The Washington Redskins have entered training camp with excitement before, but never quite like this.

Redskins training camp officially kicked off last Friday, and new head coach Mike Shanahan is expected to implement some of the same offensive principles that helped make him a two-time Super Bowl winner as the coach of the Denver Broncos.

The Easter Day addition of franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb immediately put Washington back on the map as a team to be recognized. April’s NFL Draft brought in Trent Williams, a young and agile offensive tackle, to man one of the end spots. And a June trade acquired former Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown to complete the overhaul of a unit that struggled mightily in its last campaign.

Additionally, running back Clinton Portis is reportedly in terrific shape, down to 217 pounds from his normal playing weight of 230. After a concussion ended Portis’ season short last year, the 29-year-old is ready to return to prominence.

The prospect of grouping the aforementioned with a defense that finished 10th overall last season has several football fans around the District on high alert. But gridiron groupies may have to temper their enthusiasm. Despite a series of offseason acquisitions, much of the Redskins’ summer was overshadowed by the actions of disgruntled defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Albert originally balked at the club’s switch to a 3-4 alignment after signing a $100-million contract in 2009 under the premise that the team would stick with a 4-3 format—which Haynesworth played under in each of his eight seasons in the NFL. Haynesworth then became the talk of the locker room after accepting a $21-million roster bonus in April, then proceeding to miss all of the club’s offseason workouts and minicamps. The 29-year-old lineman has recently said he’s fine with the club’s switch and reported to the team the day before training camp last week but failed back-to-back conditioning tests before being set back by a swollen knee.

Aside from Haynesworth, the club has bigger problems, including an always-competitive NFC East division and a table of remaining questions.

Due to the flood of upgraded talent, the offensive line needs to gel quickly in camp and in the preseason. The unit could potentially break in four new starters, so quickly established continuity is a must. A second receiver option must emerge between third-year veterans Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, who both failed to impress in the offseason according to early summer reports. And although the defense performed admirably at times last season, adjusting to a new scheme could pose as a challenge as well.

How Shanahan fares in his first season as head coach could also be time consuming. Washington underachieved notoriously last season and was booed off its home field habitually by irritated fans. Mixing the hard-nosed coach with a group of underachievers could be problematic if the team gets out to a slow start. The talent is definitely there in Washington, however. The team is littered with numerous high-profile players, but it will be interesting to see how the club handles breaking in a new coach, a new quarterback, and new offensive and defensive schemes, along with heightened expectations.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO