The National Football League (NFL) kicks off its season tonight with defending champions, the Baltimore Ravens, taking on the Denver Broncos.
The Ravens were the toast of the NFL last year, but that did not convert the Fredericksburg area. The local fans prove this is still Redskins country.
The Redskins’ presence in the area dates back to 1932. They captured the hearts of legions of Maryland, Virginia and DC football fans by winning three Super Bowls since 1982 and making twenty-two postseason appearances. The region buzzed with excitement and restored pride last season, while the Redskins won the NFC East division for the first time since 1999. The team’s success was largely attributed to the play and leadership of superstar rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, better known as RGIII. Unfortunately, for Redskins’ faithful, the season ended in catastrophe. RGIII suffered a devastating knee injury in the NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks and the Skins were unable to overcome the loss of their captain.
Despite the injury, hopes have not dwindled. The sports media covered every aspect of the quarterback’s rehab in frenzied fashion, including daily updates, weekly press conferences and continuous chatter on television and radio shows. Ever since the injury, RGIII has made it a point to let the world know he would be back and just as good as ever. In press conferences, he openly questioned the cautious manner in which his coaches handled him during the preseason and practice, prompting the revered Dr. James Andrews to give the green light for RGIII to play in the season opener. So far, it seems RGIII is prepared to come through on his promise to the fans; he fully rehabilitated his knee three months ahead of the original schedule, and now he just needs to prove he can continue to dominate and satisfy his guarantee.
RGIII’s lightning-fast rehabilitation now leaves Skins fans expecting great things. However, others are a bit more skeptical. Critics point to the sophomore quarterback’s reckless abandon and previous resistance to simply sliding or scurrying out of bounds as a recipe for disaster. Other concerns include the style of play. Will coach Mike Shanahan refrain from running RGIII? Will RGIII succeed if he is restricted to more pocket-passing? Will he suffer the infamous sophomore slump? University of Mary Washington senior, Robert Snook, seems much more optimistic.
“I think he learned from last year…to not be so careless and risk making himself injury prone. He’ll be smarter,” Snook said.
The Redskins better hope RGIII can make the necessary tweaks to his game, especially if they want to take the division two years in a row. The Redskins led the NFL in rushing yards last season, narrowly edging Adrian Peterson’s Vikings by 75 yards. Washington compiled such impressive rushing totals through their read-option system, which enabled rookie runner Alfred Morris to scamper for over 1,600 yards. That is why RGIII’s ability to keep running is imperative to the team. He was their second leading rusher with over 800 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Defenses will not bite on play action to Morris or receivers in motion if it becomes obvious that the Skins do not feel comfortable risking running RGIII. Those concerns could be made null, so long as the fleet-footed Griffin III learns to slide and avoids contact.
With so much left to be seen, many question the odds the Redskins will be able to duplicate their offensive success from last year. UMW sophomore, Jake Kalkstein, believes RGIII is “over-rated and too injury prone” to offer his franchise a full sixteen games of production.
Kalkstein believes RGIII will have a trickle-down effect on the offense, especially Alfred Morris, who was second in the league in rushing. “It’s not going to happen again,” said Kalkstein.
“Morris might be able to break the top ten in rushing, but not as good as last year.”
Another challenge facing the Redskins this season will be the onslaught they face in their own division. The NFC East is never a sure thing. A team has not held the NFC East for two consecutive seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Washington’s rivals can all make an argument for why they should be favored heading into the season. The New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys and the new-look Eagles are three of the Redskins’ possible challenges.
This is the beauty of sports. The NFC East, like every division, will begin the year in a four-way tie, so any of the teams could be this year’s winner. If the Redskins hope to earn that title and become the first team to win consecutive NFC East title since 2003, they have questions to answer and obstacles to surpass. Shanahan must decide whether to gamble with the high-risk, high-reward player that RGIII is, or he can hold the phenom back a bit. Either way, the Skins’ administration will be looking to limit the hits RGIII takes.
Success will be based on whether or not the Redskins can run over the NFL opposition like last season. They will be fine and will contend, as long as RGIII is kept upright and avoids big, unnecessary hits. The organization cannot allow their season to follow the same path it did last year, because doing so would be risking the chance of seeing another promising season end in heartbreak and agony from the loss of one of the game’s most exciting spectacles, Robert Griffin III.