Looking down to look up
In addition to the usual happy talk about working hard, staying positive and focusing on the team, just four days into the Redskins 2007 training camp and I can feel the sense that 2007 might not just be about doing better than 2006, but about vindicating a team after a 5-11 2006 season that came on the heels of a 10-6 with five wins in a row to closeout the season one playoff win and one close loss from the NFC Championship 2005 season; a 2006 season in which everything not named Ladell Betts or 'offensive line' was exposed as inadequate or underperforming.
Can these guys change? Because in order to do better than 2006, this team will have to. With few major changes to the roster, it will be the same guys coming back and trying to do better. Whether it's the coaching, the conditioning, the playcalling, whatever, the final outcome has to be a better team, which will of necessity be a change from 2006.
As quick as I was to dismiss talk such as Mark Brunell's declaration of Super Bowl or Bust last season, I am also leery of 'don't worry, we'll do better' this season. Some examples:
After coming in during the 2006 offseason and hearing Joe Gibbs declare that every decision is Al's to make, the 700-page playbook became a punchline instead of a symbol of success. Now 18 months after Al joined the team we can talk openly about how the players were not ready for the playbook, how Al & Clinton Portis never got close and how despite proclamations, Joe was holding Al back either implicitly or explicitly. Now, Al is sure things will get better, well, because, well, it's a year later. Never mind that the Redskins gravitate toward Joe Gibbs' power running game and away from Al's Buttery Spreadable Coryell style. You can't change the Redskins, they change you and I don't know if Al's ready for that.
After signing the standard six year 30 million dollar free agent contract before the 2006 season, Brandon was a disaster. No production, a big mouth and a bigger attitude and enters 2007 as the third receiver on the depth chart. Now he's bigger and is committed to catching, running and blocking. A tip that nothing's really different from last season: even after two helmet-throwing episodes on the sidelines, a demotion on the depth chart and going inactive at the end, even after a face to face with Joe Gibbs in the offseason, he still has 'no idea' how things could have gone so wrong for him in 2006. Hint: it's him. I look for Brandon to have another year of not really being open.
After dislocating his shoulder in the first preseason game chasing after a Mark Brunell interception, then blasting his coach for having the audacity to play him in a preseason game*, Clinton spent 2006 off and on, mostly off. Coming into 2007, Clinton says he's settled his differences with Al Saunders, has recovered from his injuries and is ready to be the point through which the whole offense goes. But the same piece still has him bitching about camp and preseason games and how they are not for elite players and his reaction to saying something really stupid about dogfighting was not to feel bad about saying it but to feel bad the public reaction was bad and claim his comments were not relevant to the topic. Mr. Media Whore can dish it out but can't take it and so he takes his ball and goes home. Anyone want to make a bet that if the Redskins are 4-0 and chugging along that he breaks his self-imposed media silence with all-new characters?
Curly R aside: Lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery thinks running backs are fungible. Not that a good one is not good to have, but rather that it is easier to acquire a solid feature back than it is to acquire solid starters at some of the other positions. Cornerback is one of those, which is why Wilbert Montgomery thinks the Broncos got the better of the Redskins when they shipped Clinton here for Champ Bailey and then turned out three straight, different 1000-yard runners in Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell.
Finally, the coach. In 2004 the Redskins were a disappointing 6-10 while they got into gear. Joe was wary of his team and played 'max protect' all year, keeping extra receivers and the H-back to block, not realizing that Patrick Ramsey didn't have the tools to take advantage of this philosophy. 2005 was what Redskins Nation wanted and even Joe admits he got cocky before the 2006 season, which was his worst season ever as an NFL head coach. He says he feels the pressure to win, but I wonder if he's feeling the pressure from the outside now. The thing that made Joe Gibbs great the first time around was his drive to win. You came along or got left behind, the pressure came from the inside. Now, he's ceded so much of the team to assistants, I wonder if his desire to win is any longer matched by his willingness or ability to make it happen. It's not the will alone that makes a winner, but the will, a lot of yelling and a vision. At least one, maybe two of these things appear gone.
Let's see if this team takes responsibility for itself or if it finds scapegoats.
* Clinton should have been mad at Mark Brunell for throwing that INT, or at himself for going so hard after the turnover tackle in a preseason game.
Joe Gibbs from here.