at the amount of weed floating around the NFL. Not to harsh your buzz or anything.)
Of course, when you don’t have the right pieces — whether through no fault of your own (injuries) or, well, your own fault (draft picks, free agent busts) — this is what you have to do. Improvise, I mean; not smoke weed. You make do, you re-purpose and re-invent. It worked during the Great Depression. So I guess these are your great-grandfather’s Redskins, minus the segregation.
Thank God that won’t fit on a bumper sticker.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.