Team hopes for offensive improvement in Year 2


The Redskins will run with, from left, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain in the backfield. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
September 5, 2011

The most visible and high-profile change in the Redskins’ organization from last season is at quarterback. Donovan McNabb is now wearing Minnesota Vikings purple, and Washington coaches think they have two players, in John Beck and Rex Grossman, who represent an upgrade.

But change doesn’t simply mean a new face in the huddle. Coaches are convinced a new quarterback will result in improvement at all 11 offensive positions.

“It’s shown in all aspects,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said as the team’s preseason wound down. “It’s definitely shown in the run game, but I think it’s shown in protections, I think it’s shown in our drop-back game, our play-pass game, our keepers. Usually when you improve in one area, it leads to all other areas.”

Coaches carefully studied Beck and Grossman throughout the preseason before selecting Grossman as their Game 1 starter, but were pleased with what they saw from both.

“We’ve got two guys that can play,” said Coach Mike Shanahan, “and our football team knows it.”

While the playbook will look the same in Year 2 of Mike Shanahan’s tenure as head coach, the entire organization expects the on-field execution to be drastically different. Unlike a year ago, coaches feel the quarterback can follow their script with the proper tempo, crispness and precision. In turn, everyone should benefit.

The Redskins have experienced turnover everywhere on offense: the quarterback will be new; Tim Hightower should start at running back; fullback Darrel Young will block for him; Chris Chester joins the offensive line; Jabar Gaffney appears to have locked up a starting job at wide receiver; And if tight end Chris Cooley’s knee is slow to heal, Fred Davis will be able to step in.

Those who return from last year — when the Redskins featured the league’s 18th-ranked offense — have the benefit of a second season in the system.

Washington opted against overhauling the entire offensive line. Instead, coaches simply moved Will Montgomery from guard to center and added Chester.

“It starts up front with the O-line,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Those five guys playing together, being used to each other, understanding what we want. And then it goes to the running back, to the quarterback, to the wideouts. I think everybody’s more comfortable in what we’re doing, what we’re asking from them, and I think it’s showing.”

Last year, the offense rarely matched the blueprints. Kyle Shanahan ran a near-identical offense in Houston in 2009, and that Texans team averaged 383 yards and 24 points per game. What the Redskins have shown in preseason has more closely resembled that Texans offense from 2009 than the one Washington put on the field in 2010.

“Some of that is personnel and some of that is everybody playing a little bit better,” said Grossman, the backup quarterback for both those teams. “We were calling the same plays, it’s the same offense. But I think everyone’s picking it up a little bit better. They understand it, the little nuances, the details of exactly how to run this offense.”

The new acquisitions were eager to learn. Hightower’s one-cut style is a good fit for the Shanahans’ zone-blocking scheme. The receivers could benefit from a quarterback who goes through his progressions.

“As soon as I got here, just looking at it, you see the routes, the plays and you can see they want to make some big plays,” said Gaffney, who will line up opposite veteran Santana Moss. “Then you get out there and see they’re actually throwing that deep stuff — I love it. It’s a receiver-friendly offense.”

It all will revolve around the quarterback, of course. He doesn’t need to be a superstar; being simply functional within the system might suffice. Both Grossman and Beck could see action at some point this season, and each realizes there are plenty of skeptics around the NFL. Grossman is known for making poor decisions and getting flustered, while Beck isn’t known for much of anything. The 30-year-old quarterback hasn’t played a game since his rookie year in 2007, when he made four starts for the Miami Dolphins.

“We ask quarterbacks to execute the offense,” Mike Shanahan said. “Everybody’s got their strengths, everybody’s got their weaknesses. But like I said before, I got two guys who can play in the National Football League. I got a lot of confidence in both guys.”

In Year 2, with a familiar system and a few new faces, players have more confidence in the offense as well.

“I know as a team, when we practice, you get the feeling that we’re moving in the right direction,” Beck said. “When coach stands in front of us and talks to us, as a team, there’s a feeling of, ‘We’re going to accomplish something.’ There’s a belief. Our team as a whole believes good things could happen if we just continue to work hard, put our nose down and just grind.”

22 nd

in the league
in total offense
in 2009.

18 th

in the league
in total offense
in 2010.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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