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In the immortal words of the Ol' Ballcoach: "5-11. Not too good."
That's what Steve Spurrier said on his way out the door of Redskins Park after his second and final season as Washington's coach in 2003.

The Redskins started that year 3-1 but finished 5-11 with a 24-point drubbing by Philadelphia in the finale. Oddly, the 2011 Redskins started 3-1 but finished 5-11 after Sunday's 24-point loss at the Eagles.

The difference is that Mike Shanahan isn't going anywhere, but is looking ahead to his third season as Washington's coach in 2012, firmly believing that his team improved this season even though its record was one game worse.

"The last five, six games, we've done some big things - run the football against some good teams - not as good as we need, though," said Shanahan, who had never finished with as few as five victories during any of his 16 previous full seasons as an NFL coach. "We've talked about adding a few pieces on offense. We need a few people on defense. We need a good draft. But we made some strides. Our football team is a lot different than a year ago and that's a positive."

Quarterback Rex Grossman, who's unsigned for 2012 and is in line to be replaced by a likely first-round draft pick after throwing 20 interceptions - second-most in the NFC - agreed with his coach that the 2011 Redskins were better simply because they didn't have to deal with the long-running distractions of the disgruntled Albert Haynesworth and the disconsolate Donovan McNabb (although tight end Fred Davis and left tackle Trent Williams provided drama by being suspended for the final four games after testing positive for drugs three times apiece).

"I'm proud of every single teammate," Grossman gushed. "Everybody worked really hard. Nobody gave up. We got great character ... and even though we finished where we finished, I was proud to be a part of this team."

Make that proud to be a part of the first team during the NFC East's 42 seasons to occupy the division basement four years running. Ouch.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has led the Redskins in sacks during all three of his seasons with a total of 29.5 that's already eighth in franchise history. However, Washington has averaged just five victories during his tenure: going 4-12, 6-10 and now 5-11. No other member of the burgundy and gold has played so well with so little to show for it from a team standpoint and yet Orakpo is also on the progress bandwagon.

"Even though the record's worse (than in 2010), I feel like our defense is tops in the league," Orakpo said of a unit that ranked 13th in yards allowed and 21st in points surrendered while finishing with six new starters from the group that ranked 31st in yards and tied for 21st in points the previous season. "Statistically, we kind of fell off towards the end, but I really feel like we got the core guys we can build off of and really look (towards a) bright future."

It's hard to see a team thinking it has a bright future after allowing at least 30 points in four of its final five contests while never scoring that many itself and having a league-high five field goal attempts blocked.

However, the rookie class, led by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster, contributed heavily this season. What's more, 17 of Sunday's 22 starters were 28 or younger with 10 of those 17 in their first, second or third seasons.

Could a quarterback like Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III be a true difference-maker in 2012? Expecting so much from a rookie is probably unfair, but after just two postseason berths and a lone playoff victory during the past dozen years, Redskins fans need something to dream about as they settle in for another long offseason.

BY DAVID ELFIN

WUSA-9's Redskins Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."

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