With memories of Joe Gibbs and John Riggins dancing along his mental byways, owner Jack Kent Cooke of the Washington Redskins publicly predicted that his team would go 9-7 or, "with a break," 10-6 this season. This could mean that either Cooke has only a vague grasp of the term rebuilding, or he's pushing hard to sell 300 luxury boxes—that's right. 300—in the new stadium he's trying to build.
Only one other Super Bowl victor—the New York Jets—has ever fallen as far as Washington has in two years, from champion after the '91 season to 4-12 last year. Seems that everyone either got old or got hurt. Mark Rypien was the lowest-rated NFL quarterback, running an offense that had the second-worst yards-per-completion average in league history (9.63), edging only the 1934 Cincinnati Reds. And now the top five receivers from last season have departed.
Enter Norv Turner, for three years the coordinator of the Cowboy offense, which included, ahem, slightly better personnel. Enter the draft's top quarterback, Heath Shuler, who was picked third overall. Starting him ahead of former San Diego Charger John Friesz would be a reach because Shuler held out for 13 days of training camp, and when he finally saw preseason action he showed that he had thoroughly mastered only the dink passing game, with 18 completions for only 146 yards in his first three outings. Against the Kansas City Chiefs he completed just one pass, to a wide receiver.
But who's he going to throw to? Desmond Howard is still a project and might always be. Rookie Tydus Winans seems to have good hands. And former Ram Henry Ellard is 33. The running game might be O.K. if Reggie Brooks recovers from a hamstring pull and if left tackle Jim Lachey has recovered from knee surgery. Without a pass rush, the defense finished third from the bottom in the NFL last year, but former Cardinal Ken Harvey might help in that department.
This is a team loaded with uncertainties and future hopes. Even kicker Chip Lohmiller is having problems, which started when he lost his holder, Jeff Rutledge, after the 1992 season.
Those luxury boxes will sell out because there are a lot of Redskin fans with a lot of disposable income in town. But Cooke's projection of a 9-7, possibly 10-6, season? Forget it.
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