Where to begin rebuilding Redskins: Offense, position by position

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins is one of the Redskins on offense who could have something to prove over the final three games. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The days of Mike Shanahan as Washington Redskins head coach appear to be numbered. After yet another poor performance against the Chiefs on Sunday, the bigger question looks to be when, not if, Shanahan will be fired. The speculation on Shanahan’s replacement has already begun, with various names from both the NFL and college game circling around the rumor mill. Finding the right guy is clearly essential for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, but finding that guy won’t be easy. Shanahan has built this team a certain way, while some of the pieces will fit in with what a potential new coach might look for, others will fall short. Here’s a look at what each position will offer to a new coach going forward:

Quarterbacks

Clear starter: Robert Griffin III. Griffin will far and away be the leading incentive for any new coach. He has elite talents that aren’t easy to find. His mobility, combined with fantastic arm strength and intelligence, are a great recipe for a very good NFL quarterback. Sure, Griffin has flaws, like anyone else. He needs to work on his footwork, reading defenses and knowing where to go with the ball against different coverages. His knee injury clearly hampered his progress this season, but with a full offseason of work going into his third year, Griffin is still a fantastic talent.

Upgradeable: The situation with Kirk Cousins is a tough one to assess. He has good potential and works hard. But he’s more valuable to the Redskins as a backup quarterback than to anyone else. He’s done okay when called upon, impressing in the Browns game last year when given a week to prepare as the starter. But he, too, has bad habits that he needs to break; staring down receivers among other things. Cousins isn’t indispensable. Washington could opt to trade him this offseason and bring in a similar-level quarterback to back up Griffin.

Needs replacing: Rex Grossman’s time in Washington could well be tied to the Shanahans. He’s been kept as the team’s third quarterback because of his familiarity with the offensive system. While reports suggest that he’s been a useful resource for both Griffin and Cousins, with a new system likely to be installed by a new coach, Grossman becomes irrelevant. Any potential new coach will likely have their own equivalent of Grossman; a veteran quarterback that knows his system, that they will bring with them.

Something to prove: At this point, Griffin hasn’t got much to prove through the final three games. We all know his strengths as well as what he needs to work on. Repetitions and a strong offseason is what Griffin needs most right now. Cousins has the most to prove right now. If Washington elects to sit Griffin and showcase Cousins, Cousins could prove his value as a potential starting quarterback somewhere else next season and increase his trade value in the process. Cousins will need to prepare as if he’s going to be the starter for all three of these final games because he has a good chance of seeing significant playing time.

Running backs

Clear starter: This isn’t as cut and dried as it may appear at first glance. I’m a big fan of Alfred Morris and fully believe he can run both zone and power schemes. But the problem arises if the Redskins opt for a coach that favors a spread or heavy-passing offense. Morris has never been a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and his pass protection isn’t up to the standard of someone like Roy Helu Jr. His value in that type of scheme decreases. But purely as a running back, Morris has proven this year he’s a very good back in his own right. He’s the reason the offense has been productive this season. He’s a workhorse back that you can build an offense around, should you choose to.

Upgradeable: While Morris’s value may drop in a spread scheme, Helu would be right at home. His speed and elusiveness in the open field make him just as much a threat coming out of the backfield as he is between the tackles. He’s currently the best pass protector the Redskins have in the backfield, which also elevates his value to spread coaches that rely on the back to be a big part of six-man protection schemes. My concern with Helu is his durability. Can he withstand the punishment of pounding the ball in a power-based running scheme? He’s a much better fit as a zone runner, which makes him upgradeable to certain coaching candidates.

Needs replacing: Evan Royster has very little value at this point. He’s been stuck low on the depth chart and has been on the bubble for quiet a while. He lacks the tackle-breaking ability of someone like Morris and the explosiveness of a guy like Helu. Royster can’t offer much, if anything, that Morris and Helu don’t already bring to the table. Add in the injury that he picked up during the loss to Kansas City, and it’s unlikely he’ll be in the plans of the future Redskins coach.

Something to prove: Morris and Helu could be used with time in the other’s role in these last three games. Morris needs to prove he can pass protect and be a threat as a receiver to become a complete back; while Helu needs to prove he can handle a heavy workload of 20 to 25 carries a game. But it’s unlikely that Shanahan would swap their roles to help them audition for a new coach.

Wide receivers

Clear starter: Pierre Garcon looked on his way to proving he could be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL midway through this season. While he’s still on course to break the Redskins’ franchise record for receptions in a season, untimely drops and unnecessary penalties have raised questions over his value. Is he a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat, or is he best suited to playing the No. 2 role? He’s turned out to be much more versatile and effective than he was in Indianapolis, but hasn’t been able to take the top off of a defense and be a deep threat in the way Washington had hoped he’d be. Still, I believe his positives outweigh his negatives and I think new coaches will be happy to call him their No. 1 guy.

Aldrick Robinson, Kendrick Lewis, Brandon Flowers

Aldrick Robinson makes a catch as the Chiefs’ Kendrick Lewis and Brandon Flowers deliver hits. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Upgradeable: Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson are okay at what they do, but neither strike fear in the heart of their opponents. Hankerson has nice speed and has much improved route-running ability, but lacks explosion after the catch. He also fails to use his size to his advantage. He could use his body to shield smaller corners away from the ball and make catches easier for him. But he plays much smaller and relies on making good cuts and the ball being delivered on time for him to get open. Robinson has been somewhat one-dimensional during his time in Washington. Griffin loves him as a deep threat on offense, and Robinson has the explosiveness to make people miss on screens and underneath crossing routes. But unless he can develop his route running, particularly on intermediate-level routes, then Robinson will continue to tip off the deep shot to the defense.

Needs replacing: Joshua Morgan came to Washington with high expectations. He was paid well, and showed good blocking ability even as a receiver. In this offense, receivers that can block are valued highly, but Morgan has rarely looked threatening this season as a receiver. He should be praised for willing to take on extra roles as a return man, but clearly that was not his forte. Now he’s been limited to being an extra blocker on running plays. Morgan is not worth the money he’s been receiving, and I struggle to see any new coach bringing him back next season.

Something to prove: If Robinson is given an opportunity to play opposite Garcon, he has the chance to improve his intermediate routes against a live defense and showcase himself to any new coaching candidate. Garcon also has the chance to cement his spot as the No. 1 receiver. He needs to show he can keep composed even when things aren’t going well, and eliminate the drops.

Tight ends

Clear starter: Jordan Reed jumped from third-round rookie to one of the top threats on the team in a matter of months. Any new coach would be wise to build an offense that can get the most out of his flexibility. He’s too quick for linebackers, too big for corners. That will force a lot of teams to play heavy zone coverage or use a safety on him. By moving a flex tight end like Reed around the formation, the Redskins can create mismatches and dictate to a certain degree what coverage the defense will use. His run-blocking ability has come on tremendously from where it was in college, certainly much faster than many expected. He still has much to work on in that aspect of his game, but you can see the work ethic is there. All of this makes him a huge weapon who should be one of the focal points of this offense.

Upgradeable: Niles Paul‘s transition from receiver to tight end hasn’t exactly been faultless. He still finds himself buried in the depth chart and limited on offense despite the change of position. But his willingness to take on new roles will be a plus for a new coach. He still drops passes and misses on blocks, but he’s not a terrible option as a third tight end. Without doubt, his most value comes on special teams, which leads me to believe he’ll still be here come next season. He’s one of the few players on special teams who can hold his head high with the knowledge he is playing hard every snap. Even after Washington had already conceded two special teams touchdowns to the Chiefs, Paul refused to quit and chased down a punt to landed a big hit on return man Dexter McCluster.

Needs replacing: Shanahan loves characters like Logan Paulsen, an honest worker who comes in early, leaves late and gives his all every day. But effort alone isn’t enough in the NFL. Paulsen was the Redskins’ best blocking tight end and was used to complement Fred Davis. But when given an extended role, we saw his limitations. He’s not going to beat anyone one on one, and his blocking appears to have regressed this year. He’s struggled to set an edge on the outside, constantly getting pushed back off the line of scrimmage and giving his defender the option to go inside or outside to attack the runner. Plenty of teams carry a blocking tight end, but when that blocking tight end is missing his blocking assignments, he needs to be replaced.

Something to prove: It will be interesting to see if Davis is given an opportunity to play in the final three games. I’m not in favor of keeping a guy that admits to “nodding off” during team meetings and has been suspended for violating the league’s drug policy. But we know what he offers on the field. He’s a talented player, and if he can play hard in these final few games, he might earn himself a shot at a clean slate with a new coach.

Offensive line

Clear starter: Washington’s offensive line is built to run the zone-blocking scheme. That scheme requires smaller, lighter and more agile linemen. While very effective, this scheme isn’t widespread around the NFL. A new coach would either need to have experience running the zone scheme, or be prepared for a big overhaul of the offensive line in the offseason. Left tackle Trent Williams is one of Shanahan’s big success stories during his time in Washington. Shanahan took a risk on the more athletic Williams over the more consistent Russell Okung. Okung has been plagued with injuries while Williams has developed into one of the best blind-side protectors in the NFL. He’s truly scheme-diverse; agile enough to run zone and strong enough to run power, which is a big plus for any new coach.

Upgradeable: Tyler Polumbus and Will Montgomery fall into this category, even though plenty of fans believe they should fall into the ‘needs replacing’ category. Polumbus hasn’t had quite as bad a year as some will make out, and is probably the only other lineman outside of Williams who could fit a power scheme. Montgomery provides some stability at center for Griffin. A quarterback’s partnership with a center is crucial, which helps Montgomery keep his job under a new coach. But both of these guys could be upgraded via free agency or the draft. Guys like right tackle Michael Oher and center Alex Mack are due to be free agents this offseason, and would be significant upgrades should they be allowed to hit the open market.

Need replacing: Both of the Redskins’ starting guards have played poorly this year. Chris Chester was perhaps the Redskins’ best lineman after Williams a year ago, but has seen his performance drop drastically. Kory Lichtensteiger struggled last year coming off a big knee injury, but didn’t improve much after an offseason of work. Both have struggled to get off blocks and reach the second level on running plays, while neither have been able to consistently block one on one in pass protection. Even if a new coach sticks to the zone scheme, he would need to replace the guards.

Something to prove: The three young reserve linemen that Shanahan drafted in 2012 all have something to prove in these last three games, if they get the chance. Adam Gettis saw some time at left guard against the Chiefs. He’s a smaller lineman who most believed would only fit in a zone scheme. But he excels at anchoring in pass protection. If he can prove he can be a reliable pass protector, then he could also be a fit for a coach who favors a spread offense with a focus on passing. The knock on tackle Tom Compton was his strength. He agile enough for the zone scheme, but often found himself overpowered by defenders in his preseason snaps. If Washington elects to give him some playing time, Compton could prove he’s improved on that aspect of his game and can be a legitimate option for a power-based rushing attack. Josh LeRibeus has been a disappointment after showing up to camp overweight. But he has a rare blend of size and mobility for an interior offensive lineman. He is one of the few players on this roster who could fit both the zone and power running styles, but only if he can get in and stay in shape.

Redskins’ roster | statistics | 2014 free agents | salary information

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

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