Reporting Grant Paulsen
The Redskins are one win away from a division championship and in the wake of six straight wins the industry is taking notice of the changing culture, and the improved talent, in Washington.
On Wednesday, three Redskins — including rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III — found out they’d been recognized for standout 2012 seasons by being elected to the pro bowl as reserves.
Griffin, left tackle Trent Williams, and special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander will all make the trip to Honolulu, Hawaii to represent the NFC in the NFL’s annual all-star game. All three are first-time pro bowlers, with Griffin getting the nod just eight months after being drafted second overall and Williams being honored as a third-year veteran.
Additionally, rookie running back Alfred Morris and 15th-year linebacker London Fletcher were voted as alternates.
If Morris and Fletcher climb the depth chart by way of either injuries (or Super Bowl participants not being able to post), Washington could have as many five players participating in the pro bowl. Not bad for a team that was 11-21 over the past two seasons and began the 2012 campaign 3-6.
Griffin will unequivocally be Washington’s biggest draw. The first-year quarterback is the second passer in league history to throw for 3,100 yards while rushing for 750 (Randall Cunningham did the same in 1990).
One of the league’s most electrifying and dynamic dual threat talents, Griffin couples lethal running skills (his 752 rushing yards lead all quarterbacks) with precise and accurate passing dexterity (his 104.1 quarterback rating is second best to only Aaron Rodgers’ rating of 106.2).
Williams, drafted No. 4 overall in 2010, has blossomed into one of the league’s premiere offensive line talents. The athletic 325-pound left tackle has helped pave the way for the NFL’s top-rated rushing offense (162.3 yards per game). He’s also served as the top lineman for an offense that leads the league and yards per play (6.2), yards per pass attempt (8.41).
With Williams serving as the anchor of their line, the Redskins have rushed for at least four yards on an NFL-best 51.2% of their attempts. Washington’s 18 rushing touchdowns are the most the team has compiled since racking up 23 back in 1999, and Williams has been on the field for all of them.
Suspended for failing multiple drug tests a year ago, Williams showed up to Redskins Park rededicated this spring. He worked out seven days a week over the offseason, hiring a positional coach to help him improve his technique on the weekends and a strength-and-conditioning coach to help him improve the shape he was in during the week.
That hard work paid off with his first pro bowl nod.
Like Williams, Alexander is no stranger to grinding during the offseason. A veteran linebacker who has also played along the Redskins’ offensive and defensive lines during his time in Washington, Alexander spent the offseason losing over 30 pounds so that he could react quicker and run faster.
Shedding weight allowed Alexander to better cover kickoffs, an area that was already a strength for the California product. No team has been more successful at stopping kick returners this season than Washington, and Alexander (the captain of the Redskins’ special teams unit) is the biggest reason why.
Alexander’s 19 total special teams tackles leads the NFL.
“It’d definitely be an honor to be recognized by the fans and players and coaches around the league,” Alexander said about potentially being nominated when he was asked about the pro bowl on Wednesday morning.
“Special teams kind of gets over looked because it’s not understood very well,” Alexander added. “It’s been getting more notoriety over the years. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
A revered special-teamer for several seasons, Alexander has been a top-contender for the pro bowl for each of the past couple seasons. This year he got over the hump, thanks largely to his NFL-leading tackle total.
Fletcher has participated in each of the past two pro bowls. The 37 year-old leads the Redskins with 128 tackles in a season that has seen him tally a career-high five interceptions. Despite having played the majority of the second half of the season hurt, Fletcher is seventh in the NFC and 10th in the NFL in tackles, and he ranks second in the NFC in assisted-stops with 54.
Morris’ 1,413 rushing yards are just 104 yards away from breaking Washington’s franchise record. The 2012 sixth-round pick is one of the NFL’s best stories, as the Florida-Atlantic product has rumbled his way out of obscurity and into the top crop of the NFL’s running backs.
His 46 rushes of 10 or more yards ranks second in the NFL and tops among rookies. Morris ranks second in the NFC and third in the NFL in attempts (302) and second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL in first downs gained (71).
The league’s third-leading rusher and the NFL’s fifth-leading rushing scorer (10 touchdowns), Morris ranks fifth in the NFC and 9th in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage.
Prior to the league’s announcement that three Redskins had been nominated to the pro bowl, and that another two of Washignton’s players had been listed as alternates, head coach Mike Shanahan speculated that anywhere between two and four of his players could be recognized with a pro bowl nomination.
“A lot of times you get nominated when your team has success,” Shanahan said. “If you can consistently have success than you have a number of guys that make the pro bowl. I’m hoping we’re starting to lean that way now.”