NFL: Redskins already looking ahead?
ASHBURN, Va. — Mike Shanahan’s weekly news conference morphed into a give-and-take over semantics Monday, with the coach finally conceding that, yes, he is “rebuilding” the Washington Redskins.
To anyone watching the team, it seemed obvious all along. Even now, although the season is only half over, the Redskins already feel like a team looking ahead to next year.
It can be seen in the product on the field, where youngsters are getting more playing time. It can be heard in the words of Shanahan, who is repeatedly citing the injuries that have decimated the offense and the challenging developmental curve faced by inexperienced quarterback John Beck and the other players in the lineup.
Three rookies made their debut starts for the Redskins (3-5) in Sunday’s 19-11 loss to San Francisco, a fourth straight loss for a team that is again trailing the pack in the NFC East.
“I’m not even sure what you mean by rebuilding,” was Shanahan’s first response when the r-word was broached. He responded he doesn’t believe that merely playing young players because of injuries would fit the definition.
But, later, when asked about his relationship with his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the head coach brought up the word up himself.
“I’m the one who told Kyle not to come,” Mike Shanahan said. “I said, ‘This is going to be a work in progress. It’s not going to happen overnight. You’re with an established team. You’ve got your ducks in order.’ I said, ‘We’re going to have to rebuild this football team, starting on offense.’ He understood that. He enjoyed the challenge and that’s what we’re doing.”
So, just to make sure, Shanahan was asked again. In retrospect, it seemed almost superfluous. Only 18 players on the current 53-man roster predate his arrival last year, and so far he’s managed only a 9-15 record in 1 1/2 seasons as he continues to retool and reshape.
“Our center is changed from when we first came in,” Shanahan said. “Our left guard is changed from when I first came in. Our left tackle’s changed. Our right guard’s changed. Our right tackle’s changed. Our tight end has changed through injury, both our wide receivers, our halfback. … That is rebuilding a football team. Now, with the draft, free agency, we’re getting some young players playing as second-teamers, and they’re getting a chance to show up what they can do. … Some young players are getting some experience.
“Now if that’s what you call rebuilding, then we’re rebuilding.”
OK, that’s settled, more or less, although it would have been easier for the fans to take if he had said it 18 months ago and asked for their patience.
Meanwhile, there’s the hard part — actually living through the struggles associated with it.
“Sometimes,” linebacker London Fletcher said, “you’ve got to go through a couple losses to get to where you want to be.”
In this case, more than a couple. The Redskins are underdogs this week against Miami, which finally won its first game on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine when or how Washington will be the favored team anytime in the next six weeks.
“Coach Shanahan came here last year, he started a process of rebuilding, you know, years of a lot of mistakes that had been made by the prior people who had been running things,” Fletcher said.
“That’s going to take a while. Last year, he took a step towards doing that, establishing his standard of how he wants to do things, and this year we took another step toward doing that.”
“The word ‘rebuilding’ can be taken out of context,” Fletcher added. “If you say that, people automatically assume that you’re saying, ‘Well, we’re just giving up on this season; we’re resigned to losing.’ There’s not a man in this locker room, there’s not a coach on this coaching staff — I know coach Shanahan and his competitiveness is not resigned to losing. I’m not resigned to losing. There’s nobody who’s going to accept losing.”
This was always going to be a fragile season for the Redskins, who were operating with little margin for error because of the thin roster and uncertainty at quarterback. A 3-1 start offered some hope that looks more and more like false hope. Injuries to Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Tim Hightower and Kory Lichtensteiger were an obvious blow, but neither of Shanahan’s quarterbacks — Rex Grossman or Beck — has proven worthy of the job, and the defense isn’t getting big plays from its secondary.
“I think what we have to do,” Shanahan said, “is we’ve got to grow up real quick.”
There’s natural curiosity to see how long Shanahan will stick with Beck, who is 0-3 as a Redskins starter and 0-7 in his NFL career. Beck struggled again Sunday, leading the Redskins’ only touchdown drive during garbage time in the fourth quarter, but he’ll get another start.
At least he didn’t take 10 sacks, as he did against Buffalo the week before, and Shanahan felt there were times Beck got rid of the ball too quickly. Their longest play against the 49ers was a 17-yard completion that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fluttered over to Roy Helu.
“We’re going to have some growing pains with the quarterback situation and with shuffling some guys around,” Shanahan said. “But I like what John did from one week to the other.”
Notes: Shanahan said RT Jammal Brown has a groin injury, not a hip injury as originally announced. The coach offered no timetable for Brown’s return. … WR Niles Paul has turf toe and is expected to miss two weeks. … Shanahan said rookie WR Leonard Hankerson, who caught four passes for 34 yards, will remain in the starting lineup.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP
The Associated Press