Shana-plan: Sweeping changes should eventually boost Redskins

ASHBURN, Va.—Mike Shanahan has a difficult task with the Redskins, trying to take a franchise from the ground floor to the mountaintop.

The Redskins were 4-12 last season, finishing in the NFC East cellar. Enter Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, cementing his reputation as one of the NFL’s best coaches.

Every coach has a blueprint for success, and Shanahan has begun putting his DNA on the Redskins. His handling of Albert Haynesworth, who failed a conditioning test for the second consecutive day Friday and was not allowed to practice, certainly has let the team know who’s in charge.

In his attempt to transform the Redskins’ attack from anemic into dynamic, here are three areas where Shanahan’s expertise may help:

Mike Shanahan will try to transform the Redskins into a winning team.
Mike Shanahan will try to transform the Redskins into a winning team.

Passing game: When Shanahan hired his son, Kyle, as offensive coordinator, it was about production, not nepotism. The Texans had the NFL’s top passing attack last season with Kyle as their coordinator.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb expects Kyle’s offensive wrinkles to have a big impact. "It’s an opportunity for me to learn something new,” McNabb said. "There’s a reason why (Matt) Schaub threw for 4,700 yards last year.”

Running game: A formidable rushing attack is a Shanahan staple. His offenses in Denver from 1995-2008 ranked in the top 12 in rushing every season, as six different Broncos rushed for 1,000 yards at least once.

However, the Redskins have three veteran backs—Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker—who appear to be in decline, with Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain also part of the training camp mix. Can any of the vets find new life in Shanahan’s system? That will be a key to their success or failure. Portis, at least, sounds motivated after suffering a concussion last season.

“Everybody wrote me off, everybody felt like I was over and done with,” Portis said. “I’m back, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to helping this team.

"Having the opportunity to pay with Willie and Larry, two people who are proven in the NFL, it just helps us. Whoever gets going is going to play.”

Shanahan believes Johnson has a lot left: “I liked what I saw in film last year and is one of the reasons why he is here.”

Offensive line: Shanahan believes in a zone-blocking scheme that asks backs to cut quickly and find holes. When Shanahan took the job and looked at the Redskins’ offensive line, he didn’t like what he saw. So changes were made.

First-round pick Trent Williams, who signed Friday, was drafted to play left tackle, and Jammal Brown was signed to play right tackle. Artis Hicks was signed to play guard and will replace Mike Williams, who will miss the season after a blood clot was discovered in his lungs.

Getting this unit to play cohesively may be Shanahan’s biggest challenge. "It’s our job to get them coordinated, and hopefully we can put a better product on the field,” he said.

“Our running game I thought was very average last year, our passing game was pretty inconsistent. We have a lot of people playing a lot of different positions. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to evaluate these guys and see what they can do.”

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

ASHBURN, Va.—Mike Shanahan has a difficult task with the Redskins, trying to take a franchise from the ground floor to the mountaintop.

The Redskins were 4-12 last season, finishing in the NFC East cellar. Enter Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, cementing his reputation as one of the NFL’s best coaches.

Every coach has a blueprint for success, and Shanahan has begun putting his DNA on the Redskins. His handling of Albert Haynesworth, who failed a conditioning test for the second consecutive day Friday and was not allowed to practice, certainly has let the team know who’s in charge.

In his attempt to transform the Redskins’ attack from anemic into dynamic, here are three areas where Shanahan’s expertise may help:

Mike Shanahan will try to transform the Redskins into a winning team.
Mike Shanahan will try to transform the Redskins into a winning team.

Passing game: When Shanahan hired his son, Kyle, as offensive coordinator, it was about production, not nepotism. The Texans had the NFL’s top passing attack last season with Kyle as their coordinator.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb expects Kyle’s offensive wrinkles to have a big impact. "It’s an opportunity for me to learn something new,” McNabb said. "There’s a reason why (Matt) Schaub threw for 4,700 yards last year.”

Running game: A formidable rushing attack is a Shanahan staple. His offenses in Denver from 1995-2008 ranked in the top 12 in rushing every season, as six different Broncos rushed for 1,000 yards at least once.

However, the Redskins have three veteran backs—Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker—who appear to be in decline, with Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain also part of the training camp mix. Can any of the vets find new life in Shanahan’s system? That will be a key to their success or failure. Portis, at least, sounds motivated after suffering a concussion last season.

“Everybody wrote me off, everybody felt like I was over and done with,” Portis said. “I’m back, I’m healthy, and I’m looking forward to helping this team.

"Having the opportunity to pay with Willie and Larry, two people who are proven in the NFL, it just helps us. Whoever gets going is going to play.”

Shanahan believes Johnson has a lot left: “I liked what I saw in film last year and is one of the reasons why he is here.”

Offensive line: Shanahan believes in a zone-blocking scheme that asks backs to cut quickly and find holes. When Shanahan took the job and looked at the Redskins’ offensive line, he didn’t like what he saw. So changes were made.

First-round pick Trent Williams, who signed Friday, was drafted to play left tackle, and Jammal Brown was signed to play right tackle. Artis Hicks was signed to play guard and will replace Mike Williams, who will miss the season after a blood clot was discovered in his lungs.

Getting this unit to play cohesively may be Shanahan’s biggest challenge. "It’s our job to get them coordinated, and hopefully we can put a better product on the field,” he said.

“Our running game I thought was very average last year, our passing game was pretty inconsistent. We have a lot of people playing a lot of different positions. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to evaluate these guys and see what they can do.”

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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