Optimism is in short supply in Ashburn this summer.
The Redskins have won seven games over two years. They threw six months of public support behind a quarterback who lost his job before the regular season started. They are constantly plagued by on-field questions and off-field controversies.
But there’s plenty of time for anguish. Why not start the 2015 NFL season with at least a small dose of optimism? Let’s not get carried away, but here are a few reasons to think Washington is headed in a better direction.
1. Roster Construction
Familiar with building teams through the draft and not making splashy free-agent signings to fix gaping holes, Scot McCloughan gives the franchise a strong general manager for the first time under owner Dan Snyder.
McCloughan still has much to prove. He left his previous two jobs under curious circumstances. But he made the kind of smaller, unnoticed offseason moves that can quickly add depth to a roster – like adding nose tackle Terrance Knighton on a cheap, one-year “prove-it” deal.
There are now special teams players who WANT to be on that unit and who play positions – fifth wide receiver, backup safety – more appropriate for that group. There seems to be a coherent plan in place. Whether it works? That’s a different story.
2. Veteran coaches
Jay Gruden learned a lesson in 2014. You can’t have enough experience around you as a young head coach in the NFL. Now he and offensive coordinator Sean McVay have some help. Bill Callahan is the offensive line coach. He ran his own college program at Nebraska and coached the Oakland Raiders to an AFC championship. Perry Fewell is the defensive backs coach. He was the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator when they won a Super Bowl. Matt Cavanaugh, the new quarterbacks coach, was an offensive coordinator when the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl. That experience matters.
3. Depth at wide receiver
This was a strength last season, too, but Washington couldn’t take advantage because of poor quarterback play. But DeSean Jackson terrifies opposing corners and Pierre Garcon is a reliable weapon. Andre Roberts has to cut down on his drops, but with limited special teams duties now maybe he can focus on becoming a nice third choice. Add in Ryan Grant, who the coaching staff loves, and promising rookie Jamison Crowder and you have a deep group. Rashad Ross was also a playmaker the past two preseasons and will contribute in the return game.
4. Improved defensive line
The Redskins needed help up front. They signed nose tackle Terrance Knighton to a relatively cheap, one-year “prove-it” contract that could be a bargain. They added defensive end Stephen Paea and he and holdover Chris Baker had a spirited competition for the starting gig at left end. Ricky Jean Francois is a capable reserve and veteran Jason Hatcher is back at full health after a rough 2014. Hatcher is the key, though. If he can stay on the field and make a run at double-digit sacks as he did in 2013, the Redskins’ pass rush will be more than good enough to compete.
5. It can’t get any worse
It’s hard to win seven games over two years in the NFL. Eventually luck bounces your way – turnover margin, especially. That’s not something teams can really control. That’s not to say a “lucky” Redskins team will compete for a playoff spot. Even an uptick in that area will likely mean just an extra win or two. But the organization needs to end 2015 with the idea that it’s headed in the right direction. Even six or seven wins and being competitive week-in and week-out would give them that. After the past two disasters, that can only be considered a positive.
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twittter.