All Redskins conversations start and end with RGIII (USA TODAY IMAGES)
WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Hardcore D.C. sports fans will agree that this particular NFL season can't come soon enough.
The Washington Nationals are in the midst of their ugliest and most unlikely tailspin since 2010. To put a time stamp on 2010, Pudge Rodriguez was still playing catcher for Washington and Davey Johnson was answering to just one beat reporter -- me -- in a Florida college summer baseball league. Someone in the organization needs to legitimately explain why the Nationals have the 17th best record in baseball. Enough ho-hum answers about cold bats. Even the most optimistic of fans have run out of patience with the Nats.
The Washington Capitals took their annual jerky roller coaster ride; which, per usual, ended abruptly -- this spring a tormenting 5-0 game seven loss to the New York Rangers. Even more pathetically, a large portion of Caps fans are just completely satisfied with these playoff disappointments, as long as Alex Ovechkin wins the MVP award.
So while it's come from unfortunate circumstances, football season has arrived with flawless timing. With the district's attention span going dull, these nine Redskins story lines should be enough to keep you entertained for the next six months.
1) Who controls the Redskins: RGIII or Mike Shanahan?
Because if it's Mike Shanahan, then it's his turn to assume control of Griffin and his knee injury. If Shanahan lets Griffin continue to parade around in his press conferences that he's ready to be the next Adrian Peterson, it's putting extreme pressure on all parties involved -- and more importantly it's empowering Griffin to have total control. This is Shanahan's chance to reestablish who really calls the shots. He should make sure Griffin is spoon fed and with the program. Griffin should solely be saying he will respect the doctors and the coaches decisions, and that there is no rush during this recovery. In turn, Shanahan's decision should be to sit Griffin out of some drills. When you are the heart and soul of a franchise, that's the nature of any major injury: proceed with extreme caution. RGIII is already a good enough player to not participate in every waking moment of training camp. Looking further down the road, if RGIII tweaks a hamstring or groin, he needs to voluntarily sit out practices and games. Shanahan and his coaching staff -- especially in wake of the Dr. Andrews fiasco -- should assume control of the situation and tap the brakes on Griffin's recovery process.
2) Will Griffin carry the football 120 times again?
That answer very may well be up to number 10 himself. Kyle Shanahan has reaffirmed he does not plan on changing the dynamic read option offense. If there are indeed 16 games featuring a healthy Griffin, there will be a minimum 3-5 designed run calls per contest. The question becomes will Griffin do as much of the freelancing runs that made him so successful last year? Without RGIII's 815 rush yards, the Redskins would've missed the playoffs. And without his blazing speed, the Redskins probably don't trade the moon to pick him the draft. I'll hypothesize Griffin stays in the pocket a more noticeable amount, where the law of averages say there is less chance of getting hurt. 90 carries seems like a reasonable compromise.
3) Is it realistic to think Alfred Morris can be as good?
Morris, 1,613 rushing yards, shattered the team record posted during Redskins glory days with 'The Hogs' and John Riggins. His 200 yards were the reason the Redskins dominated the Cowboys and clinched the NFC East title in week 17. So if RGIII is just as effective in the run game, Morris should be at least a 1,000 yard guy, right? Well, Morris will have to defeat the Mike Shanahan stigma of one-hit-wonder running backs. What makes him different than Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns or Tatum Bell? The Shanahan's and fan base believe in Morris, but he must prove it all over again to the NFL come September.
4) Which Jim Haslett defense shows up in 2013?
The numbers show how remarkable 2012's defensive turnaround really was. The Redskins started last season 3-6; rumors of Haslett's firing were warranted and running rampant. The defense gave up 302 passing yards and 27.6 points during their wretched first half. And then the bye week happened. Haslett's schemes freed up defenders to make plays and opposing passing attacks all of a sudden weren't moving the football like a Porsche. In the final seven games the Redskins defense only gave up 257 pass yards per game and 20.0 points. The safety position, and how well Haslett can disguise his young players' weaknesses, will make or break what type of defense the Redskins are in 2013.
5) Will father time catch up with London Fletcher?
The argument can be made last year, at least in coverage, that Fletcher was often found out of position. The NFL's version of Cal Ripken Jr., Fletcher's 224 games in row played make him an elite NFL player and a likely Hall of Famer. But I think this is the year the Redskins are forced to sub Fletcher off the field in key third-down passing situations. And the 38-year-old shouldn't take it personal either. The Redskins will need his on and off the field leadership for another playoff run.
6) Does Brian Orakpo Cash In On His Contract Year?
It's quite the curious conundrum how talks between the Redskins and linebacker Brian Orakpo have stalled in the offseason. Does the organization think he won't produce big numbers so they can low-ball him on a new deal? Or is Orakpo the one not budging, thinking he's primed to have a career year and post 12-plus sacks? The 26-year-old will have to LEAD the defense for the Redskins to throw $50 million his way. My thinking is the Redskins want Orakpo to prove he can be the centerpiece of a defense, with Fletcher on his way out. A plethora of sacks from Orakpo may not be worth $50 million if the 'Skins finish outside the top 15 in total defense.
7) Who will emerge from the crowded secondary?
There are more new names than a sorority pledge class. E.J. Biggers. David Amerson. Bacarri Rambo. Phillip Thomas. I envision struggles among those four names listed. My money is on Richard Crawford to take the biggest leap. Darrell Green has been tutoring the second year cornerback from Southern Methodist on "mixing up techniques." Crawford shined during the final weeks of the 2012 season when filling in for Cedric Griffin, making several key tackles against the Eagles and picking off Tony Romo in week 17. If Crawford is performing at a higher rate than second round pick Amerson, Crawford should see the field in the nickel spot. Or even more likely, if Josh Wilson or DeAngelo Hall struggle to begin the year, Crawford deserves a starting glance.
8) Can the wide receiving corps make the next step?
We know RGIII's accurate arm makes Pierre Garcon a borderline top-10 receiver in the NFL. The Redskins posted a ludicrous 9-1 record when Garcon played in the regular season, proving he was worthy of what at the time seemed to be an excessive $42.5 million pay day. Garcon's presence arguably opened up doors for speedster Aldrick Robinson, who bloomed into potent deep threat. But what about the rest of the gang? Santana Moss surely can't be as reliable as he was in 2012, can he? His eight touchdowns were more than Roddy White, Jordy Nelson, Jeremy Maclin, Miles Austin and Reggie Wayne. Does the presence of Devery Henderson and Donte Stallworth change anything? Also, this is a make or break year for Leonard Hankerson -- full story here.
9) Who are some candidates for sleeper player?
The 2012 Redskins were propelled by unsung heroes. Kai Forbtah, Alfred Morris, Rob Jackson all rose to the occasion in times of need. There are less guys flying under the radar as we head to Richmond. Defensively, watch out for outside linebacker Darryl Tapp. The Virginia Tech alum is a seasoned seven year pro. While the 28-year-old regressed in his three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tapp was a standout pass rusher for the Seahawks earlier in his career. I could see him taking on a Lorenzo Alexander hybrid type of role as a key reserve and special teamer. Also, rookie running back Chris Thompson has crazy potential with his speed -- read my full report on the Florida State rookie here.