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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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Risk vs reward when Redskins consider Alabama LB Reuben Foster in NFL Draft

Risk vs reward when Redskins consider Alabama LB Reuben Foster in NFL Draft

An undeniable talent, Reuben Foster seemed for months to be a lock for the Top 10 of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Alabama star is a sure tackler, playmaking force and winner of the 2016 Dick Butkus Award as the nation's best college linebacker.

The actual football season went great for Foster, he logged 115 tackles and was named the SEC Championship Game MVP. Since play on the field stopped, things have stalled. Foster had an unfortunate incident at the NFL Combine, where he was sent home after an altercation with a hospital worker. In the time since, it's come out Foster tested positive for a diluted urine sample and will enter the NFL in the substance abuse program. 

Still, despite a tough two months, Foster's talent is too rich to pass up for some NFL teams. And per NFL Network's Lance Zierlein, the Redskins could be that team

In his mock draft released Wednesday, Zierlein predicts Foster's draft day slide to end with Washington at the 17th pick. From NFL.com:

Foster could fall due to off-field concerns and worries about injuries, but he fits a need for the Redskins, bringing a tough playmaker into the fold.

Beyond the diluted sample and the combine altercation, Foster also has had stinger issues throughout his career at 'Bama. He has elite speed at the linebacker position and the type of athleticism defensive coordinators dream about, though some pro scouts question if he can handle the calls of a Mike linebacker in the NFL game.

The Redskins are not desperate for interior linebacker help, this season. The team added Zach Brown in free agency, re-signed 2016 defensive captain Will Compton earlier this week and Mason Foster remains under contract. All three players, however, are headed to free agency in 2018. Adding Foster would provide depth this year and a potential star in the future.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Final Redskins seven-round mock draft: Defense first, a surprise in the third

Final Redskins seven-round mock draft: Defense first, a surprise in the third

We’re a day away from the start of the NFL draft and all the questions surrounding the Redskins’ intentions will start to get answered when they go on the clock at about 10 p.m. on Thursday.

[More Redskins: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Speaking at the team’s annual pre-draft news conference, Scott Campbell, the team’s director of college scouting, stuck with the company line when he was asked about making picks based on team needs.

“I’m going to frame the answer, and the age-old answer of ‘I’m going to take the best player available,’” he said. “And if that serves your needs, that’s a bonus.”

It would be a big “bonus” for the Redskins if a defensive lineman who can rush the passer and stuff the run was the best player on the board when their first-round pick comes up at No. 17. But it doesn’t look like the board will play out that way. That’s OK because the Redskins have plenty of needs.

In fact, it’s not hard to do a mock draft for the Redskins because they have needs at virtually every position. Certainly, some needs are more urgent than others. But once you get past the first couple of rounds there is enough doubt at each position, whether it’s immediate depth or possible free agency holes in 2018, to get that need “bonus” with every pick.

Campbell said that this is a strong defensive draft and this is reflected in these mock selections, with six of the 10 picks going to defense including the top two. The first offensive pick may surprise some but the talent was just too good at that point in the draft.

Go here to see the full seven-round mock draft.

Your comments are welcome, as always. Make them here in the comments or hit me up on Twitter and Facebook.  

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