Quarterback Jason Campbell will enter his first training camp as the starter and his second season in the complicated system of Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders. That's two good reasons for optimism on a team that needs all it can muster.
Coming off a 5-11 last-place NFC East finish, coach Joe Gibbs didn't do much to overhaul an average offense and may not have done enough to retool a defense that suffered a collapse to 31st in the league.
Uncharacteristically for free-spending owner Daniel Snyder, the Redskins made only one free agent splash signing, giving 32-year-old middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker a $10.5 million signing bonus to jump from Buffalo and rescue coordinator Gregg Williams' needy unit.
After finishing last in the league in sacks with only 19 and setting a league record in fewest takeaways with only 12, it's going to take more than a good season from Fletcher-Baker to make a difference. He led the Bills in tackles, interceptions and defensive touchdowns, so he does arrive with an impressive resume.
The Redskins also improved their secondary by using the sixth overall pick on safety LaRon Landry and adding former starting cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Jerametrius Butler. They also hope to get healthy seasons from recuperating linebacker Marcus Washington and cornerback Shawn Springs, who finished last season on injured reserve.
But the Redskins' ordinary front four remains intact and unless second-year prospects Anthony Montgomery and Kedric Golston and veteran Demetric Evans can push starters Phillip Daniels, Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave'a and Andre Carter, it's going to be another long season. Only Carter is under 30 and only Carter had more than three sacks. He had a good offseason after finishing strong and is a key to an improved pass rush.
How Landry will fit with another former No. 1 pick, Sean Taylor, at safety will be of interest in camp. Although Gibbs suggests not to forget steady Pierson Prioleau coming off injured reserve, Landry is expected to replace departed Troy Vincent at strong safety, allowing Taylor room to roam and ball hawk. Last year's experiment with Adam Archuleta failed in Williams' defense, necessitating the addition of Landry, who will try to prove he is as big a playmaking on this level as he was at LSU.
Smoot is on his second tenure in Washington after a failed stint in Minnesota. Determined to come back, Smoot and another newcomer Jerametrius Butler, will help Carlos Rogers and Springs if healthy.
All three linebacking starters could be new. Fletcher-Baker will move Lemar Marshall out and Marshall would like to compete with Rocky McIntosh on the weak side, assuming Washington can come back strong from hip surgery. If not, rookies Dallas Sartz and H.B. Blades may be pushed into action early. Anybody who demonstrates a knack for making plays will go to the head of the class in this camp.
As much as Gibbs resists throwing youth into the fire, he is excited about the potential of Campbell, who started the last seven games after Gibbs gave up on veteran Mark Brunell. Why he waited that long may come back to haunt him, because Campbell now enters this year as the division's most inexperienced quarterback, behind even Dallas's Tony Romo. Campbell is in no bigger spot than Gibbs or his hand-picked coordinator, Saunders, whose offense is always difficult to grasp in the first year. If everything continues to come together, there could be a dramatic jump. Saunders' offenses are proven, but it always takes time for everybody to get on the same page.
Campbell isn't the only offensive player under a microscope. Tall tackle Todd Wade will try to replace departed left guard Derrick Dockery. Running back Clinton Portis started only seven games, a five-year low, and is coming off injured reserve. Gibbs must figure out a way to allow Ladell Betts to share time and Betts racked up 1,154 yards last year. Receiver Santana Moss needs more help than Brandon Lloyd provided last year and if Lloyd doesn't step up, third receiver Antwaan Randle El may be pressed into starting service.
The Redskins really aren't that far behind the Cowboys or Giants, both playoff teams, even though they won only one of their four meetings with them. They also lost twice to Philadelphia for a 1-5 division record. They get the Eagles and Giants in weeks two and three for an early look at whether they have made up the gap.
PFT: Jets RB Mike Goodson was charged with five gun and drug counts Friday morning, after New Jersey State Police found the car he was riding in parked in the middle of Route 80 in Denville, N.J.
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