When Kyle Shanahan joined his father in Washington in the offseason of 2010, the talented young offensive coordinator received the charge of breathing life into a unit that had long sputtered its way through one ineffective campaign after another.
For his first two seasons at the helm, Shanahan exhausted every trick in his book as he tried to compensate for a limited collection of weapons.
Then last season, the acquisitions of quarterback Robert Griffin III, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan and running back Alfred Morris coupled with a revitalized Santana Moss and a healthy offensive line, and Shanahan’s offense finally took off.
Shanahan and the Redskins confounded defenses with an expanded playbook that featured he and Mike Shanahan’s version of the West Coast offense plus the zone-read option and pistol formation attacks. Washington’s offense averaged 383.2 yards per game (fifth in the NFL) and 27.3 points per outing (fourth overall). That fifth-overall ranking came after the Redskins ranked 18th and 16th, respectively, in 2010 and 2011.
This past offseason and preseason has featured a number of positive developments for the Redskins.
Griffin and his surgically repaired knee are now “good to go,” and the quarterback predicts greater comfort and polish for himself in Year 2. Morgan and Garcon are both healthy after battling ankle and toe injuries, respectively, last season. Two more weapons — tight end Fred Davis and running back Roy Helu Jr. — also return after injury-shortened 2012 campaigns. And Washington this offseason re-signed left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right tackle Tyler Polumbus, ensuring that their starting line remains intact another year.
That list of positives gives the Redskins reasons to believe they can take yet another leap forward.
“I can’t wait,” Morgan said. “It’s no telling what we can do this year. As long as we continue to progress and maximize and take advantage of every opportunity that we have, and stay healthy, if we can do that for the whole season, it’s going to be a great season.”
As he finished his sentence, Morgan couldn’t help but break into a smile and chuckle as he pondered the possibilities.
The Redskins’ entire starting unit has yet to take the field in a game at the same time because Coach Mike Shanahan held Griffin out of all four preseason matchups. But the unit demonstrated an ability to move the ball both with Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman at quarterback.
Griffin has now taken every first-team practice snap for the past three weeks, and his pass catchers saw that the quarterback looks like nothing ever happened. His passes have good velocity and accuracy, and the timing between the quarterback and his targets also appears to be on point thanks to reps both in the offseason and during the early-training camp stretches of seven-on-seven action that they got together.
The smoothness with which practices have run fuel the players’ confidence levels. Coaches no longer have to explain plays step-by-step before they are carried out, and the players no longer find themselves thinking their ways through every assignment.
“Last year, there were times we’d go out there and run plays [in practice] and we’d have to repeat them and repeat them,” Morris said. “But now, this year, we go through certain plays once, twice and we don’t have to keep repeating and explaining it to guys. Now we know and it’s about executing and having that confidence and comfort level.”
That comfort level will also help the Redskins play at a faster pace in games and put more pressure on defenses.
“You want to control the ball, you want to help your defense rest, but you want to score points, too,” Kyle Shanahan said. “So, I think the more we have guys together — I think we played about six new guys last year, and we don’t have anyone new this year except a few rookies — but, I expect our starting lineup to be close to the same and I expect guys to get in and out of the huddle a lot faster.”
Griffin cited that comfort level with his supporting cast as a key reason why he expects to step back in and play at a high level despite not having played in the preseason.
“Just having the same guys out there [will help],” Griffin said. “The system that we run this year is a little bit tweaked from the one we ran last year. But everyone knows that, and everybody’s just on the same page and that’s been the great thing all offseason. I’ve been out there practicing with these guys for a while now, and I know practices are different than games, but it still feels good to have the guys around you, Alfred in the backfield, same offensive line, same receivers. . . . I think those guys know I’ll lean on them and I think they’re ready to make plays. I think everybody’s ready to go out, make plays and be dynamic.”
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