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2008 Redskins: Stuck in the muddled middle

2008 Redskins: Stuck in the muddled middle

A lot of things about the Washington Redskins will be different in 2008. There is the new head coach in Jim Zorn and a new offensive coordinator in Sherman Smith bringing in a new offense. The West Coast scheme has a new approach, increasing the emphasis on passing and utilizing less of the power running game that Joe Gibbs preferred.

There is a new defensive coordinator in Greg Blache. By and large he will take the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, keeping the same basic scheme that Gregg Williams used to bring three top-10 performances in the last four years. But Blache is certain to put his own stamp on the defense and there will be differences, most of which will be unveiled starting Thursday night in the Meadowlands.

There are a lot of new players, 15 of them to be exact. Ten of them were drafted as 100% of the team's draft class made the final cut.

But for all the change, things will look very familiar when the team takes the field in Giants Stadium. Of all of those new players, only defensive end Jason Taylor is slated to start, and he might not due to a sprained knee. Rookie Durant Brooks will be handling the punting duties. Stephon Heyer will start at right tackle in place of Jon Jansen, but Heyer started there the last five games of 2007, so that's nothing new.

So what will all of this change add up to in 2008?

The best-case scenario has the team grasping the new offense quickly and getting up to a reasonable level of proficiency in a hurry. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts keep things rolling on the ground while Jason Campbell fine tunes his game. Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas get into the act by Halloween given the Redskins the deepest, most versatile receiving corps in the game.

The Taylor-Andre Carter defensive end tandem becomes one of the most feared in the league. The added pressure on the opposing quarterback leads to the defense getting takeaways by the bucket, setting up a lot of confidence-building short drives by the offense.

The Redskins stay reasonably healthy and Zorn is portrayed by the media as a quirky genius. They pull off a few upsets, win most of the games that they should win, and finish 10-6. They win a Wild Card playoff game and go into 2009 as a team on the rise.

The worst-case scenario has the team being out of synch offensively from the get-go. With little threat of the pass, opposing teams crowd the line of scrimmage and Portis and Betts can't get untracked. The defense holds its own early in most games but the same fourth-quarter collapses we have seen too many of over the past several years persist because the offense can't put away the opposition.

The Skins suffer a few key injuries and Zorn is portrayed by the media as being in over his head. They go 1-5 in the tough NFC East and stumble to a 6-10 record.

And so it goes. For all that is new and different about this team, the Redskins remain where they have been for the past 15 years. They are in the muddled middle of the NFL. They could have a few things go right and get a fifth or sixth playoff seed. Or some things could go wrong and they could be picking fifth or sixth in the '09 draft.

Given that, it says here that the Redskins will go 8-8 this year. They will start off reasonably well as opposing teams see Zorn's version of the WCO for the first time. Let's say 3-2 in the first five games, winning the home contests and pulling a road upset against one of the division foes.

Once the other teams have enough on film to counter Zorn's schemes things will get tougher. They stumble somewhat against what should be a soft spot in the schedule, going 1-2 against the Rams, Browns, and Lions.

Standing 4-4 at midseason, their play improves but the opposition gets tougher and they go 1-3 while facing four 2007 playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle and the Giants.

In a script familiar to Redskins fans, they have a good December, going 3-1 to finish off the season.

It's possible that 8-8 will get them into the playoffs in the NFC. The way things worked out last year, the Redskins could have lost to Dallas in that last game and they still would have been the sixth seed at 8-8.

Still, the playoffs are an unlikely destination for the 2008 Redskins. They will go into 2009 still in search of the keys to breaking out of the mediocre NFL pack.

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Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

Redskins interviewed Greg Manusky for defensive coordinator

The Redskins interviewed current outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky for their defensive coordinator opening, the team announced yesterday.  

Manusky has a long history with the Redskins organization. He served as outside linebackers coach this past season, and was also linebackers coach back in the 2001 season. In his playing days, Manusky was a Redskins linebacker from 1988 to 1990. 

He has held three separate defensive coordinator positions in his coaching career, including with the San Francisco 49ers (2007-2010), San Diego Chargers (2011) and Indianapolis Colts (2012-2015).

For more on his defensive philosophy and background, check out Rich Tandler's profile of Manusky

The Redskins have confirmed four interviews for the defensive coordinator position: Manusky, Rob Ryan, Gus Bradley and Mike Pettine

MORE REDSKINS: Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

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Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

The Redskins are looking at potential free agents and continuing with the draft process as they try to move team from residing in the middle of the pack in the NFL to becoming annual contenders to go deep into the playoffs. The process is all about trying to build a solid 53-man depth chart. Let’s get out the crystal ball and see what that depth chart might look like.

Earlier this week we looked at the offense; today the defense is up. Although there could be a change to a 4-3 base defense in the making depending on who the coordinator is, we’ll line them up in a 3-4 until there is word to the contrary.

*Pending unrestricted free agent

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker*, draft pick/free agent X 2
Backups: Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier

It seems that Baker wants to stay and give that the Redskins would be starting their D-line virtually from scratch without him the chances of coming up with a deal seem strong. I will spend the entire 99 days between now and the draft saying that it’s not a given that they will take a defensive lineman, or any defensive player, with their top draft pick. But someone like Malik McDowell of Michigan State sure would fit in well here along with a free agent like Bennie Logan of the Eagles. The organization will be looking for leaps forward from Ioannidis and Lanier.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Outside linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Backups: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Although nothing is certain until pen is put to paper, the chances of Galette giving it another go after two torn Achilles in two years are strong. Trail and Houston Bates will battle for a fifth spot, if there is one. Given Smith’s inconsistency and the uncertainty of Galette’s health it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft an edge rusher.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Will Compton, free agent
Backups: Martrell Spaight, Mason Foster, draft pick

I’m putting Compton there in dry erase marker, not in Sharpie. They love his leadership and work ethic but he must make more plays. I have a free agent starting beside him because it’s a tough position for a rookie to learn. But if they spend a high draft pick that player could jump into a starting job quickly.  Foster moves into the nickel role that he performed well after Su’a Cravens went out with an injury. Steven Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, could push Spaight for a job.

Cornerback

Starters: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar
Backups: Kendall Fuller (nickel), Tharold Simon, free agent/draft pick

This could go in a lot of different directions. The only spot set in stone is Norman’s. I have Bashaud Breeland moving to safety, which is something of a speculative hot take. If they make that move, they could spend a high draft pick or substantial free agent money on a corner or they could stay in-house with Dunbar or Fuller. Simon could make the team and contribute or he could be cut.

More Redskins: An early look at first-round draft possibilities

Safety

Starters: Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, draft pick

Safeties are hard to find. In college, potentially good safeties gravitate towards cornerback, where the NFL money is better. If a good one hits the free agent market, the laws of supply and demand push the price up beyond the value of the position. For those reasons, the Redskins might try Breeland at safety. Some in the organization have believed for a couple of years that safety is his best position. Cravens announced that he would be moving to safety so that change is firm. Duke Ihenacho, who is a free agent, could be back but I think he moves along. Blackmon is a good veteran reserve who can play nickel also. Even though he made a key interception when forced into duty against the Eagles, it still seems that they don’t trust Everett at safety and perhaps a mid-round pick will replace him.

Specialists: LS Nick Sundberg*, P Tress Way, PK Dustin Hopkins

I predict that Sundberg will be the first of the team’s pending free agents to agree to a contract. Hopkins may get some camp competition but it is unlikely to be of more than the token variety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.