Gibbs looking to turn things around in D.C.

The Redskins are hoping Joe Gibbs can get them back to the Super Bowl.

Updated: September 3, 2004, 10:52 AM ET
By John Keim | Pro Football Weekly

Editor's note: These previews were last updated Sept. 2 and don't reflect any moves made by the team after that.

Four words changed the outlook of the franchise, one tainted by numerous coaching moves, unwise spending sprees and disappointing seasons. The Redskins became more known for their gaudy offseasons than their mediocre regular seasons.

And then came those four words, uttered in January.

Joe Gibbs is back.

Suddenly, the light shone, the heavens sang and the fans rejoiced. Even owner Dan Snyder was shoved to the background, a better place for him to be.

"The man has the Midas touch," said Redskins LB LaVar Arrington, playing for his fifth coach in five years. "The tide could be turning. I've been around long enough not to put my foot in my mouth, but we will be a good team because we are a well-coached team. It's never been a lack of talent."

Gibbs orchestrated the Redskins' greatest decade, leading them to three Super Bowl titles between 1982-91. He won 140 games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in '96. Now his task is to revive the Redskins after the two-year experiment with Steve Spurrier failed miserably. Gibbs' preparation and attention to detail alone will be an improvement.

The players have embraced Gibbs and his new staff, which includes four coaches from his previous stint. But Gibbs wasn't the only key addition.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, formerly head coach of the Bills, plans an aggressive attack, RB Clinton Portis provides a home-run threat and the Redskins tried to improve their defensive line with free agents Phillip Daniels and Cornelius Griffin, though the front four's pass rush remains lackluster. Free-agent addition Marcus Washington could end up to be a gem at linebacker.

Quarterbacks: The starting job was handed to Mark Brunell -- hardly a shock considering the money the team gave him in the offseason, but the decision was less than a lock coming out of training camp. Brunell had played better than Patrick Ramsey in the first three preseason games. Brunell's arm has lost zip, but he compensates with a quick release and accuracy. He's much more mobile than Ramsey, a classic pocket passer. Brunell's experience is a big plus with Gibbs. Ramsey has not yet looked comfortable running this offense after two years in Steve Spurrier's unique system. Tim Hasselbeck is a solid No. 3. Grade: B-minus.

Running backs: Washington struggled to find a consistent runner in 2003. That won't be a problem this season with Portis. He gives the Redskins a game-breaking threat and is multidimensional. Portis is powerful when needed. He's a threat as a pass catcher, too, and he can pick up the blitz. The Redskins like their depth, but they also know the more Portis carries the ball, the better they'll be. Ladell Betts could be a solid backup if he could ever stay healthy. Rock Cartwright, John Simon and Sultan McCullough each have shown something in camp while fighting for a spot. Chad Morton could get time on third downs. Grade: A-minus.

Receivers: Laveranues Coles shifts to the X receiver, where he'll be a threat on Gibbs' favored fade routes. The fast and tough Coles had a big first year in Washington with 1,204 yards, but a nagging toe injury is a concern. Rod Gardner needs a big season after a subpar '03 in which his yardage total dropped by 406 yards. Ex-Eagles starter James Thrash is a nice addition as a No. 3 or 4 wideout. Darnerien McCants had six touchdowns among his 27 receptions last season, playing mostly in the red zone. He makes big plays but has been inconsistent this summer. Second-year player Taylor Jacobs struggled with injuries and hasn't shown much. TE Walter Rasby is an excellent blocker. The H-backs have complementary skills. Rookie Chris Cooley should be a factor in the passing game, Mike Sellers is the best blocker, and veteran Brian Kozlowski does a little of both. Grade: B-plus.

Offensive linemen: Former "Hogs" leader Joe Bugel dubbed his new group the "Dirtbags." Losing the top Dirtbag, ORT Jon Jansen, for the season was a major blow to the line and the team. But they still should be solid. Rejuvenated OLT Chris Samuels has an extra-sized chip on his shoulder after a poor '03 season. ORG Randy Thomas was solid last year. He and OLG Derrick Dockery both have the quick feet necessary to be effective pulling blockers in Gibbs' offense. C Lennie Friedman is small but quick; he started eight games at this spot in '03. Replacement ORT Kenyatta Jones is the question mark. Veteran C Cory Raymer adds depth, as does 41-year-old OG Ray Brown. They can't afford another injury at tackle. Grade: B-minus.

Defensive linemen: The Redskins lack a playmaker up front. But they added two intriguing players in Daniels at right end and Griffin inside at tackle. Daniels, when healthy, is a huge upgrade over Bruce Smith against the run. Griffin showed flashes with the Giants the past four years, but the Redskins need consistency. DT Brandon Noble returned from a gruesome knee injury sooner than expected but then broke his right hand in camp. Noble specializes in the grunt work. DE Renaldo Wynn is workmanlike but makes few plays. Reserve DE Regan Upshaw was disappointing a year ago. Journeyman Joe Salave'a will be the third tackle. Third-year DE Ron Warner had a good camp, but depth at this position remains an issue. Grade: C.

Linebackers: Arrington, playing for his fifth coordinator, has to learn a new role -- again. After four years on the strong side, he's been moved to the weak side. He'll also play right end on passing downs. He's capable of a huge season, especially if he becomes a little more disciplined. Free-agent signee Washington has looked excellent in camp on the strong side. But MLB Mike Barrow has been bothered by a knee injury most of the preseason. Though smart and steady, he's 34, making his health a big concern. Heady backup Antonio Pierce can play all three spots. Lemar Marshall is a decent backup on the outside, and veteran Kevin Mitchell can help against the run in the middle. Grade: B-plus.

Defensive backs: The Redskins essentially replaced CB Champ Bailey with Shawn Springs. They only need the athletic Springs to stay healthy and play close to Bailey's level. Fred Smoot must prove he can handle regular duty against top receivers with Bailey gone, as the corners will be in man coverage often and likely will alternate facing the best wideouts. Rookie FS Sean Taylor, with his size and speed, will be a major playmaker. He allows Matt Bowen to return to strong safety, where his speed and aggressiveness make him a good fit in Williams' defense. There's decent depth at cornerback with Walt Harris, Ralph Brown and Rashad Bauman. Grade: B.

Special teams: The biggest difference is the emphasis placed on this unit by Gibbs. Fiery special-teams coach Danny Smith has the final say with several roster spots. The kicking game should be fine with veteran P Tom Tupa and PK John Hall. Long-snapper Ethan Albright is consistent. Morton was OK last year returning kicks, but nothing special. Look for improved punt returns by him. Depth at linebacker should boost the coverage units. Grade: B.

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John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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