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Time out is just in time for Redskins
Bye week arrives amid injuries, including Cooley's, and much frustration

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

With the Washington Redskins headed into a bye week with a disappointing 2-5 record, the team's executive vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato, said Tuesday he felt like he assembled a roster capable of making the playoffs but added that he feels as if his job is on the line. Coach Jim Zorn characterized the overall mood on the team as "super-frustrating" and said he could never have predicted some of the events that have marred the first seven weeks "on the field and off the field."

Now, the Redskins and their fans must prepare for at least the next month without Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley, who will have surgery on a broken bone in his right leg Wednesday. Though the procedure may prevent Cooley from missing the rest of the season -- something Zorn and team officials felt was probable earlier Tuesday -- the injury was just the latest blow to a team that, following Monday night's 27-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, was already reeling.

"Frustrating and disappointing with 2-5," Cerrato told reporters at Redskins Park. "It's not where we expected to be. I know [owner Daniel Snyder] is disappointed for the fans. Everyone's disappointed for the fans. We need to regroup during this bye, and come out in the last nine games and improve."

That charge became more difficult given Cooley's injury, a chip off the bottom of his right tibia that Zorn said early Tuesday afternoon would cost him six to eight weeks. Zorn said, given that, he would likely place the tight end on injured reserve, ending his season.

But by evening, Cooley had received word that the injury might not be as bad as originally thought, according to a team source. He used his Twitter account to say: "3 pins go in the ankle tomorrow. Hopefully be back in 4 weeks. Thanks for all the support."

Even with the potentially improved prognosis, Cooley's injury is coupled with season-ending ailments to Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and starting right guard Randy Thomas. That series of events puts an unproductive offense -- one that is tied for 28th in the league with 13.7 points per game and hasn't yet surpassed 17 points in a single outing -- in an even more precarious position. The offensive line is fragile, and quarterback Jason Campbell's favorite target -- Cooley leads the team with 29 catches -- will be out at least a month. "The bottom line is to win," Zorn said. "And nobody really cares that guys get injured. They feel bad, but the team moves on."

How that will happen is unclear. Washington doesn't play again until Nov. 8 at Atlanta, and Zorn gave the players off until next Monday. But the poor results so far will follow the players and coaches.

The first seven weeks of the season included losses to two teams -- Detroit and Kansas City -- that have beaten no one else. They included wins over two teams -- St. Louis and Tampa Bay -- that are a combined 0-14, and those victories were by a combined five points.

They included the hiring of veteran assistant coach Sherman Lewis, first as an offensive consultant, then as the play-caller, a role in which he replaced Zorn Monday night. And they now include major injuries to two of the team's four offensive Pro Bowlers, Cooley and Samuels. The other two -- running back Clinton Portis and fullback Mike Sellers -- got in a locker room argument in the week leading up to a loss to Carolina over Portis's dissatisfaction with Sellers's blocking.

The offensive line is in disarray. Campbell has been sacked 20 times, third most in the league. Portis, who last year at this time was leading the league in rushing, has one 100-yard game.

"The only mainstay from our opening day roster that's on that line is [center] Casey Rabach and [left guard] Derrick Dockery," Portis said. "That's it. Everybody else has been shuffled, moved, changed, or injured. . . .

"That's just the position we [are] in. We got to address and get some depth. We went into the season, and we didn't address that issue, and it came back to haunt us."

Cerrato, though, said he was satisfied with the offensive linemen -- and the roster as a whole -- when the season began. Though both Samuels and Thomas were coming off surgeries -- and Cerrato admitted, "with Randy, we anticipated not going 16 games:" -- the team went largely with unproven or little-used backups. The Redskins signed veteran Mike Williams, who hadn't played in a regular season game since 2005, to provide some depth, but cut guard-tackle Jeremy Bridges after training camp. Current starters Stephon Heyer, Will Montgomery and Williams have combined for 26 starts since 2006.

"We tried to address the line," Cerrato said. "We added Dockery. We added Mike Williams. And we attempted to [add via free agency]. . . . If it was Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas in there, would it be better? Absolutely. If you lose a Pro Bowler, it's definitely going to drop off. I guess, where we're standing right now, to have more depth would be great."

Though Levi Jones, signed last week after being cut by Cincinnati in the offseason, could see playing time in coming weeks, quality depth won't arrive during the season. So the players are trying to figure out ways to deal with the disasters, even with more than half the season still to play. The common theme: No one in the locker room, on the coaching staff or in the front office expected these results.

"Never," special teams captain Rock Cartwright said. "Never, never, never, never."

"When you look at the opponents that we've played -- not taking away anything from anybody -- but to say that I would have envisioned us being 2-5 at this point in the season, no," defensive captain London Fletcher said. "I think, maybe 5-2, yeah; 6-1, yeah. So it's a situation that's very disappointing. . . .

"It's been tough for us," Fletcher said in the locker room after the game. "This is the roughest seven games I've ever experienced in my career. You go home at night and you think about it. You wake up the next day and you think about it: What can you do to help the team win?"

Though Cerrato said he believes he provided Zorn with a playoff-worthy roster -- he simply answered "yes" when asked if that was the case -- he also said he understood the scrutiny. Cerrato was heavily involved in the decision, in February 2008, to hire Zorn as the head coach, and he led the staff that assembled the rosters for 2008 and 2009.

"I feel like my job's on the line all the time," Cerrato said. "So it's not something that I really worry about. My job is to get us going, and to fill these holes when guys get hurt. Things take care of themselves after the season. I don't worry about those things."

The worries, for now, are contained to this season and the nine games remaining. "We need a break," Zorn said.

But after this week, there are no more of those."It could be splintered very easily," Zorn said. "There's high expectations for this group. We came into the beginning of this football season with high expectations, and we have not carried those through."

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