Many Redskins are under the proverbial microscope in Ashburn this spring.
Of course, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is the prime specimen, but there are also the “do they still have it?” questions about tight end Chris Cooley and receiver Santana Moss, the “are they worth the big bucks?” concerns about new receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, and the “will they be an upgrade over the guys they’re replacing?” fears about new safeties Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Madieu Williams.
And then there are tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams, two proven Washington starters who still have something major to prove.
That’s primarily because Davis and Williams let the organization, their coaches, teammates and fans down by failing multiple drug tests and being suspended for the final four games of 2011. That was the last thing the Redskins needed in a season that was already spiraling down to a 5-11 thud.
What’s more, Davis and Williams will each be suspended for a year if either tests positive again.
“Hopefully, they do everything the right way,” said coach Mike Shanahan, who has made his expectations for Davis and Williams clear to them. “I’m counting on them. I’ve got confidence in both of them. I wouldn’t second-guess either guy because I like the type of shape they’ve come in, how hard they’ve worked. Hopefully, there are no disappointments.”
If there are, that could mean big trouble for the Redskins. The only proven alternative to Davis is former starter Chris Cooley, who has to show that he can stay healthy at 30 after being gimpy last summer and early last season before going on injured reserve after five games. With veteran backup Sean Locklear not brought back, Williams’ replacement would likely be 2011 rookie free agent Willie Smith since Tyler Polumbus, James Lee and Tom Compton are all better suited to the run-heavy right side rather than trying to keep elite pass rushers like Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and Minnesota’s Jared Allen away from Griffin.
There’s also the financial factor. Davis, who was franchised to the tune of 5.446 million, and Williams, whose cap number is a stratospheric $13.35 million – more than twice as high as the next highest-paid Redskin – account for nearly $19 million of Washington’s $102 million payroll which was reduced by the NFL from $120 million for frontloading contracts during the uncapped 2010 year.
“You don’t see too many guys get (franchised) after something like that,” Davis said. “I’ve been blessed. I’m going to respect that and work as hard as I can. The worst part … was losing those four games and not (being able to) help my teammates. It’s something I can learn from and something that’s not going to come up again.”
Williams, who’s signed through 2015, said much the same.
“I learn from mistakes in my life,” said the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft and Washington’s first choice in the Shanahan era. “It’s just another learning experience … a mistake that was made and I had to live with it. I went through a down time. I had to watch the games on TV. It sucked. I know it’ll be the last mistake I make to that magnitude. Anytime they take something away you get a greater appreciation for it. The coaches always knew I was committed (to football). I just want to show ’em that I’m their Pro Bowl tackle that they drafted in the first round two years ago.”
Williams, who also missed two games in each of his first two years with injuries, hasn’t played like a Pro Bowl tackle on a consistent basis. However, Davis’ numbers through 12 games projected over the full 2011 season would have tied him for fourth – just four shy of second — among NFC tight ends with 79 catches while his 995 yards would have ranked second.
Davis knows that a lucrative, long-term contract will be his if he stays away from drugs and produces similar stats this season.
“Yeah, I smoked (pot), but that’s not going to change the type of player I’m going to be,” said Davis, who infamously began his Redskins career by oversleeping a minicamp practice in 2008. “I just don’t want to be in that position again. You’ve just got to make sure you make the right decisions … and know the worth of being in the NFL.”
Having Davis and Williams playing at an elite level all season could certainly take some pressure off Griffin and make Washington’s offense worth watching.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin