The Washington Redskins attacked the 2012 offseason with the goal of acquiring talent on offense to put around the quarterback they would draft in April, Robert Griffin III. In free agency, the Redskins signed wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, envisioning them as a potentially explosive tandem.
Washington also retained the services of tight end Fred Davis by using the franchise tag on him.
The Redskins drafted guard Josh LeRibeus in the third round, guard Adam Gettis in the fifth, and in the sixth round took running back Alfred Morris and tackle Tom Compton.
The Redskins hope the moves, plus maturation from left tackle Trent Williams, second-year wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and running backs Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr., help Griffin make a smooth transition to the NFL.
This preseason, Garcon, Morgan, and Hankerson have all made plays, as has holdover Santana Moss, who now comes off the bench as the slot receiver. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Morris provided the most effective rushing performance of the preseason (107 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries) in a balanced 30-17 win.
“When we have games like that where we don’t have any sacks, and we don’t have any turnovers, and we’re able to run the football for 51 / 2, 6 six yards a carry, good things happen,” Shanahan said. “That’s why you’re good in the red zone, that’s why you’re good on third downs.”
But Moss cautions that the Redskins won’t really know how much progress they have made until they reach the regular season.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of good talent, and a lot of guys that did a lot of great things other places. But really, we can’t judge what we are until we put in the work,” Moss said. “I see it, and we have a feel for it, and we’re putting things together that will enable us to say that we’re better overall than last year.”
Moss’s guarded view stems partially from history. The Redskins have repeatedly won the offseason, but have finished at the bottom of the NFC East for four straight seasons. He also knows significant questions remain at several key positions.
The team didn’t play a single preseason game with its projected starting offensive line in place. Right tackle Jammal Brown has yet to get on the field after having another surgery on his problematic right hip. In his place is Tyler Polumbus, who started four games at right tackle last season.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments five games into the 2011 season, had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee just two days into training camp and won’t return until the Sept. 9 opener. And right guard Chris Chester missed two preseason games with a sprained ankle.
But Shanahan believes that the Redskins are better equipped to handle setbacks this year.
“We have more depth,” Shanahan said. “When you have more depth, you have a guy like Tyler Polumbus, who was on our team, obviously, for a very short time last year. He’s come in, and he’s done a good job . . . And you have a guy like LeRibeus, one of our draft choices, and Gettis. They both come in. . . . We’re much better off than we’ve been, but hopefully we’ll stay healthy and get a couple of guys back.”
Morris shined, but with Helu sidelined by two bad Achilles’ tendons, and Royster by a mild knee strain, the Redskins headed toward the season opener with the winner of their starting running back competition still in doubt. The team released Tim Hightower, who began last season as the featured ballcarrier.
But the uncertainty runs deeper than the injury report.
Davis boasts big-play ability, and Williams has shown flashes of Pro Bowl talent over the past two seasons. But both were suspended for the final four games of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. With one more failed drug test, each would be suspended for a full season.
Despite the potential they boast, Garcon has never led a team in receiving, and Morgan’s past is littered with injuries. Hankerson played in only four games during an injury-shortened rookie season.
However, Moss believes the Redskins can achieve their goal of giving Griffin a supporting cast that is good enough to position the team for success, if each player takes ownership in the turnaround rather than waiting for the rookie to lead the way.
“If everybody handles their job, it makes the guy next to you’s job easy. That’s all the guys on the field: offense, defense, special teams,” Moss said. “If all of everybody handles his, then the quarterback doesn’t have to do anything but handle his. He and the center get to touch the ball first, but when he has the ball in his hands, he has no more pressure than anybody else. He has to make sure he makes the right reads and get the guys the ball. But we have to make the plays, the line has to give him the time, and the rest is history.”