RG3 to the rescue for long-suffering Redskins

The huge burgundy flag with the word ”REDSKINS” in gold

letters towers over the front of the team’s facility, dwarfing in

both size and height the four U.S. flags that help frame the

parking lot. The arrangement makes quite an impression, especially

when viewed from the practice fields, and serves to help symbolize

something that’s been true for a long time.

Those Washington Redskins sure think a lot of themselves.

”When you set a standard of Super Bowl trophies,” coach Mike

Shanahan said. ”Anything less than that is unacceptable.”

The coach made that statement after the end of training camp

while paying tribute to the team’s alumni at the annual Welcome

Home Luncheon. Never mind that the last of those three Super Bowl

trophies was won more than two decades ago, and most of those

former players, as well as the fans at the banquet, have since

watched in frustration as the franchise descended into mediocrity

and worse, let down time and again by the latest new hope who was

supposed to help redeliver the glory days.

Heath Shuler. Michael Westbrook. Deion Sanders. Bruce Smith.

Marty Schottenheimer. Steve Spurrier. Joe Gibbs, part two. Albert

Haynesworth. Mike Shanahan. Donovan McNabb. The parade of names has

combined to produce just three playoff berths in the last 19

seasons, and the current run of four consecutive last-place

finishes in the NFC East is unprecedented in team history.

Enter the next could-be icon, one who fits the role perfectly,

right down to the superhero figurines in his locker and the random

references to having powers like Captain Planet: Robert Griffin

III.

Heisman Trophy winner. Worth a package of premium draft picks.

He can throw. He can run. He’s marketable. He’s a player, according

to Shanahan, who ”can do some things that people haven’t

done.”

The No. 2 overall draft pick from Baylor also represents

Shanahan’s last stand. The coach who won a pair of Super Bowls with

the Denver Broncos in the 1990s now has a run of five straight

seasons without a playoff appearance, three in Denver and two in

Washington sandwiched around a year off to recharge the batteries.

The coach has put his faith in McNabb (2010) and the combo of Rex

Grossman and John Beck (2011) at quarterback with the Redskins and

failed each time.

The upside is that Shanahan also spent that time building the

rest of the roster to his liking, creating a consistent culture

that’s had been lacking under the frequent coaching changes made by

owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have managed to stick to the same

philosophy with the same head coach, offensive coordinator and

defensive coordinator for the third year in a row, making Griffin

feel like one of the final pieces of the puzzle, not one of the

first.

”He’s still a young kid. He still has a lot to learn,”

cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. ”We still have a lot of weapons we

need to put around him, too, but we feel like we have adequate guys

around him, a lot of playmakers to where we can definitely make

that transition a little bit easier for him.”

Still, this is a team that went 5-11 last year. While the

defensive front seven looks solid, there was no significant upgrade

to an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks in 2011. Shanahan says

this squad has more depth, but that could also mean he has lots of

Grade B players and not enough Grade As. There’s not a running back

on the roster who has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, and

33-year-old Santana Moss is the only wideout who’s had 1,000 yards

receiving.

Maybe that’s why the bravado is toned down a bit.

”I’m not going to make any predictions or anything,”

linebacker Brian Orakpo said. ”We’re just going to keep quiet and

create some havoc.”

At least, unlike in previous years when the losing made the

seasons seem endless, the Redskins should be a thrill to watch as

Griffin develops week by week. He does indeed have the talent and

poise to be the player who, finally, makes the Redskins once again

as proud of their present as they are of their past. It just

probably won’t happen this year.

”Last time I checked, they still have us fourth in the NFC

East,” Griffin said. ”And not that we care, but we’re going to go

out and try to make sure that we’re not.”

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