The 2013 NFL Draft is over. Offseason strength and conditioning activities have begun all over the National Football League. In training facilities everywhere, bodies are aching and professional football players — while never really out of shape — are beginning to get back into the physical form they’ll need in order to compete for jobs and subsequently help their teams win. Having won the NFC East Championship in 2012, the Washington Redskins are looking forward to the hard work required to do it all over again and more.
Out at Redskins Park, the Rookie Mini-Camp begins on May 5th. Washington’s draftees: cornerback David Amerson (North Carolina State), tight end Jordan Reed (Florida), safety Phillip Thomas (Fresno State), running back Chris Thompson (Florida State), linebacker Brandon Jenkins (Florida State), safety Bacarri Rambo (Georgia) and running back Jawan Jamison (Rutgers) will get their first taste of life in the NFL but without their veteran teammates. When those experienced players come back for OTAs (Organized Team Activities) later in the spring, the youngsters will meet a group of Washington Redskins players committed to going above and beyond the call of duty.
It’s a new season in Washington and the first where this team is absolutely Coach Mike Shanahan’s squad. He has just completed his fourth draft and, in the process, completely made this team his own. This latest batch of rookies includes some secondary players that should provide depth and competition on a squad that needs just a bit more speed and talent to take the team to the next level.
The players are glad to be back at work and eager to pick up where they left off last season. Having won their division on a seven-game win streak, the NFC East champs have a lot to build on.
“We stepped up [last season] and made plays when we needed to,” fullback Darrel Young said last Friday during a Sports Journey broadcast out at World Gym in Owings, Md. “We don’t need the superstar guys to act like superstars out there. We just need them to play their game… to do what they’ve been doing and we need to get better every week.”
They did get better every week in 2012. The second half of the year had RedskinsNation shaking their head and wondering from whence this new and confident team came. Now they’re going into the fourth year of a successful scheme — thanks, in part, to sensational quarterback Robert Griffin, III and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett using his players to their strengths — and Redskins’ players know they had something special last year. But they also know they have more work to do. It’s not unusual to hear any NFL player say that the mood in a locker room is different than what it has been in recent years. But I believe it when I hear a player that wears the burgundy and gold say it right now.
“You can just sense the level of competition in there that is completely different than what it was last year,” tight end Niles Paul said. “Not to say we weren’t competing last year but everybody’s getting stronger. Everybody’s getting faster. Everybody wants to compete with each other. I mean, it’s just a different atmosphere, totally.”
According to Young and Paul, the guys are closer and they push each other in a positive way. Other than the incoming rookies, the guys that are there have been on the team now a minimum of one year. Many of the core players have been there two years and a few have been there since Shanahan arrived. No one out there is resting on their laurels out in Ashburn. They know they still have hard work to do to remain successful. They are just looking forward to it like never before because it reaped such serious benefits (the NFC East title) last season.
“If you know our offense, our scheme, you know what we’re trying to do,” Young commented. “You just look at it from that standpoint; this team definitely has an upside and has just scratched the surface of where we want to be. There were a lot of mistakes [last season]. We watch film now. We look at what we did. We look at what we could have done. Myself and Niles ran past [linebacker] Michael Boley in the Giants’ game. You laugh about it now but [Redskins’ running back] Alfred [Morris] could have scored a touchdown. So you look at those things… you clean it up. We were the number one rushing team in the NFL last year. It’s going to be fun next year. When you look, San Francisco’s running our offense… we’re going to have fun. That’s the fun thing… where we see we can go with this.”
“We were the number one working team and when you look at our film, there were a lot of yards left out there,” Niles Paul agreed.
Much has been said about how little Shanahan has done in terms of free agent signings this offseason. Most of that has to do with a lack of money; a consequence of the salary cap penalties levied on the team by the league. But it wouldn’t have been a surprise if — even had the team had that $18 million dollars this season — the roster hadn’t stayed much the same this year anyway. No way would Shanahan have made the mistake of buying some other team’s superstar only to have them come here and fizzle. The current players know how their coach works.
“Let me tell you about something…” Young said, “This offseason stuff? You look at the Redskins’ history. Every year: we signed [defensive end] Albert Haynesworth to a lot of money, we signed [Hall of Fame defensive back] Deion Sanders, we signed [running back] Shaun Alexander… all these big-named players. That doesn’t mean anything on paper. Your credentials coming into the Redskins don’t mean anything. It’s what you do when you’re on that field, when you cross those white lines, what you do as a team…
“Every year the Redskins have been the best team on paper,” he continued, getting a little worked up. “Every year since you can go back and think of. But we could never win. We could never put a system together. All of a sudden we have one big-name player in [quarterback] Robert Griffin. You look at Alfred Morris who’s starting to peak; you look at [wide receiver] Pierre Garçon who’s starting to come on… Then all of a sudden, we’re this great team.
“But who is everyone else?” the fullback said, now worked up. “You’ve got Niles Paul, you’ve got [tight end] Logan Paulsen… all these role players understanding what [the Redskins] want to do. But if you don’t have a foundation — basically what you want to do with what Shanahan’s been building since 2010 — you can’t do anything that you want to do in the future.
“When [Shanahan] took over he said ‘It’s not going to take me one year to change this organization’,” Young said, winding down. “’It’s going to take me three years.’
“And there’s a couple of pieces still missing. When I came to Redskins Park there were 53 individuals. Now there are about 40 of us that are family members. There’s still some pieces leaking out but we’re going to be there someday. And when we’re in the Superbowl, we’re going to sit here and talk about this and say, ‘Hey, this is the foundation, the core group for this team.’”
With the infusion of depth and talent that have been acquired in this draft, and the entire group feeling like Niles Paul described, the Washington Redskins just might get to that next level in 2013. It will take a lot of hard work but they proved last season that they can do it. This year, they are clearly looking forward to it.
Diane Chesebrough is Chief Editor, writer and photographer for SportsJourney Broadcast Network. Accredited media with the NFL, she has been a feature writer for several national magazines/periodicals. Follower her on Twitter: @DiChesebrough