Redskins forecast: Less drama, but who’s the QB?

On the next-to-last day of training camp, Mike Shanahan cited a

statistic that shows how much he’s changed the Washington

Redskins.

”I can say this,” the coach said. ”I haven’t had one

fine.”

In his first season in Washington, Shanahan said he issued more

fines than he did in any of his 16 years as a head coach with the

Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Raiders. The behind-the-doors

infractions were symptomatic of a Redskins organization that was

drama central once again, a weekly circus of embarrassment that

ended with a third consecutive last-place record. The sagas of

Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb and Clinton Portis overwhelmed

anything and everything Shanahan tried to accomplish.

Those three are gone, part of a purge of veterans who were

unproductive, high-maintenance, out-of-place or just getting old.

Shanahan went shopping and has remade the team to his liking,

seeking out well-behaved players who fit his offensive and

defensive schemes. The projected starting lineup has seven changes

on offense and five on defense from the one that took the field on

opening day a year ago.

”You want a disciplined football team. You want a

well-conditioned team. You want a team all going in the same

direction,” Shanahan said. ”We’re all trying to do that.”

Shanahan’s first year was a rough one. The 6-10 record matched

his worst as a head coach. He was trying to impose a new culture

throughout an organization that had lacked steady direction for

more than a decade. The limited free agency in the final year

before the lockout didn’t help. He swooped into an unfamiliar fan

base, media contingent and roster, and his my-way-or-the-highway

confidence looked too much like arrogance and proved a tough sell

as the losses piled up.

”Any time that you come into an organization, it takes you a

year just to figure out who your players are going to be on your

team for the next year,” Shanahan said. ”It takes a year for you

to figure out who your team’s going to be, how they handle

pressure, how hard they work, who fits into your system – guys that

you want to make up your organization.

”Any place I’ve been in my first year, college or pro, it takes

you a year to figure that out. But it’s your next year that’s

usually your biggest change because you’re keeping people that fit

your system, you’re keeping people that fit your philosophy, your

coaches have now had a year to be together. You get to be more on

the same page.”

If nothing else, the changes mean the Redskins should be well

under the radar this year. The players’ response: It’s about

time.

”We need to start winning ballgames right here,” Pro Bowl

linebacker Brian Orakpo said, ”and forget about all the drama that

we go through each and every year.”

Of course, just because the players show up on time for meetings

doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to win a lot. Despite

several notable upgrades, especially to a defense that ranked 31st

last year, the Redskins are the consensus pick to finish last once

again in the NFC East.

Much of the skepticism revolves around Shanahan’s leap of faith

in quarterbacks John Beck and Rex Grossman. Beck just turned 30 and

hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2007, while Grossman

hasn’t played much in recent years and is still known for being

turnover-prone.

On the surface, it looks like a train wreck waiting to happen –

Grossman was derided nationally for saying ”I really feel like

this team’s going to win the East” – but neither could do much

worse than McNabb, who never looked comfortable and played his way

out of the job. Sending two draft picks to Philadelphia for the

six-time Pro Bowl quarterback was Shanahan’s big mistake, a wasted

investment that cost the team nearly a year at the game’s most

important offensive position.

But Shanahan takes umbrage at those who challenge his belief in

his current crop of signal-callers. For him, it’s not a question of

whether Beck and Grossman are up to scratch – he knows they

are.

”I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Shanahan said after

the first day of practice. ”And I put my reputation on these guys

that they can play.”

The expectations for the Redskins have been so low that coaches

and players are using it as motivation. Shanahan’s unofficial theme

so far: ”Talk is cheap.”

”After the 8-8 when I was in Denver, nobody had us picked to go

to the playoffs and we had no talk. We went 13-3,” Shanahan said.

”I tell our players it doesn’t matter where people have you

ranked. Your play will dictate where you are at the end of the

season, so don’t get caught up in what people think.”

So, after a year of shaping and molding, does the coach feel

he’s got the players who can defy those naysayers?

”Like I said, talk is cheap,” he said. ”You’ll see us on the

field.”

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP