As the new year in Washington sports begins its first full week, why should we think that 2014 will be better than 2013, which was a pleasure only in putting in the rear view mirror?
Let’s start with a healthy Robert Griffin III, a full salary cap for the Redskins and a fresh coaching staff which will presumably get along better with the soon-to-be 24-year-old quarterback than did the Shanahans — father and son — whom it should be noted also feuded with six-time Pro Bowl passer Donovan McNabb in 2010. Rex Grossman and John Beck, the lousy quarterbacks of the 2011 Redskins, and fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins, whom the coaches played over Griffin for the final three games of 2013, got along with the Shanahans because they weren’t stars, and thus didn’t pose a threat to Mike’s spotlight.
The new coach will also have the opportunity to rebuild the defense which surrendered a league-high 458 points since nose tackle Barry Cofield, left end Jarvis Jenkins, left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and strong safety Brandon Meriweather are the only starters from the end of 2013 who are under contract for 2014.
The Nationals, as chronicled in this space last Thursday, had a good offseason, replacing retiring manager Davey Johnson with Matt Williams and giving the fiery neophyte boss another fine starter in Doug Fister, a solid left-hander for the bullpen in Jerry Blevins, and a reliable fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth while not giving up much of immediate value. Perhaps not having the expectations of being the World Series favorites will help the Nats return to their 2012 form when they led the majors with a 98-64 record.
Despite their recent slump, the Caps seem headed to the playoffs for a seventh straight spring although it would certainly enhance their postseason chances if someone besides Alex Ovechkin could consistently put the puck in the net for coach Adam Oates and if they weren’t so reliant on their power play.
However, only Pittsburgh, Boston and Tampa Bay are clearly better in the Eastern Conference. Counting on general manager George McPhee’s club in the playoffs is like expecting comity on Capitol Hill, but the Caps did eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in 2012 and if they could avoid a Game 7 at home …
The Wizards are 12-9 against their rivals in the weak Eastern Conference. For a change, their top six players — Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Nene, John Wall and Martell Webster — are healthy. If they can all stay that way, Washington has a great chance of ending its five-year playoff drought.
The Wizards are no threat to defending champion Miami or powerhouse Indiana, but they can play with anyone else in the East which is major progress for general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman, whose jobs might not be in jeopardy come April.
If sophomore point guard Seth Allen’s first two games back from a fractured foot are a sign of things to come, he and coach Mark Turgeon will get Maryland’s men back in sync in their final year in the ACC although an NCAA bid is iffy right now.
That’s more likely for senior point guard Markel Starks, coach John Thompson III and Georgetown who could join Creighton and Xavier as the biggest threats to Villanova in the revamped Big East. Maybe George Mason and Virginia will get their acts together.
GW, which is off to a 12-2 start under coach Mike Lonergan with victories over Maryland, Creighton, Miami and Georgia, is the area’s best sports story of late. And Brenda Frese’s eighth-ranked Maryland women are humming along as usual.
Come summer, hopefully Tiger Woods will play in his own golf tournament and some bigger names will opt to play in the Citi Open and not just against the team tennis champion Kastles. The Mystics are coming off a playoff season. And D.C. United can’t be worse, right?
And as summer heads toward fall, Maryland football will welcome back standout receiver Stefon Diggs, who missed the final six games of the Terps’ 2013 bowl season. Not that moving from the ACC to the Big Ten will be welcome for coach Randy Edsall and Co.
Navy’s record-breaking quarterback Keenan Reynolds returns for his junior year while trying to lead the coach Ken Niumatolo’s Midshipmen bowling, as usual. Virginia Tech will have 14 returning starters for coach Frank Beamer’s 28th season as he seeks a 22nd consecutive bowl bid.
Virginia will begin rebuilding from the wreckage of its worst season since 1981 with defensive tackle Anthony Brown, considered one of the nation’s best high school players last year, and safety Quin Blanding, who also turned down just about every BCS power to also stay in-state. If the down-and-out Cavaliers can sign two such talented freshmen, there’s hope for every area team in 2014.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.