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Washington Redskins offseason: Upgrading the offense after likely departure of Donovan McNabb

The Washington Post's Rick Maese, LaVar Arrington and Dan Steinberg assess the Redskins' offense and look ahead to an offseason of change with host Jonathan Forsythe.

McNabb's late-season replacement has repeatedly expressed a similar enthusiasm for the way the Shanahans operate. Grossman had eight turnovers in four games and averaged 280 yards in his three-game audition with a season-long passer rating of 81.2. McNabb's final passer rating was 77.1.

"Kyle Shanahan can definitely create a game plan to attack what defenses do and it's very exciting to run. . . I think this team has a great nucleus and great coaches," said Grossman, the only Washington quarterback who doesn't have a contract for 2011. "I think the Redskins are definitely going to be good the next couple of years. Those are the things that I want to be a part of."

Shanahan said he intends to fully evaluate McNabb and Grossman before making a final decision. Because the Redskins hold the No. 10 pick, they'll also carefully study this year's draft prospects - from Stanford's Andrew Luck to Auburn's Cam Newton - before prioritizing their offseason to-do list.

More work to be done

Meanwhile, there's work to be done elsewhere. While left tackle Trent Williams is the only offensive player who has a guaranteed contract for 2011 (McNabb's money is only guaranteed in case of injury), during the course of their six-win season, the Redskins discovered some players buried on the depth chart who might be able to contribute long-term.

At running back, Clinton Portis's time in Washington appears to be over unless he's willing to drastically restructure his contract.

Coming off two straight seasons that ended on injured reserve, Portis would be due $8.254 million next season. Ryan Torain, 24, is under contract for 2011 and would cost the Redskins only $480,000.

Money aside, Torain has shown the ability to be an effective running back if he can stay healthy. After battling injuries his first two seasons in the league, Torain missed four games in 2010 because of hamstring problems. But when he played, he showed promise, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which ranked 10th among NFL running backs with at least 150 carries.

"I think he helped himself the last few weeks, taking so many shots and staying healthy," Shanahan said. ". . . Is he going to come in as the No. 1 back? No, I can't say that. Will he have a chance to compete to be the No. 1 back? Probably."

Still, the rushing attack left a lot to be desired. Coaches preached the team's commitment to the run but the offensive game plan didn't always reflect it. The Redskins finished the season ranked No. 30 in rushing yards per game at 91.3 - 22 yards fewer than their 2009 average. Their rushing first downs were second fewest in the league.

The team's passing game showed more sparks, if not more consistency.

Another young player who unseated a veteran, Anthony Armstrong is the lone wide receiver under contract for 2011 and is set to earn $405,000. Moss posted a career-high 93 catches and his fourth career 1,000-yard season. He'll likely be a free agent but says he'd like to continue playing in Shanahan's offense.

"Some guys go other places. Some guys feel like changing helps," Moss said. "I'm one of those guys, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Progress along the line

The team's offensive line featured more change than than any other part of the roster, and Williams faced a lot of scrutiny his rookie season. Coaches gave him passing grades, but they're hoping for much more in the future.

He relied too much on raw talent in his first year in the league, they say. They want to see him spend more time studying his opponents, putting in work away from the field and doing the little things that will make him a better pro.

"The thing I think Trent's learned is you've got to play every down in the NFL," Kyle Shanahan said. "You can dominate a guy and if you just ease up one play, ease up two plays, then they got two sacks - and it might be a sack, fumble. I think Trent's really learned the key to the NFL is being consistent."

While the offensive line allowed 46 sacks in 2010 - the same number as last season - coaches did note significant progress. The Redskins tinkered with different lineup combinations, but they liked the group that ended the season which, they believe, adjusted better to their zone-blocking scheme.

"I think they've gotten better each week," Kyle Shanahan said. "You always have some setbacks. We do a little different protections than they have done in the past. We are more zone protections than man protections. I think it took guys a while to get the hang of it."

The bigger question is: Which of the lineman will return? Center Casey Rabach, 33, is due $3 million next season, a base salary that is on the high end for his position. The Redskins could try to move guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who is set to earn just $555,000 in 2011, to center or seek another option in free agency.

"There's always the thought in the back of your mind of: Did you do enough this season to hold your roster spot?" Rabach said. "You can't really worry about it too much. All I know is I played as hard I could each and every play I was out there. Hopefully that's good enough for the coaching staff."

At right tackle, the team also could be facing a question mark. Two-time Pro Bowler Jammal Brown will likely be a free agent, and if there's a starting left tackle job in the NFL, he might prefer that to a second season at right tackle in Washington.

Coaches like their depth at both tight end - where Chris Cooley posted some of the best numbers of his career - and at fullback, and many of the same faces could return in 2011.

Overall, the offense was ranked No. 18 in the league, averaging 335.9 yards per game, an improvement of more than 20 yards an outing from Jim Zorn's 2009 offense. The offense scored 36 more points than it did the previous year, but the Redskins ranked 31st in the NFL in third-down efficiency (29.3 percent).

Coaches and players say they've laid a foundation. Now, the Redskins will look to add a few parts and hope to simply pick up where they've left off.

"It's so much easier for everybody, not just the players, but also the coaches," Kyle Shanahan said of Year 2 in this offense. ". . . No matter how much we meet and talk, you don't really know it inside and out together and what each guy is expecting until you go through the experiences in games. Then you can build off of that."

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