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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/05/2012

Five offensive-related questions for the Redskins this offseason

Last week we took a look back at the Washington Redskins season on offense. And over the next several weeks, Mike Shanahan and his staff will review that side of the ball, evaluating both good and bad.

There were few bright spots for the Redskins. The emergence of Fred Davis as the go-to tight end and the development of rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster stand out the most.

Meanwhile, injuries, struggles inside the red zone, turnovers, instability at the quarterback position and the suspensions of Davis and left tackle Trent Williams go down as the lowlights.

The Redskins this season ranked 16th in total offense, averaging 336.7 yards a game. But when it came to scoring, the team mustered only 18 points a game, which had them 26th in the NFL.

It’s hard to say the unit got better in their second season under Kyle Shanahan. (Last year, the Redskins generated 335.9 yards a game and averaged 18.9 points a game. In 2010, Washington committed 31 turnovers. In 2011, that number rose to 35).

However, in the final seven games of the 2011 campaign, the offense did slightly better, generating 21.7 points a game.

A year after focusing on upgrading the defense, Shanahan and the Redskins figure to spend much of their efforts on fixing the offense both through the draft and free agency.

For one last look, here are five questions facing the Redskins on offense this offseason:

1.) Can they find a franchise quarterback? – With his 20 interceptions (third-most in the NFL) and five lost fumbles, Rex Grossman often ended up doing more harm than good for the Redskins. The problem: the team didn’t have a better option. Shanahan gave John Beck a try but was so unimpressed that even with Washington well out of contention and with Grossman still turning the ball over, the coach decided not to give Beck one last late-season look. Whether through the draft or through free agency, Washington likely will seek help at quarterback. In the draft, the Redskins hold the seventh overall pick and could have to trade up to land Robert Griffin III, widely regarded as the top quarterback besides Andrew Luck, who is a shoo-in for the top pick (Indianapolis). The free agent crop isn’t great. Drew Brees is a free agent, but there’s no way the Saints let him walk. Otherwise, there’s Matt Flynn, who has shined in relief of Aaron Rodgers, and Kyle Orton, who is more of a capable bridge quarterback than franchise passer. The pickings are slim beyond that. Even if Washington does draft a quarterback, it’s no sure thing that he’ll be ready to start from Day One. Because of this, and with a less-than-impressive free agent crop, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Grossman, who at least has familiarity with the system and the confidence of receivers Jabar Gaffney, Santana Moss and Davis, back under center for the Redskins.

2.) What to do with Davis? – With Chris Cooley hobbled by a balky knee, Davis took over as Washington’s top tight end and was enjoying a Pro Bowl caliber season (59 catches for 759 yards and three touchdowns) before his four-game suspension for failing multiple drug tests this season. Now, instead of entering free agency poised for a big pay day, Davis — who with one more failed drug test will miss an entire season — will likely have to settle for a deal worth far less than his worth. One person with inside knowledge of the situation said that Davis may even have to settle for a one-year deal to prove that he has changed. Shanahan spoke highly of the tight end on Monday, saying that he already sees a difference in the player, and he praised Davis’s abilities and work ethic. Davis hasn’t spoken to reporters since his suspension, but he previously said that he wants to return to the Redskins. Further helping his cause is Washington’s dire need for playmakers.

3.) Do they have their feature back? – Tim Hightower had a solid showing during his brief stint as starter, but is a free agent. Is he a game-changer, and can he fully return from a season-ending ACL surgery? Helu topped the 100-yard rushing mark three times, and shows nice abilities as a receiver out of the backfield, but Redskins coaches would like to see more big-play ability out of the Nebraska product. Royster is a smooth runner and averaged 6.3 yards per carry in two starts, and Shanahan likes his toughness. Will the coaching staff deem these three capable of sharing the load in a combined effort, or will try seek to add another, more consistently explosive back to the mix?

4.) What holes will be filled along the offensive line? – Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger had shown improvement this season – his second since moving from center to guard – but then he tore his ACL and MCL. Lichtensteiger is a free agent, but he wants to return to Washington. Redskins coaches like him as a player, but it’s too early to tell if he can achieve full recovery. The other big need is at right tackle where Jammal Brown remains hobbled by a surgically-repaired right hip. He’ll spend the offseason working with Washington’s athletic trainers, trying to regain his two-time Pro Bowl form. The Redskins turned to rookie Maurice Hurt at left guard, and fellow rookie Willie Smith filled in at left tackle after Trent Williams’s suspension, and could be an option at right tackle. Hurt had a fair share of ups and downs, while Smith showed gradual improvement. Do the Redskins look to free agency to shore up these positions? It would seem likely.

5.) Will they find consistency in the kicking game? – This falls under the special teams category, but struggles on field goals cost Washington’s offense points off and on in 2011. Kicker Graham Gano went 31 for 41 while experiencing his ups (franchise-long 59-yarder, and overall 4 for 6 from 50 yards out or longer), and his downs (a miss in the season opener, two misses vs. Miami, and five blocked). A lot of the blame for the blocks falls on breakdowns along the line, but Shanahan blamed the kicker for low lofts on some of them. Gano faces an uncertain future as he will be a free agent, and he has a total of 21 misses (blocks included) in the past two seasons. Special teams coach Danny Smith said last week that while no decision has been made on the kicker’s future, he saw improvement in Gano this season and believes the Florida State product will continue to get better. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gano, whom Shanahan praised for his strong leg on kickoffs, return. But it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him face some competition during OTAs and/or training camp.

Offensive players due to become agents in 2012:

QB Rex Grossman

RB Tim Hightower

C Will Montgomery

G Kory Lichtensteiger

TE Fred Davis

T Sean Locklear

WR Donte Stallworth

K Graham Gano

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 01/05/2012

 
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