It isn’t often you step away from a Mike Shanahan press conference feeling as if you’ve heard anything groundbreaking. The Redskins head coach is the consummate poker player, but on Monday he left fans and media with some food for thought, commenting on the team’s lack of progress through two seasons under his guidance.
What he said didn’t come as a surprise. But a brief moment of candor from one of the NFL’s most secretive coaches can’t be overlooked. The state of the franchise – so often disguised by vague coachspeak – was laid out before us in Shanahan’s admission that the Redskins are indeed in the midst of a lengthy rebuild.
“Oh, yeah, a lot longer than I first anticipated,” he said in regards to how slow the transition has been. “We had less depth than I thought. We were a little bit older at a few different positions and I thought we might keep those players a little bit longer than we did.”
Shanahan didn’t know it and neither did we, but the hand he’d been dealt upon his arrival wasn’t as promising as he first thought.
“But that’s not a negative,” he continued. “You’ve just got to evaluate your squad on a day-to-day basis, a year-to-year basis, and put the best football team together. And I think that’s what we’re doing.”
Those original misconceptions about the roster – along with the trade for Donovan McNabb – made for a lackluster 2010, but since then it’s evident Shanahan has had his eye on the big picture.
That picture includes a lot more on the to-do-list than acquiring the franchise quarterback so many feel would make this team an instant contender. It’s also about getting younger, upgrading positions of need in the secondary and receiving corps, building up an improving offensive line and defense and continuing to foster an environment that players buy into.
“I see a big difference [from] two years ago,” Shanahan said. “We have a much younger football team. We have a lot more depth at a lot of different positions. I feel good with the type of players that we do have.”
For starters a new look defensive line featuring Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen has accounted for 17.5 sacks this season and are allowing 4.3 yards per carry. Last season they had just 8.5 sacks and gave up 4.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile Jabar Gaffney has emerged as a reliable target at receiver and several rookies selected in the draft have also made significant contributions.
“I think we’ve turned most of our squad over,” he said. “And so we’ve brought a lot of people in that I think will help us down the road.”
Shanahan wisely didn’t go all in on 2011’s unremarkable class of quarterbacks, and he shouldn’t trade multiple first-round draft picks away for one this year. Obviously the addition of a potential franchise quarterback would go a long way towards spearheading a successful offseason, but only at the right price, because the Redskins are more than a quarterback away.
And as their coach alluded to on Monday, they’ll need all the offseason ammunition they can gather.
“We still need a good draft [and] a good free agency,” he said. “We still need to improve from where we’re at right now. Our record obviously dictates that, but I feel good about the football team and the direction we’re headed.”