With playoffs slipping from reach, Redskins must use final games to evaluate young talent
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:15 AM
Although it appears the Washington Redskins were all but eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Coach Mike Shanahan's season-long evaluation of the roster will continue during the final five games.
Owner Daniel Snyder hired Shanahan, the team's top football official, to make the Redskins relevant again, and Shanahan will determine which players return next season. The Redskins hope to finish strong, but they also must look toward the future as another disappointing season winds down.
For the players, motivation should not be a problem.
"They check out [mentally], they won't be here," cornerback and defensive co-captain DeAngelo Hall said. "That's kinda where we're at."
The Redskins rank last in the NFL in total defense, giving up an average of 400.9 yards. They are 21st in offense (332.7 yards per game), 26th in rushing (a 90.7-yard average) and 10th in passing (242). They are last in third-down efficiency, converting only 27.5 percent of their attempts.
Washington currently holds seven picks in the 2011 draft. The Redskins have selections in the first, second and fifth rounds, and two each in the sixth and seventh rounds. They have no third- or fourth-round picks.
Of the 53 players on the 2010 opening-day roster, 30 were not on the team last season and Shanahan's roster makeover has only begun. The NFL's 2011 free agent class is considered the best ever, so many jobs could be on the line down the stretch.
"As I told our football team," Shanahan said the other day, "what we have to do is play much better."
Out of necessity, several first- and second-year players have been given opportunities to contribute, primarily on special teams, for the Redskins (5-6). A spate of recent injuries to key veterans and three losses in their past four games have delivered a significant blow to the Redskins' playoff chances, but opened doors for young players who could, eventually, help provide the foundation for consistent success during the Shanahan era.
Rookie left tackle Trent Williams has impressed coaches despite struggling at times while slowed by injuries. Of course, Williams, the fourth overall pick in the draft, was expected to make an immediate impact.
Dynamic return specialist Brandon Banks and running back Keiland Williams, undrafted free agents, also have stood out among the rookies. Linebacker Perry Riley, who had a costly penalty in the 17-13 loss to Minnesota, and wideout-returner Terrence Austin are other rookies who have received favorable grades from coaches.
Running back Ryan Torain has missed three consecutive games because of a lingering hamstring injury, but he heads the list of productive second-year players. Cornerback Kevin Barnes has been more involved on defense the past two weeks, and fullback Darrel Young, who signed with the Redskins as a linebacker after he went undrafted in 2009, has been a surprise on offense.