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1 Washington Redskins
Michael Silver
September 04, 2006
There's plenty of coaching brainpower and player talent on board, but now it's a matter of making it all fit together
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September 04, 2006

1 Washington Redskins

There's plenty of coaching brainpower and player talent on board, but now it's a matter of making it all fit together

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THE BELIEF
The arrival of offensive guru Al Saunders and a few other key high-profile additions will take the Skins deep into the playoffs.

THE REALITY
Coach Joe Gibbs showed that reports of his irrelevance were greatly exaggerated last year when he rallied Washington to six consecutive victories, including a wild-card playoff win, before losing to the Seahawks in the divisional round. The Redskins have their share of issues, most significantly at quarterback, where Mark Brunell, who turns 36 in September, has to prove that his inconsistency late in the season wasn't a sign that he's finished. But if any group of coaches can figure out a way to make it work, it's this one, and there are enough big-time performers--including star safety Sean Taylor--to transform this team into a serious contender.

After his unit's stellar performance in 2005, assistant head coach--defense Gregg Williams could have become the head man somewhere else, but a bump in salary from owner Dan Snyder, reportedly to more than $2.6 million a year (believed to be the most ever for an NFL assistant), persuaded him to stay. His blitz-happy, swarming schemes work best with an elite pass rusher at defensive end, a do-it-all outside linebacker and a rangy, physical safety, and Williams believes he has all three of those pieces in '06.

Free-agent signee Andre Carter, a 265-pound defensive end, was swallowed up in San Francisco's 3--4 scheme, but Williams thinks Carter can apply the same pressure on the passer for Washington that Jevon Kearse did for Tennessee when the Titans went to the Super Bowl with Williams as defensive coordinator. Plus, Williams expects seventh-year outside linebacker Marcus Washington, who's reaching his prime, to have "a huge year. He can do everything you want a linebacker to do from coverage, rush and run-front alignments." Then there's Taylor, who has a chance to become one of the NFL's best players. Disruptive in coverage and run support, and able to blitz from anywhere, Taylor, says Williams, "is the best player I've ever coached, and I expect a breakout season."

On offense, halfback Clinton Portis teamed with another former Miami Hurricane, wideout Santana Moss, to key an offense that improved to 11th in the league after ranking 30th in 2004, amid whispers that Gibbs, 65, was out of touch with 21st-century football.

For all of his credentials as an offensive mastermind, Gibbs didn't let his ego get in the way of bringing in Saunders, who over the past five seasons in Kansas City directed the NFL's most productive offense. For the first time in his Hall of Fame career Gibbs will relinquish play-calling responsibilities; look for Saunders to run fewer two-tight-end sets and more two-back and multiple-receiver alignments, and to feature the deep ball prominently. In addition to Moss, who made his first Pro Bowl in '05, Saunders's new toys include wideouts Brandon Lloyd (acquired in a trade with the 49ers) and Antwaan Randle El (a free agent from the Steelers).

"If you take what we did last year and add what Al brings," Gibbs says, "we could really take a step up."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 MINNESOTA (M)
17 at Dallas
24 at Houston

OCTOBER
1 JACKSONVILLE
8 at N.Y. Giants
15 TENNESSEE
22 at Indianapolis
29 Bye

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