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After Defensive Additions, Cerrato Quite Optimistic

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

With training camp starting Thursday, this seemed like a good time to check in with Vinny Cerrato on the state of the Redskins. As we all know, owner Daniel Snyder has the final word, but Cerrato has the top football title and the responsibility/pressure that accompanies the gig.

Last week, Cerrato shared his vision of how things should develop.

Throughout our phone conversation, I got the impression he believes the Redskins have the talent to get to the playoffs. After missing out last season for the seventh time during Snyder's 10 seasons directing the franchise, Cerrato said. "Within this building, we have high expectations for ourselves."

Much of his optimism is based on major offseason additions on defense. On Cerrato's recommendation, Snyder approved another free agent shopping spree that included the signing of all-pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and the re-signing of cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Washington also brought back veteran guard Derrick Dockery as part of its effort to bolster the offensive line, which was a glaring weakness.

Washington had the No. 4 overall defense in the league last season, but the Redskins just didn't produce enough sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth, Hall and defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo, Washington's unsigned first-round pick, are expected to have big roles in transforming Greg Blache's steady, successful bunch into a productive big-play group. "We feel good about the improvements that we made," Cerrato said. "We upgraded the areas that we needed to upgrade with the deficiencies that we had last year with sacks and turnovers."

The Redskins had much bigger problems on offense. They produced an average of only 16.6 points, ranking 28th in the 32-team league. Critics of the heavy investment on defense have said the Redskins should have focused more on the offensive line, especially given the unit's age and injury concerns.

Regardless of how things develop across the line, Cerrato expects a significant bump on offense because the coaching staff and players begin their second season in Coach Jim Zorn's modified West Coast scheme. Wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis were expected to provide a boost in Zorn's spread attack, which features many three- and four-receiver sets, but they all had disappointing rookie seasons. Cerrato expressed confidence the trio would "make a huge step from Year 1 to Year 2. They're putting in the time. I've watched them out there with [quarterback Jason Campbell]. They are ready to take the step and we need them to take the step."

The Redskins acknowledged they attempted to trade for former Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, who was traded to the Chicago Bears. They also inquired about trading up in the draft to select former Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom the New York Jets selected with the fifth overall pick. In April, Snyder, Cerrato, Zorn and Campbell had a closed-door meeting to discuss Campbell's status, and Campbell has "responded very well, I think, especially on the leadership part," Cerrato said. If so, it could be helpful for Zorn, who would appear to be on shaky ground after the struggles on offense and overall collapse in his rookie season as a head coach. Maybe it's just me, but why hire a guy like Zorn, who had never been an NFL coordinator before he briefly filled that job for the Redskins, and not give him at least three full seasons before evaluating whether he can actually do the job well? But, Cerrato said, "you kind of evaluate it as you go along. We started out great and I think a lot of things happened. . . . But not only do players have a much better feel from Year 1 to Year 2, it's easier for the coaches because Jim has been through it with all these guys for a year. They know the system now. It'll be much easier for everybody this year."

This could be an important season for Cerrato as well. The evaluation of his first draft class hinges on the development of Thomas, Kelly and Davis. He recommended Zorn to Snyder and fully supported the partial shift in offensive philosophy. This is his show.

"To me, you learn something every day," Cerrato said. "When you stop learning, you stop growing and you stop developing. When you do that, you have no chance. You learn about the people, you learn about the players, you learn about the weaknesses [and] you learn about what you need to do better. . . . If we thought everything was great, then we wouldn't have gone out and signed Albert and did those types of things. It helps when you have a clear vision of what needs to be done. We have that."

-- Jason Reid

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