BTB: 1. What changes will we see in the Redskins with Mike Shanahan at the helm?
RT: You'll see a much more prepared, disciplined team. Under Jim Zorn, we frequently heard the TV broadcast teams comment that the Redskins' practices were sloppy and lacked urgency. If the minicamps and OTA's are any indication, that will not be the case. The sessions were crisp, organized and the players were focused. And certain star players have found that the door to owner Dan Snyder's office is no longer open to let them air their grievances. There is now a sign on the door that says, "Go talk to Coach Shanahan".
How that will translate on the field is anybody's guess. The hope is that the Redskins will be able to hold on to a few more late leads and occasionally rally to a pull out a win in the late going. But some have said that discipline is overrated. I mean, if discipline was such an important factor in winning, Army and Navy would meet in the BCS title game every year.
BTB: What's the word on Donovan McNabb so far? Was this a good move or bad move for the Redskins long-term?
RT: If you define the long term as three or four years-and that's an eternity in the NFL-it was a good move. It seems like the wheels started to turn when it became apparent that the Rams weren't going to let Sam Bradford slip to the fourth pick in the draft. Shanahan didn't want to go with Jason Campbell at quarter back and, at age 57 he didn't want to wait and develop a lesser quarterback. So, when McNabb became available, and the Eagles were willing to trade him in the division, the Redskins jumped in.
He instantly became the team's leader on both sides of the ball. McNabb has been on the phone with Albert Haynesworth, for example, and he has the respect of everyone on the team. Although some will point out that he and Campbell had similar statistical seasons in 2009, the stats lie in this case. The Redskins took a major step up at the most important position on the field.
BTB: Will Washington have an improved offensive line this year to protect McNabb, including adding Jamaal Brown? Are there concerns about his health through a 16-game season?
RT: Considering what an abject disaster the O-line was last year, even mediocrity from the unit would be a welcome improvement. Trent Williams is a major upgrade over Stephon Heyer and Levi Jones, who manned the left tackle spot after Chris Samuels' career-ending injury in the fifth game of last season. Brown, who isn't a great on pass protection but is a solid, athletic run blocker, is tailor made to play on the right side in Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Mike Williams and Artis Hicks will battle it out at right guard, a position that saw six starter changes last year. Case Rabach and Derrick Dockery both started 16 games and were respectable at left guard and center, respectively.
Brown did not have an injury history before last year and a sports hernia is much less worrisome going forward than, say, a knee or shoulder problem. So the injury concern is not much higher than it would be for any given 29-year-old lineman.
BTB: To some extent, it looks like the Redskins are reviving the "over-the-hill-gang" philosophy. Is this perception correct and if so, do you think it will work?
RT: Certainly, Bruce Allen seems to be channeling his father George's way of doing things. And choices such as the one of McNabb over a younger quarterback bear that out. But I'll wait until the final roster is determined before I call it "Back to the Future is Now". Some older players like Willie Parker and Phillip Buchanon may well be beaten out by younger players. Joey Galloway is no lock to make it, either.
One important thing to note is that with very few exceptions, most of the older players brought in are on one-year deals with very little guaranteed money. If a younger and cheaper replacement is found, the older player can be cut with no long-term consequences.
Still, the Redskins were the oldest team in the NFL last year and they won't be a whole lot more youthful in 2010.
BTB: Who is a new or unknown player that you think will make a big impact this year for the 'Skins that we may not have heard about?
RT: I'll give you two who have been on the roster for a few years but could have breakout seasons in 2010. Safety Kareem Moore has the edge to take LaRon Landry's free safety spot (Landry is moving to strong). He's a big hitter who may make opposing receivers think twice about going over the middle. Lorenzo Alexander has done everything from playing as a third tackle on offense to all along the defensive line. He's being converted to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme and the coaches are raving about him and dreaming about how to use him. Alexander won't start but he'll get plenty of chances to wreak havoc.
Thanks to Rich for giving us the 411 on the Redskins.