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Walters: The glass is half full

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Old 08-05-2005, 08:02 PM   #1
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Walters: The glass is half full

The Glass is Half Full

Optimism is never in short supply as training camps open each summer, when even the least talented teams, such as the CFL's San Francisco 49ers, think that this upcoming season might just be magical. The names of undrafted rookies from little known schools become household names as fans and teams alike toss around countless roster combinations in hopes of putting their best 53 feet forward.

Unfortunately for Redskins Nation, the summer optimism has had a nasty habit of dissipating way too soon as the losses began to mount. So just exactly which Redskin propaganda is worthy of the investment of your hopes? Here, friends, is the list of The Lucky Seven Reasons that Redskins fans should have hope for the 2005 season.

7. Redskins' Off-Field Issues Aren't All That Bad - Obviously the Sean Taylor situation, surprisingly handled fairly well thus far by the embattled safety, had been a thorn in the side as camp has opened. The other major issue, LaVar Arrington's contract dispute, has begun to fade to black. In other camps around the league, larger issues have dominated conversation to an even higher degree.

Miami, for example, is forced to deal with repeated questions concerning the return of Ricky Williams. In Philadelphia, where sympathetic figure Terrell Owens, who must somehow find a way to scrape together a living on just a few million dollars, is a huge distraction, as are holdouts Corey Simon and Brian Westbrook.

Of course, not to be forgotten, the Prisoners in Purple from Baltimore have started their camp without running back Jamal Lewis, who presumably has had a difficult time making two-a-days given he only gets 30 minutes in the exercise yard daily. Ray Lewis will be dancing around, referring to himself in the third person, and Brian Billick's god complex will be in mid-season form, but it just won't be the same without old number 472005-MS, er, 31 in camp with them.

6. Several Starters Returning from Injury - Even though perennial Pro-Bowler LaVar Arrington is still nursing the knee injury that claimed his 2004 season, he figures to be on the field on schedule when the season opens on September 11 when the Bears come to town. Also on track to return on that same time frame is strong safety Matt Bowen, who also fell victim to a knee injury in 2004.

However, the most obvious example of this particular point is stalwart right tackle Jon Jansen, who is attempting to make a successful return from the torn Achilles tendon that prematurely ended his 2004 season before it began. Jansen, 29, is widely considered the leader of the offensive line, and is arguably the most important right tackle in football. His presence, not only on the field, but around the locker room as well, makes the offensive line better, and thus the team as well. Make no mistake, getting back a healthy Jansen is the most important "acquisition" the Redskins made this off-season.

5. Depth at Middle Linebacker - Maybe you just read this and thought that I'd lost my mind, but look a little closer and maybe you'll see it differently. As camp began, presumed front-runner Lemar Marshall was inserted as the starter in the middle, a move which had been widely suspected for most of the off-season. While Marshall is no stranger to the starting lineup, having filled in for the injured Arrington in 2004, he is a relative stranger to the middle. Having already converted from defensive back to outside linebacker upon turning pro, his knowledge of other aspects of the defensive side of the ball will provide him with a unique perspective as he directs the defense.

But even if Marshall isn't the starter, there is enough quality depth behind him to ensure that whoever emerges as the eventual winner is sure to have earned the position. The release of veterans Mike Barrow and 2005 signee Brian Allen trims the depth somewhat, but candidates such as veteran Warrick Holdman are sure to push Marshall, as will the slew of young players still on the roster.

The knock on Marshall, and Holdman for that matter, is that they are undersized for the rigors that accompany life at Mike. However, in the Gregg Williams defensive scheme, the outside linebackers are often called on to occupy the blockers while the middle linebacker makes the play. Of course, the true test of a middle linebacker is found on third down. If your starter has to be pulled because he is a liability in pass coverage, then his effectiveness is severely limited. As a former defensive back, Marshall should be able to handle the pass coverage aspect of the job even better than his predecessor, and Holdman should as well should he win the job, having switched from the outside himself.

4. Upgrades at Receiver - Promises to spread the field have been numerous this off-season, and if the pair of new starting receivers are any indication, this is going to be a promise kept. While Laveranues Coles did possess great speed, running on nine toes has a tendency to curb a man's quickness, so the addition of Santana Moss should as least balance out the loss of Coles to the Jets. On the other side, Redskins brass could have signed a blind porpoise (I think that Matt Millen actually did sign one) and found themselves significantly upgraded over 2004 starter Rod Gardner. Having a wide receiver that can't catch is like having a lifeguard that can't swim. He was as useless as a mesh umbrella, so his trade to Carolina caused Redskins fans everywhere to raise a glass filled with their favorite beverage in toast to the end of a forgettable Redskin career. All of this, coupled with a very capable David Patten, make for much more positive expectations from the second receiver in 2005.

The real key to the corps this season is the emergence of third-year wideout Taylor Jacobs. Upon his arrival to Redskin Park, Patten questioned Jacobs as to why he hadn't been starting for this football team. Meant without the slightest bit of malice, Patten's query was more a statement of promise unfulfilled than of any ill will. Perhaps the presence of a true professional like Patten is just what the doctor ordered for the oft-injured Jacobs, but even if this isn't the case, Jacobs could be the swing vote in determining the overall effectiveness of the unit as a whole.

3. Improved Special Teams - If the Redskins front office had pursued players this off-season in classified ad form, their first line would have read "Must play special teams". Every player that was drafted or signed, save perhaps Casey Rabach and Jason Campbell, was brought in to, in some degree, aid special teams. It isn't that the unit suffered mightily in 2004, at least not toward the end of the season when improvement was clear. But Coach Gibbs, who has always placed special teams play at a premium, apparently saw room for improvement and acted fast to better an often overlooked facet of the game.

Read between the lines and you'll see what this says more than anything is that the staff is pursuing all avenues for offensive improvement in 2005. After all, better special teams often means better field position. Better field position means fewer yards needed to score. Fewer yards needed means more points, and there you have it. With the likes of Antonio Brown and Santana Moss returning kicks and punts, and special teams aces Khary Campbell (here's hoping he makes the roster) and Pierson Prioleau rocketing down the field, field positioning may work in the Redskins favor significantly more often than in the past.

2. Offensive Line Stability - Football games are won and lost in the trenches, so the addition of Casey Rabach (who, unlike other Ravens players, could leave the team without violating his parole), along with the healthy return of Jon Jansen, should put Washington in a better position to win each Sunday. In 2004, the timeless Ray Brown found himself forced into duty at a position unfamiliar to him, so his return to a more natural guard position as a backup solidifies the interior of the line.

As with the receivers where reserve wideout Taylor Jacobs may well make or break the unit, the ultimate success of the offensive line will be determined by its weakest link. If Derrick Dockery plays to his capability consistently, the line will be tremendous. If not, well, then four out of five isn't all that bad. Especially when we've had fewer than that in the not-too-distant past.

1. Patrick Ramsey's Newfound Confidence - The 2005 Redskins will live or die on the success or failure of Ramsey, who in his fourth year, is due for a breakout season. Playing behind easily the best line he has had in his Redskins tenure, all of the excuses (not that he ever gave any) have disappeared. With his possible future (Jason Campbell) and current (Old Lady Brunell) replacements looking over his shoulder, Ramsey knows it's now or never for him. The confidence that he has shown throughout the summer, both in the huddle and around Redskins Park, shows that he is ready for the success that many in Redskins Nation know he is capable of providing.

There are certainly more reasons to be optimistic, but most fit under one of the broad categories just mentioned. Trying to filter out the natural excitement that this time of the year provides is challenging, and the skepticism that comes from the scars of past seasons barely registers a blip on the radar screen. One could easily cast a shadow of doubt over even the brightest spot on the Redskins horizon, but now isn't the time for that. Maybe this season that time won't come at all.

As the season approaches, keep checking back in for your weekly Redskins Football Fix. Hail to the Redskins!!!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at skins.fan@comcast.net
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