ASHBURN,Va - When Evan Royster was asked how he felt about himself and fellow tailback Roy Helu being considered the veterans in the Redskins backfield, his answer could have applied to a good chunk of players in the Redskins locker room.
"We're still young ourselves," noted the second year running back, whose name now sits atop the depth chart. "We have to mature quickly."
Such is life for the 2012 Redskins, where Mike Shanahan -- now in his third year as head coach -- will lean heavily on key contributions from a growing stable of young players; a seemingly vast departure from this franchise's recent past.
When he was hired by the Redskins in January of 2010, the then 57 year-old Shanahan was brought on board to bring the Redskins back to their championship-winning ways. And while many experts and pundits around the league expected him to overhaul the roster, most believed that a coach with Shanahan's resume may not be patient enough to develop a corps with which to build around.
In other words, he didn't appear to be the ideal candidate to oversee a youth movement.
And after Shanahan's first offseason, it had appeared that those pundits were right. The majority of the Redskins player acquisitions in 2010 were solid-but-aging veterans; they either traded for or signed the likes of Donovan McNabb, Jamaal Brown, Joey Galloway, Artis Hicks and Ma'ake Kemoeatu to plug holes at key positions as the team continued to look for players who would fit schematically with their new direction.
But in the last two offseasons, Washington employed a decidedly different strategy; valuing youth and development and mostly avoiding the "splash" acquisition.
The team entered the 2011 NFL Draft with the goal of acquiring as many picks as possible. They repeatedly traded down throughout the weekend, acquiring 12 selections in all. One year later, even after they traded multiple first rounders and a second round draft pick for the rights to select quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins continued the previous year's strategy of trading down in the mid-to-late rounds, yielding nine more picks.
In all, the Redskins drafted 21 players over the past two years; more than any other team in the league during that span.
"You feel pretty lucky [to keep as many draft picks], because that doesn't happen very often," Shanahan said recently."It is kind of unusual to have as many draft picks as we've had in the last couple years now make the team and play as well and get some contribution to what we're trying to do. And you just hope that they get to that next level [and] they're Pro Bowl players and not just good football players."
The Redskins -- long known as free spenders on the open market -- also changed their approach to free agency. They targeted younger, ascending talents, and compensated them based on their present and future value, rather than for past accomplishments or accolades. It was through this model that they acquired the likes of Pierre Garcon, Josh Wilson, Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, Joshua Morgan and Chris Chester - all of whom are starters and are under the age of 30.
All of the above adds up to a number of interesting age-related tidbits regarding the current makeup of the Redskins roster:
* Of the 27 total Redskins players drafted by Shanahan, 19 are on the final 53 man roster
* 30 of the 53 players on the roster are fourth-year players or younger
* Of the projected starting-22, there are only two who are 30 years of age or older (Madieu Williams and London Fletcher)
* At 22 years and seven months, Robert Griffin III will be the youngest quarterback to start for the Redskins in the Super Bowl era.
* Averaging 26.9 years of age, the projected starting 22 the Redskins will field Sunday against the Saints will be the team's youngest since Daniel Snyder became owner in 1999. That's in contrast to 29.35 -- the average starter age in 2010 -- which was not only Shanahan's first season in Washington, but the oldest during that 13-year span.
Of course, younger doesn't always mean better. Despite the youth on the roster -- and particularly with a rookie signal caller -- Shanahan still must show signs in Year Three that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
That means proving that the team is both younger and vastly-improved; a distinction the Redskins hope will lead to a long, sustained run of future success.
"I feel really good about our football team," the coach said. "It's a change, obviously, completely. And you've got guys who fit your system [now]. You've got guys that you're hoping will all step up and play extremely well."
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