As the NFL Scouting Combine comes to a close, the football world will soon cease rumor-mongering and move towards making actual transactions, as the new league year is set to begin March 13 at 4 p.m.
For Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins, that means trying to improve on a sub-par 5-11 season by continuing to address the team's deficiencies and, hopefully, getting the roster to the point of potential playoff contention by the start of the season.
So without further ado, here's part one of the Redskins top five areas of need this offseason.
5. Running back
By the end of last season, it was clear that the Redskins had found themselves a pair of young, productive tailbacks in rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Helu's combination of speed, vision, and nifty footwork proved to be a great fit for the zone blocking scheme. Royster came on late in the season, showing that while not as speedy as Helu, he was still productive as he rushed for 325 yards in the season's final four games.
So why would running back be considered a need going into the offseason?
Well, for one thing, the entire Redskins offense is in need of upgrades at a number of positions. Secondly, while Helu and Royster have proven to be capable backs, are they ready to be given the bulk of the carries in 2012 and beyond? Or are they more ideal as change of pace backs?
Those are the primary questions heading into the offseason at this position. Sure, the Redskins already have intriguing options in their backfield, but like a lot of areas on Washington's roster, there's certainly room for improvement.
What this running game needs is a bell cow. It needs a back who can excel as a zone runner at a level similar to Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. It's difficult to find, but it's one of the components that makes this offense click, and one that would make life easier for whoever takes snaps under center in 2012.
Free agent options: Tim Hightower (Redskins), Peyton Hillis (Cleveland Browns), Matt Forte (Chicago Bears), Michael Bush (Oakland Raiders)
Draft options: Trent Richardson (Alabama), David Wilson (Virginia Tech), Lamar Miller (Miami), Chris Polk (Washington)
4. Offensive line
Through Shanahan's first two seasons as head coach, he's completely reconstructed the Redskins offensive line, opting for the smaller, quicker linemen the zone blocking scheme requires.
Shanahan's first draft pick as head coach, left tackle Trent Williams, was the prototype of what he loves to see in a lineman. Lean, fast and strong, Williams has all the makings of a left tackle that could stick around for the next decade. But his biggest obstacles going in his third year could be off the field, as the former Oklahoma standout was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It was a major step back in his development, one that now makes ‘swing tackle' a potential area of need just in case Williams finds himself in trouble yet again.
On the other side of the line, the Redskins were counting on 2010 trade acquisition Jamaal Brown to solidify right tackle for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that hope has proven to be unfounded so far, as Brown's injury-prone ways have been evident for two seasons. Whether it was a hip, groin, or knee, injuries seemed to keep Brown out of the starting lineup more often than the Redskins coaching staff would have liked. With Brown's health a constant issue, it's natural to assume the team could be targeting a new starting right tackle come the season opener.
As for the interior, Washington chose to go with lesser known players in left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, center Will Montgomery, and right guard Chris Chester to get the job done. Before his season ending knee injury, Lichtensteiger was arguably the team's best offensive lineman. He was able to find a comfort zone in the scheme, and particularly excelled as a run blocker. But as he continues to rehab, you have to wonder if the Redskins would be looking to bring in competition at guard to push the incumbent Lichtensteiger during training camp.
The same could be said for Montgomery, but with the Redskins reportedly re-signing him to a four year deal, it looks as though they could be standing pat at center in 2012.
Regardless, it looks like this group may have to find at least two players who could compete for starting jobs once training camp arrives.
Free agent options: Carl Nicks (New Orleans Saints), Ben Grubbs (Baltimore Ravens), Demetrius Bell (Buffalo Bills), Jared Gaither (San Diego Chargers)
Draft options: Riley Reiff (Iowa), Mike Adams (Ohio State), David DeCastro (Stanford), Cordy Glenn (Georgia)
Entering the 2011 season, the Redskins' defensive backfield looked to be a position of relative strength. Despite the departure of sixth year cornerback Carlos Rogers, the team appeared to have an adequate replacement in free agent signee Josh Wilson. That, in addition to the acquisition of free safety Oshiomogo Atogwe - whom the Redskins hoped would form a dynamic duo with strong safety Laron Landry - was enough to make people think the Redskins could have an improved secondary.
What a difference a year makes.
As it turned out, the Redskins missed Rogers. Not just because of the season he went on to have with the San Francisco 49ers - he hauled in six interceptions on his way to his first Pro Bowl appearance - but because of his versatility in coverage. In 2010, whenever opposing offenses would spread the Redskins defense in three- or four-receiver sets, Rogers would slide inside to cover the slot receiver while nickel corner Phillip Buchanon came on the field to cover the outside receiver.
But in 2011, with no Rogers and Buchanon sidelined due to injury, the Redskins asked third year man Kevin Barnes to step into that slot corner role. It was a task he struggled with at times, and as a result, Barnes saw less playing time as the year went on. Pair the struggles on the inside with the inconsistencies of starters DeAngelo Hall and Wilson, and the Redskins have some legitimate concerns at the corner spot.
Then there's the situation at safety. When Atogwe was brought in, it was thought that he would help stabilize the free safety position, a spot that had been in flux for the last few years. But instead, the season ended with more questions than answers, as Atogwe was constantly hampered by injuries that had him shuffling in and out of the starting lineup. Whether injuries were the cause or not, Atogwe's level of play was not up to the standard by which his five year, $26 million dollar contract would demand.
It was also thought that Atogwe's presence would help Landry, who was coming off of a season-ending Achilles injury. One year later, you could argue he is no healthier than he was when he walked into training camp in last July. He missed five games in 2011, and didn't resemble the explosive player he was during the first half of the 2010 season. Now that he's a free agent, the Redskins will have a tough decision to make on whether or not to bring him back on a cheap deal. If the Redskins choose not to bring Landry back, it's entirely possible they may have to try and find two safeties this offseason.
Top all of that off with Washington bringing in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris to help lead the secondary, and you can expect him to be working with some new toys once camp gets underway.
Free agent options: Tyvon Branch (Oakland Raiders), Michael Griffin (Tennessee Titans), Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta Falcons), Brandon Carr (Kansas City Chiefs), Brent Grimes (Falcons), Cortland Finnegan (Titans)
Draft options: Morris Claiborne (LSU), Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama)
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