Given the top job, Campbell showed promise in his seven starts last season.
at Philadelphia (M)
at Tampa Bay
at Green Bay
at N.Y. Giants
at New England
at N.Y. Jets
The King 500
441Antwaan Randle El, Wide Receiver
After signing a $31 million free-agent deal in March 2006, Randle El had the worst season of his career. But a year of familiarity with offensive guru Al Saunders's system and an off-season of work with Jason Campbell should allow Randle El to stretch defenses even more than he did in Pittsburgh. "We'd like to take some shots, and I think we'll see Antwaan be very effective down the field," says Saunders.
Two new playmakers will shore up a horrid defense while a raw young quarterback continues to find his way
The Elias Sports Bureau doesn't keep official track of this stat, but it's
probably safe to say that last season Gregg Williams had the worst
salary-to-takeaways ratio of any defensive coordinator in the history of
football. Williams, properly called the assistant head coach -- defense in the
Redskins' unwieldy parlance, made a reported $2.6 million (a league record
for an assistant coach) in 2006 while overseeing a unit that created just 12
turnovers (a modern NFL record for futility). To bolster the defense, which
plummeted from ninth in the league in '05 in yards allowed to 31st in '06, the
Redskins drafted LSU strong safety LaRon Landry sixth overall and signed several
free agents, including cornerbacks Jerametrius Butler, David Macklin and Fred
Smoot, and, most important, middle linebacker London Fletcher.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
Fletcher was at home in Cleveland when the telephone rang at 12:01 a.m.
on March 2 -- one minute into the NFL's free-agency period. "London," said the
voice on the other end of the line, "this is Coach Gibbs from the Washington
Redskins." Over the course of the next 10 minutes Fletcher listened as a battery
of assistants, including Williams, secondary coach Jerry Gray and special teams
coach Danny Smith (all of whom had worked with Fletcher in Buffalo) expounded on
the ways in which Fletcher could affect the Redskins defense. Fletcher boarded a
D.C.-bound plane less than 10 hours later, and by the time he and fellow free
agent Smoot took their seats at that evening's Atlanta Hawks -- Washington Wizards
NBA game, he had agreed to a five-year, $25 million contract.
The Redskins coveted Fletcher not only because he's a 5' 10", 245-pound
dervish who is the NFL's leading tackler since 2000, but also because he's a
passionate leader with the ability to inspire listless teammates. "They want me
to be the quarterback of the defense, somebody who looks into the eyes of the
other 10 men on that field," says Fletcher. "We're going to get the job done. On
key third downs we're going to get the stops. On fourth down we're going to get
the stops." Although Fletcher turned 32 in May, the Redskins have no fear that
he'll join the line of high-priced, over-30 free-agent disappointments that has
marked Daniel Snyder's eight years as owner.
The havoc Fletcher wreaks up front should ease the burden on a secondary in
which no player picked off more than one pass in '06 and that allowed an
NFL-high 55 completions of 20 yards or more. The team blames much of its
incompetence on a combination of poor luck and poor depth. The addition of
Butler, Macklin and Smoot, who have started a combined 183 NFL games, will
provide a stable of experienced cover men to turn to when the legs of starters
Carlos Rogers and Shawn Springs go wobbly. But the key to the secondary's
improvement may be the 6' 2", 205-pound Landry, who is athletic enough to go
sideline-to-sideline at the line of scrimmage, allowing Pro Bowl free
safety Sean Taylor to roam downfield, where he can most effectively deploy his
hard-hitting, ball-hawking style. "[With] the things we can do now defensively,"
says director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato, "we should get more
On offense, former first-round pick Jason Campbell enters a season as the
starting quarterback for the first time as a pro. When informed in training camp
that he is the franchise's 17th starting QB since 1993 -- a group that includes two
other Skins No. 1 picks, Heath Shuler and Patrick Ramsey -- he responded
succinctly, "Oh, man, that's not good." Consider that a rare loss of poise for
the 6' 5", rocket-armed 25-year-old, who impressed in the seven games he started
last season after assuming signal-calling duties from Mark Brunell, passing for
1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns while connecting on 53.1% of his throws.
"He's a special guy, that's what he is," says associate head coach -- offense Al
Saunders, who wants Campbell to improve his completion rate by 10%. "He's made
Campbell's growth will be aided by the presence of running backs Clinton
Portis and Ladell Betts, both of whom catch the ball as well as they run it.
(The two combined for 1,677 rushing and 615 receiving yards last
season.) While Betts has a skill set that Saunders says "reminds me a lot of
what Priest Holmes did for us in Kansas City," the Redskins plan to feature
him as a bruising change-of-pace back behind Portis.
If only Washington had such an embarrassment of riches on the other side of
the ball. Though the defense as a whole won't perform as poorly as last year's
unit -- Fletcher won't allow that -- it brings back intact a line that, while
bedeviled by injuries, produced just 10 sacks. That should leave the Redskins at
least one premier pass rusher, and likely a full year of experience for
Campbell, away from their second winning season this decade.
-- Ben Reiter