ASHBURN, Va. - As Washington Redskins reserve tackle Willie Smith was being surrounded by reporters just outside his locker Thursday at Redskins Park, Roy Helu couldn't help but egg his fellow rookie on.
"Look at Willie Smith!" shouted the running back, "Getting all the shine over there!"
The reality is, it's been Smith -- along with other Redskins offensive backups -- that have been shining brightest the last few games, the latest being an impressive 23-10 road domination of the New York Giants.
They've had to do so thanks in large part to a season that has seen Washington lose its most prominent players on offense due to injury or, in the case of Trent Williams and Fred Davis, season-ending suspensions. The latter was seen as a death nail to an already struggling unit, one that seemingly couldn't afford to incur any more losses.
And yet, here they are, having delivered perhaps their best back-to-back efforts of the season, posting 27 and 23 points against the New England Patriots and Giants respectively, going toe-to-toe with two playoff contenders. The question is, how'd they do it?
"I guess it's about going out there and doing it," Santana Moss said. "We know we've been missing key guys throughout this season. I think enough is enough at times."
A common saying in the NFL that's been tossed around for years has been 'next man up.' The idea is that when a backup is called upon to place an injured starter, it's his duty to step in and play at a level such that the rest of the unit does not miss a beat. If the last two weeks are any indication, Redskins players appear to be living by that credo to the fullest.
"[It] just says a lot about the guys playing, playing hard," head coach Mike Shanahan said earlier in the week. "They're working [and] doing the little things during the week to give yourself a chance to work."
While execution has certainly been at the heart of the offense's resurgence, it's also been the coaching staff's ability to change both the game plan and play calling that's helped to alleviate some of the pressure that's come with fielding an injury depleted unit.
"Obviously, the play calling's going to be a little bit different," Shanahan said. "You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you're putting all the pressure on new players, but they still have to go out there and execute regardless of what it is."
The coaching staff's ability to make adjustments has been a hotly debated topic among the Redskins faithful. Most believed that they have not done a good enough job using the talent they have on the roster, and instead have forced the system down the players' throat, not necessarily asking them to do things to suit their strengths. If anything, the last few weeks should (for the time being) quell some of those fears, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his staff have been forced to adapt.
"Everybody [knows] as a coaching staff and players," the offensive coordinator said, "you've got to change things up a little when you lose some key guys."
Whether it be end-arounds featuring Anthony Armstrong or Niles Paul, trick plays involving Brandon Banks, or quick hand-offs to fullback Darrel Young, the Redskins play selection in recent weeks have certainly caught opposing defenses off guard.
"I think it's gone pretty well," said Rex Grossman. "Obviously, we'd rather not [lose key players], but the things we've done have created some problems for some teams."
One of the ironies of their success, of course, is that despite their depleted talent, Washington's offense may be beginning to close the gap between what they want to do conceptually, and what it is that they can do with what they have on the roster. If that's the case, then it's entirely possible that this late season success will not only help build confidence going into the offseason, but it could help them move one step closer to finding something they've been seeking for nearly two seasons: An identity.
"I've been really proud of our players the past few weeks," the younger Shanahan said. "Not everything's perfect, but I've been really happy with the progress guys have made."
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