Redskins look to improve from within

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; D01

Former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan arrived in town Monday and could soon be introduced as the Washington Redskins' next head coach. If Shanahan does join the team, he figures to be busy while helping to reshape a roster that has produced consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC East.

The Redskins have major offseason concerns along the offensive line, at running back, quarterback and cornerback, and General Manager Bruce Allen said Monday the team is determined to improve under its new leadership.

"The best way to improve a team is by addition, rather than subtraction," Allen said. "We're going to add to the talent wherever we can, whether it's through free agency, trades or the draft to supplement the talent here. With the direction of our new coaches, we'll see where it takes us, but any way that we can improve this team -- there is a commitment from this organization and our ownership -- let's find it, and let's improve it."

Allen and Washington's next head coach could bolster the roster in many areas, but the offensive line has been among the worst-performing in the NFL since the middle of the 2008 season.

"I definitely think they're going to focus on getting the O-line tight, you know, any way possible," said second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas, who late in the season emerged as key member of the passing game. "Doing it in the draft is better [than through free agency] because you get the young guys in there. You stabilize the line because they can be there for a while. I think that's the smart thing to do."

The Redskins will have the fourth overall pick in the April draft. They also have selections in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds. In order to select defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft last July, the Redskins surrendered their third-round pick. Their sixth-round pick went to the Miami Dolphins in a trade for defensive end Jason Taylor prior to the 2008 season.

This year, Washington used 11 offensive linemen. The group's ineffectiveness in pass blocking often derailed the offense, prompting coaches to scale down game plans, including all but eliminating most long-developing patterns and seven-step drops for quarterback Jason Campbell.

"We really had to do a lot of short routes," second-year tight end Fred Davis said. "We don't get to go deep really because its hard for us to go deep. You need to have big plays."

Despite the line's problems, Campbell had his best season and improved statistically across the board for the fifth consecutive year. "Well, he's got a lot of starts," Allen said. "He's at [52] starts now in the NFL. He has seen a lot of different looks and I don't think he's played his best football yet. That's in front of him."

Though Redskins officials began scouting college quarterbacks long before Jim Zorn was fired as the team's coach on Monday, many officials in the NFL expect Shanahan, if he becomes Redskins coach, to draft a young quarterback that he can mold, similar to what he did in Denver with Jay Cutler. "I don't know what's going to happen or what it would be like to work with" Shanahan, Campbell said Monday.

Campbell, a first-round draft pick in 2005 who just completed his fifth year in the league, set career highs in almost all key categories: completions (327), completion percentage (64.5), yards (3,618), touchdowns (20) and passer rating (86.4). Most of those numbers put him in the middle of the pack among NFL starters. Campbell also threw more interceptions (15) and took more sacks (43) than in any season of his career.

Complicating matters for Campbell is his contract status. If next season is played without a salary cap, Campbell would become a restricted free agent because he has fewer than six years of service. That means the Redskins could match any other team's offer. Campbell has been asked at least four times in recent days whether he'd like to return to Washington, where he just endured what he called his most painful and physically demanding season, and he has offered only evasive answers.

"A lot of what's going to happen is out of my control," Campbell said on Monday. "It's not like I can just leave. You have to see what direction the organization is going to go in and what they think about you. I know I can play the quarterback position in this league and that's what some of the top people in this league tell me. Now, I just have to wait."

Running back Clinton Portis is another major question mark. Portis, who was drafted by Shanahan's Broncos in the second round in 2002, played in just eight games this season before suffering a concussion Nov. 8 at Atlanta. Portis finished with career lows in carries (124), yards (494) and touchdowns (one), and Shanahan also engineered the trade with the Redskins that moved Portis out of Denver in exchange for cornerback Champ Bailey.

Portis has a base salary of about $7.2 million in 2010, $6.4 million of which is guaranteed. He has roster and workout bonuses of a little more than $500,000.

Two weeks ago, Portis said during his final appearance of the season on ESPN 980's "The John Thompson Show" that he would have no problems playing for Shanahan. Whether Shanahan would want him as the featured back at age 29, coming off a season in which he was injured remains to be seen. Shanahan is known for being able to fit a variety of runners into his scheme.

Since the Redskins chose Ladell Betts in the second round of the 2002 draft, every team has selected at least two running backs. The Redskins have not drafted a single running back -- excluding fullbacks -- in that time.

Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, who resigned last month as the team's top football official, often spent freely in free agency in their attempts to bolster the roster -- including last offseason, when they made long-term commitments to bring in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and to retain cornerback DeAngelo Hall. But under the rules for an uncapped season in 2010, which would occur unless the league and players association reach a new collective bargaining agreement, most of the NFL's top talent would not be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

"Free agency will be a different crop than everybody's used to because of the limitations with the uncapped year," Allen said. "That's why I'm saying that we need to find the passionate coach, a winning coach, that can come in and lead the men that were in this room earlier, because maybe some of our greatest improvements are our players that are already on the roster playing better."

Staff writers Rick Maese and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

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