I was in Eagles country over the weekend visiting family (in-laws), and they all wanted to ask me about the Redskins. Questions like: Are they ever going to be any good? Is RGIII is the real deal?
I found it funny that in Phillies country in late July, no one wanted to talk about the 5-time defending NL East Champs. Might have something to do with them being in last place right now and the Nationals being in first.
But back to the questions. "In order for the 'Skins to be any good, RGIII must be the real deal," is usually my answer. (Actually, my canned answer is, "he'd better not suck.")
The bottom line is RGIII needs to be a franchise quarterback. He doesn't necessarily have to do it this season, though it would be nice. However, just because Cam Newton was a record-setter in year one, that doesn't mean RGIII must do the same.
Also, contrary to popular belief on sports talk radio in D.C. (those guys are the worst), it is not all about RGIII this season.
In this week's "Chain Reactions," I attempt to do the impossible: tackle the other 'Skins questions not surrounding RGIII heading into training camp.
1) The Unsettled Secondary
LaRon Landry is now the Jets' problem (and on their PUP list), and Oshiomogho Atogwe is gone as well.
The Redskins have gone with the "safety in numbers" approach at safety. This offseason, they have brought in pretty much every available free agent safety, including Brandon Meriweather (former two-time Pro Bowler), Tanard Jackson, Madieu Williams. They also drafted Jordan Berstine with a seventh-round pick. They also have holdovers Reed Doughty and second year Safety DeJon Gomes.
The cornerbacks remain the same, with DeAngelo Hall and Chris Wilson as the starters and Kevin Barnes as the nickel corner. Veteran Cedric Griffin figures to be worked in somewhere as well.
The biggest question is, who will start at safety? That will be sorted out by competition, which Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett is putting a positive spin on.
"I like the competition that you have for playing time from all the corners and the safeties," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said in June, at the conclusion of the team’s organized team activities. "This is the first time you’re gonna have some hard decisions to make on who you’re going to keep and who is not going to make it."
Part of the secondary makeover is a new coach: Raheem Morris, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach and secondary guru, who has a different approach with the positions and personnel. He wants players to be interchangeable at safety and corner.
"With the ability to learn those assignments, you can rotate those guys in at safety," Morris said. "You can take those guys all over the field. Really, we all have got to be interchangeable parts. I think that creates the complexity as well as the detail that you want in the defense in order to get what you want to get accomplished on defense."
The secondary will need the front seven to get consistent pressure, which, in turn, could take the pressue off them in coverage. The back four the is definitely the biggest question heading into Thursday's Training Camp.
2) Can the Running Game Hit the Ground Running?
Yes, the Redskins running game improved by last season's end with the one-two punch of rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster. However, for the season Washington averaged just 100 rushing yards per game and ranked 25th in the league. They also only ranked 22nd in yards per carry at 4.9.
There is no sure starter at this position for a few reasons. Veteran Tim Hightower is coming off ACL surgery, Roy Helu got dinged up once he became the featured guy late last year, and Mike Shanahan is the head coach. Shanahan rides the hot hand and is an infuriating coach if you have one of his running backs on your fantasy football team.
The running game being consistent is always an important key to a Shanahan offense. This year, it takes on even greater importance because of the addition of a rookie quarterback (You know who). If teams have to respect the run, it will open up play action, boot legs, and hopefully deep passes for You-Know-Who.
If I had to handicap the depth chart as of today, I think the starting job is Helu's based on his production last year and his breakaway speed. I would not underestimate Royster, though, and I expect both will get plenty of work.
Where does that leave Hightower? It depends on the health of his knee. He is still the best back at pass protection, which could make him a perfect fit as a 3rd down back once he shows he is healthy.
The wild card is the rookie Alfred Morris from Florida Atlantic. I know he's a rookie and the Redskins have capable veterans, but this is Mike Shanahan we are talking about, so anything is possible with running backs.
3) Can the Wide Receivers get more YAC this season?
OK, clearly, I'm cheating here by not mentioning that rookie Quarterback that has more commercials than Peyton Manning, but talking about units that can help him become a success in year one.
However, without the running backs (see above) and the wide receivers being more productive, You-Know-Who won't be either. This group got a big makeover this off-season with the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.
Neither has ever been a true No. 1 receiver and neither has ever had a 1,000-yard season. Garcon still managed 947 yards for the Colts last year, despite dealing with some of the worst quarterback play in the league. He also stretches the field, something the Redskins wide receivers struggled to do in 2011, and makes things happen once the ball is in his hands.
Morgan, a H.D. Woodson product, is also a big-play guy who can stretch the field.
The two were specifically targeted for their yards after catch (YAC), something Mike Shanahan wanted heading into the free agency period. Here's what he told ESPN's NFC East Blogger Dan Graziano in December.
"We've got to get a wide receiver that's a playmaker. You've got to have a No. 1, no question about it. We have [Santana] Moss and [Jabar] Gaffney, who's going to be right at 1,000 yards, but you're still looking for that guy that can go the distance and make plays, running the ball on a short shallow cross and go the distance. Everybody's looking for that."
The Redskins were among the worst teams in YAC in 2011, with Moss gaining just 4.4, and Gaffney gaining just 2.9. Meanwhile, Garcon is at 5.1 and Morgan is at 5.7 for their careers.
The rest of the group is a mix of veterans and youngsters. Moss is some 15 pounds lighter after a disappointing, injury-plagued 2011 season and Leonard Hankerson is coming off hip surgery. Hankerson showed flashes of being the big receiver this offense desperately needs before suffering the hip injury in Miami.
The other sports are pretty much up for grabs. There's Anthony Armstrong, who seemed to be forgotten last year after a strong 2010 campaign. Also in the mix are Brandon Banks (the returner who needs to play WR to make team), Aldrick Robinson (who has been getting rave reviews for his off-season work), and Terrence Austin.
The unit needs to be more productive as a whole if You-Know-Who is going to be the guy the Skins traded up up to No. 2 to get.
Starting Thursday "Inside the Locker Room" with Doc Walker, Brian Mitchell, and Scott Jackson is live from Redskins Park. Listen from 2-4 p.m. on ESPN 980.