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Nations: More substance, less sizzle for Skins?

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Jeff Nations (Buy photo)


It's been a strange summer for Washington Redskins fans.

By now, Skins fans should have had at least one good camp-related controversy to fret upon (the nickname issue doesn't count as a football-generated distraction).

Where are the big-name free agent signings? How about the coach-mandated "fitness tests" for aforementioned free-agent busts? No slew of questionable former University of Florida signal-callers to anoint the next starter?

No controversy, no buzz, nothing for Redskins fans to gnash their teeth about coming out of Richmond. It's been positively serene, as camps go, under new head coach Jay Gruden.

It's a change -- welcome, no doubt, considering the franchise's recent history of offseason sizzle to on-field fizzle under the long list of head coaches employed by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Calm, reasonable expectations, cautious hope even, these are the vibes emanating from Redskins camp these days under Gruden's watch. The Redskins broke camp on Tuesday, wrapping what had to be the most quiet and controversy-free workouts in recent memory.

And there is much to be excited about this season, starting with the new coach in charge. Gruden brings an eclectic resume of experience as an Arena Football League star quarterback and later head coach, with the promise of perhaps implementing some of that gun slinging style of play into an offense that had been mundane to watch under the Shanahans -- head coach Mike and his offensive coordinator/son Kyle -- last year following quarterback Robert Griffin III's sensational rookie season.

Much of that cautious approach had to do with RG3's balky knee, of course, and the former Heisman Trophy winner is fully back to health now. Griffin has much to prove this season, of course, namely that that stellar rookie season was for real and he's the quarterback to lead the team going forward. The usual D.C. quarterback controversy is tepid by Beltway standards. Backup Kirk Cousins did little to inspire confidence during an extended tryout period last season when RG3 was shelved late in the year.

The expectations for Griffin have probably lessened this season based on his struggles last year, and learning to seamlessly run a new offense will unquestionably take some time. Gruden has stated that the read-option plays that RG3 terrorized the league with two years ago will now be reduced to a mere "sprinkle," a notion Griffin vocally favors as he is intent on proving his ability as a passing quarterback this season.

There are weapons to help RG3's bounce-back season, to be sure. Running back Alfred Morris is a true workhorse along the lines of a Stephen Davis, and wide receiver Pierre Garcon returns with his knack for exploiting those seams underneath for solid and reliable yardage. The Redskins couldn't go without at least one splashy move, of course, and this season's big addition could be the missing element to the offense. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who tormented the Redskins and the rest of the NFC East for years as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, brings his playmaking ability and deep-threat presence to a unit that hasn't had that in several seasons.

The offensive line is solid if unspectacular, still an improvement over recent groups which should have necessitated hazard pay for Washington's quarterbacks.

Gruden made a bold decision by retaining much-maligned defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, whose 3-4 defensive scheme has never worked all that well in Washington. Haslett has enjoyed plenty of success in more than three decades of coaching defenses, and last year's issues had much more to do with an atrocious special teams unit and a severe lack of depth than poor coaching. Gruden had previously worked with Haslett in Tampa Bay, and obviously felt comfortable enough to entrust the defense to him.

Still, that's a risk -- Haslett's defense tied for 30th in the NFL last year in points given up. Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are legitimate pass-rushing menaces, but beyond Barry Cofield clogging up the middle the defensive line wasn't much to be reckoned with last year, and the secondary aside from cornerback DeAngelo Hall was downright terrible. The Redskins made moves to patch some holes in both spots, but are still relying on better health and improved play to make the biggest difference.

These are normal concerns, though, just regular football stuff. It's a change from past preseasons, that's for sure. Who knows? The silence now could be just the thing to bring back the excitement to FedEx Field this coming season. It's worth a shot.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com



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