Ready to face youthful Philadelphia Eagles, aging Washington Redskins are built to win - now

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 12:05 AM

In their first meeting since Donovan McNabb was traded from Philadelphia to Washington, the Eagles will host the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

To be sure, the spotlight will shine brightest on McNabb - among the league's most successful quarterbacks during his first 11 seasons with Philadelphia - after the surprising Easter trade between NFC East rivals.

Something else, however, will be on display as well: Age vs. youth. For the second straight season, the Redskins have the NFL's oldest roster with an average age of 27.75 years. Washington (1-2) also has the oldest starting lineups and the most starters who are 30 or older (there are 10 of them).

Conversely, the division-leading Eagles (2-1) had the league's fifth-youngest opening day lineup and only three starters 30 or older.

"You need guys with experience to win in this league and show the young guys the right way to play," Redskins backup defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, 37, said recently. "There's a lot of things veterans bring [that] young guys [are] still learning. Coaches need to know they can trust in guys and have confidence in 'em, and that just comes with time. You also need young guys coming behind 'em for a good mix."

Long on experience, the Redskins lack the latter component of roster balance. Many poor drafts - including the most recent - have failed to provide the consistent infusion of youth and talent needed in a league where 30 is considered old.

The new regime, under the direction of Coach Mike Shanahan, inherited a team with glaring roster deficiencies and acquired more proven veterans in a short-term effort to address them. But as Washington struggled in consecutive losses to the younger Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams, it seems multiple drafts could be needed for the team to begin a long, successful run under Shanahan. And considering Shanahan's poor player-personnel record late in his tenure with the Denver Broncos, nothing is assured.

With few young players in prominent positions, the Redskins are built to win now, and that's what they still hope to do despite their disappointing start.

"Nobody around here tryin' to rebuild or even thinking about anything like that," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, 26. "I look at the talent we have and the coaches we have . . . we got what we need to do it right now. Maybe we don't have as many young guys [in major roles] as some teams, but we definitely got some."

On defense, second-year outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, 24, is considered a rising star after producing 11 sacks as a rookie. In his fourth season, strong safety LaRon Landry, 25, is off to his best start. Big things are expected of third-year free safety Kareem Moore, 26, who had an interception in his first game of the season against the Rams after recovering from knee surgery in the preseason.

Rookie left tackle Trent Williams, 22, possesses the physical tools to become a perennial Pro Bowler and longtime anchor for the offensive line. Pass-catching tight end Fred Davis, 24, is still a backup in his third season, but he has a role in the passing game.

With the Redskins, though, those players are the exception.

On opening day, Washington had the league's oldest combined lineups, averaging 29.40 years. The Eagles were at 26.18. The Redskins had the league's oldest starting offense at 30.81. Of the league's 31 other teams, none had a first-team offense in the 30s.

In the season opener against Dallas, the Redskins' defense averaged 28 years, which put the group behind several older defenses. In terms of performance, however, the Redskins have, at least statistically, the NFL's worst defense.

Washington faded late in its consecutive losses to Houston and St. Louis. The team squandered a 17-point, third-quarter lead against the Texans and was outscored, 16-0, to close the game against the Rams. At 26.01, Houston has the league's second-youngest starting lineups. The Rams are eighth at 26.41.

"It doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are - you still have to execute," said outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, 27. "I wouldn't say a lot of anything that's happened to us, in terms of late in games, is because we were [too old] or anything like that. We all worked hard [in the offseason] to be in the best shape we could to finish games. We just haven't done the things we needed to."

Management did little in the offseason to upgrade the roster of an old team that went 4-12 last season and 12-20 the past two seasons.

Running backs Larry Johnson, 30, and Willie Parker, 29, and offensive lineman Artis Hicks, 31, were Washington's top free-agent acquisitions. Washington traded for offensive lineman Jammal Brown, 29, and defensive lineman Adam Carriker, 26. Parker failed to make the roster out of training camp and Johnson was released after only two games and five rushes. Hicks has started every game at right guard and Brown is the team's top right tackle. Carriker, considered a first-round bust in St. Louis, has been solid at left end.

In fairness to Shanahan, many players who would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency in previous seasons were not this year, because of terms in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement that removed the salary cap this year. Shanahan does bear responsibility for his first draft class, however, which produced only two players currently on the 53-man roster: Williams, who was selected fourth overall, and linebacker Perry Riley, a fourth-round pick.

The upcoming free agent class is considered the strongest since the process began, so the Redskins could quickly increase their talent level for the 2011 season, if there is a 2011 season. The process would be further accelerated if the next few draft classes yield several starters and primary backups.

"The NFL stands for not for long," Alexander said, "so you know teams are always looking for those younger guys."

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