Redskins' Cerrato Says Foundation Is Strong

By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 1, 2009

Two days after Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said he believed his team would not undergo sweeping changes as the organization tries to rebound from an uneven season, Zorn's boss -- Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations -- agreed, saying he did not believe a wholesale overhaul of the roster is necessary.

"We have a good foundation," Cerrato said yesterday during an interview after his season-ending media availability at Redskins Park. "We like the foundation and the core guys that we have. We feel like we have enough to build around. Do we think we could've won more games? Yes. Everybody's probably saying the same thing."

Cerrato spoke publicly for the first time since the Redskins concluded an 8-8 season in which they collapsed to a 2-6 finish in the second half and missed the playoffs. Zorn and the coaching staff will be off next week, but Cerrato said that everything about the way the Redskins procure players and attempt to improve the team will be analyzed over the next month. He said it was far too early to predict whether the team will pursue free agents or what it would do with its four draft picks, including the 13th overall selection.

Cerrato did, however, say it was clear the team must improve in a few key areas. The Redskins finished with 24 sacks, which tied for 28th in the league, and quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked 38 times, tied for fourth most in the league.

"Just the obvious," Cerrato said. "We need to protect the quarterback better, and we need to get more sacks. That's kind of the obvious thing.

"But when you look at it, you got to evaluate why. That's what the evaluation process is. Why did we give up the sacks? And then, why did we not get more sacks? Those are all things that you got to evaluate, and those are all questions that you got to figure out what happened."

Cerrato said he thought Campbell, in his second full year as a starter, "made good strides," and he cited Zorn's work with Campbell as one of the best aspects of Zorn's rookie season as a head coach. But when asked if he was comfortable with Campbell as the quarterback of the future in Washington, he was noncommittal.

"I think that Jason will be back," he said during his news conference. "He's the starting quarterback, you know? And I think what you do is you just go year to year, and you have to evaluate everything."

Later, asked specifically whether the club would pursue a contract extension with Campbell -- who would become a restricted free agent after the 2009 season -- Cerrato said, "Everything's got to be evaluated." He reiterated that it was too early to answer such long-term questions.

The internal evaluation of the players on the current roster will continue during the next two weeks, Cerrato said. On or about Jan. 15, the entire front-office staff -- including everyone from scouts to athletic trainers to team doctors -- will meet to go over each player individually. Roughly a week later, about Jan. 22, the coaching staff will receive books and films on all potential free agents and will be asked to grade them. During the first two weeks of February, Cerrato said, the coaches and front-office staff will watch film of free agents together to determine who, if anyone, the club might pursue.

"We will always look at free agency, trades, draft to acquire" players, Cerrato said. "Any way that you can acquire players, we will look at and see what's in the best interest. Last year, [free agency] wasn't [the Redskins' choice], because there wasn't much. A lot of times, people have a ton of room [under the salary cap]. They're going to sign their own guys. That's kind of what's happened lately."

Zorn said he would like to keep the coaching staff intact, and Cerrato said that Zorn would have control over those decisions. He confirmed that the Detroit Lions have asked for and received permission to speak with secondary coach Jerry Gray about their vacant head coaching position, but said the club has not received any inquiries about other members of the staff.

Cerrato also said it was "too early" to say whether several older veterans would be retained. Asked specifically whether defensive end Jason Taylor -- who had 3 1/2 sacks after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for second- and sixth-round draft picks during training camp -- would be back, Cerrato said, "I can't answer that, just because we're evaluating everything." Taylor is due $8.5 million next year.

Earlier this week, cornerback Carlos Rogers -- who did not start two of the team's final three games -- said he had contemplated a trade because he believes he is a starter. Cerrato would not address whether Rogers had, in fact, asked to be dealt.

"I'm not even going to speculate on hearsay stuff," he said.

Cerrato also spoke optimistically about the team's much-maligned rookie class, which included 10 players who made the roster out of training camp and, after punter Durant Brooks was released, still represents nearly 17 percent of the roster. Those nine players combined to start 14 games this season, 10 by safety Chris Horton. Third-round choice Chad Rinehart, an offensive lineman, didn't play a snap all year.

"I think you'll see marked improvement from all of those guys," Cerrato said. "I think their contributions will have to be a lot more next year."

That, Cerrato said, is one reason he believes the club will add to what it has rather than stripping down and completely rebuilding.

"It's a fixing," he said, "and it's evaluating everything we do and how we do it to see if that's the best way to do it."

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