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Sunday's Smell - Redux

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a BGO.C.D. blog entry called 'Sunday’s Smell'. Part reminiscence of all those Sunday mornings filled with anticipation for a great Redskins game to come, part bitter recognition that in 2009 excitement and hope were going to be hard to muster, it was not an optimistic piece.

A year has passed. The clock ticks inexorably towards an epic season-opening home clash with our most hated rivals (do I need to say their name?) on national TV. And I can hardly contain my excitement.

My, how the worm has turned in the space of one short year.

We’ve got it. As Zorn’s regime imploded during his final failed season, I lamented 'where are all the grownups?!’ We’ve got grownups now in key positions. With Bruce Allen, the Redskins first legitimate GM in a generation, leading the way, the Redskins have a seasoned, experienced head coach with perennial playoff and Super Bowl credentials, and a Pro Bowl quarterback behind center. In 2010, when a prima-donna millionaire athlete throws a temper tantrum, he doesn’t get a free dinner with the owner, he gets put in timeout, where he belongs. There is stability at Redskins Park.

A Plan
Jim Zorn is one hell of a nice guy. But one sensed throughout his tenure in DC, he had no clue how to navigate the rocky, unforgiving terrain between failure and success. And even if he had a plan, he surely didn’t have the strength of will, moxie, leadership, cojones, whatever you want to call that intangible personal quality that makes men stand up and listen to you, to carry it out. The 2009 Redskins were Dan Snyder’s and Vinny Cerrato’s Redskins, plain and simple. And that was a recipe for disaster on an epic scale. And disaster we got.

That’s history. Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan are in command of the Washington Redskins. There will be no Daniel Snyder meddling. Sycophant racquet-ball buddies have been discharged. Reason, leadership, and logic have experienced a re-birth in Ashburn, Virginia. We have a plan, and guys in place who know how to implement it. Our new plan involves many novel concepts. Players will play based on performance, hard-work, and commitment level. We will build the team from the trenches up. Experience matters. We will be smart and frugal in our business dealings. We will look for value additions to the team, not sexiness or headline-worthiness. We have a plan.

Glory, glory hallelujah.

Oh, the Washington Redskins had plenty of talent during the Zorn years, but no cohesion. An inarguable NFL truth is that every pro football franchise is loaded with talent. What separates the winners from the dogs are coaches that can put it all together to present an effective attack, a formidable defense, and opportunistic special teams. Job #1 for these coaches is always to find a guy who can be trusted under center. Jason Campbell, another nice guy, could not be trusted. Shanahan knew it before he’d finished watching his first Redskins highlight reel, and he made an authoritative decision.

This new breed of Redskins coaches also realizes that the importance of talent reaches far beyond the quarterback, running back, wide-reciever, and defensive end positions. You’ve got to have talent in the trenches, on the lines, on special teams, and really focus on those areas to produce a team that will place opponents on the 'horns of a dilemma’ . Stack the line on defense to squash our running attack, we will pick you apart with play action. Bring in extra defensive backs to squelch our passing game, we will rip you with a power running game. The goal of an NFL coaching staff is to be able to present the opponent with an unsolvable dilemma every time players line up for a play.

To do that, you must have strength at every position, and must make organizational decisions that give you every opportunity to find talent across the board. The Redskins haven’t done that. Trading away draft picks like they were pre-season tickets has crippled the franchise since Dan Snyder flew his first Lear jet into DC because it severely limited our ability to find talent at multiple positions.

And not all talent has to be purchased. Shanahan seems to realize that it can actually be developed. By placing a premium on player qualities like determination, commitment level, perseverance, and guts, not just on 40 times and Pro Bowl votes, the new message in DC is 'show me what you got’, not 'tell me what you want’. That my friends is one refreshing sea change.

The Future is Now
Perhaps one of the most surprising cultural changes we’ve seen with our Washington Redskins since the close of the 2009 season is a commitment to 'win now’. Of course, we’ve heard those words plenty over the last decade. But they were usually uttered in reference to the latest sexy free agent brought in for a bazillion gazillion dollars, as if the acquisition of the latest former star would turn it all around in an instant. The message this new Redskins regime is clearly sending is 'Yes we are re-building, yes we will do so from the ground up, but we are preparing to win every game we suit up for, because that is who we are going to be’.

We aren’t waiting to see if some moderately-talented quarterback of the 'future’ will grow up enough to be able to carry the yoke of team leadership, or to put the fate of the game on his back in the waning moments of the 4th Quarter. We aren’t going to see players do whatever the hell they want in the off-season with impunity. We won’t see players deciding when and where in-game substitutions will occur. We’re going to see an effort, beginning right now, to do whatever it takes to win every single game played with 100% effort. And that effort will be driven by a passionate, ferocious, coaching staff who will demand players give their all, not ask them for the courtesy.

There’s a new smell in the air. Next Sunday morning, as I roll out of bed and wipe the sleep of a long off-season out of my eyes, it’s going to waft through my house like the glorious smell of cooking bacon. I can’t wait to take in a deep breath and relish again the strangely familiar smell of something I can almost recognize…

I think they call it 'Promise’.
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