Sunday, January 20, 2013

Improving the Redskins

The Redskins' season is over. No major coaching changes (though I disagree with keeping Danny Smith), so the changes will all be player-personnel. Where do the Redskins need to improve. Who is available? Who can they pursue financially (considering the Redskins will, for another season, be $18 million short of salary cap space). I think any player listed is a viable option financially, but not in combination with many other players. This mainly applies because not many NFL players are willing to take a backloaded contract as they want to be paid upfront, granted most of the backloaded money is guaranteed. Most of what the Redskins can and will offer will be bonuses which may not be met and could still cost them if they are. So it's difficult to gauge how and on who the Redskins will spend their money.

Several things are for certain though. Players around the league want to play on a team that can run the football. Defensive players in particular, as they get, presumably, a little more time on the bench to rest. Offensive players love it because they can bolster their own stock and it improves their number of opportunities to make plays. Players around the league also want to play with sensational young QB Robert Griffin III. Most defenders don't want to play him (they do, but they'd rather be on his team) and every offensive weapon would love to have a QB who can do the things he does. A lot of offensive players will also want to play for an innovative mind like Kyle Shanahan who finds ways to help his team succeed.

So let us first take a look in-house and what the Redskins may be considering doing to either retain, reshape, or release their own talent.

Redskins Free Agents

Rex Grossman, Darrell Young, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, Logan Paulsen, Brandon Banks, Jordan Black, Tyler Polumbus, Nick Sundberg, Kory Lichtensteiger, Lorenzo Alexander, Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson, Bryan Kehl, Kedric Golston, Cedric Griffin, David Jones, Tanard Jackson, Madieu Williams, Sav Rocca

The names that stick out from that list are Darrell Young, Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Nick Sundberg, Kory Lichtensteiger, Lorenzo Alexander, Rob Jackson, and Sav Rocca. The rest are likely to be allowed to walk, but I think the Redskins biggest decisions from their own personnel lie with these players.

Darrell Young is a player the coaching staff is big on. Teammates love the guy and he has been a very reliable player. Young is a restricted free agent, so the team has the advantage with him. Chances are they re-sign Young to a lengthy contract.

Fred Davis is a bit of a question mark. Coaches love the player. They kept him around this past season even though he faces a year-long suspension if he fails a drug test. It says a lot that they trusted him enough to keep him. But Davis' 2012 season was cut short with a torn achilles. There is an option of a tag but the TE tag price is getting higher every year. They may want to sign him long term sooner than later. There's a chance they let Davis walk but a greater chance they retain him.

Logan Paulsen came in this season after Davis went down and played very well. Not the most reliable pass-catcher there is, but he can catch, and he works through the middle of a defense nicely. He's an exceptional blocker and a tough player. Coaches love him. He won't be too expensive. He will be retained.

Nick Sundberg is the long-snapper, and coaches love him. He had some troubles early on but has gotten better over time through experience. I think there's a very low chance the team lets him walk.

Kory Lichtensteiger has played well for the Redskins under Mike Shanahan. He could be a pricey player, however. But he could also be a guy willing to take a discount or bonus-laden contract. I don't believe the team parts ways with Kory.

Lorenzo Alexander is going nowhere but the Pro Bowl for the Washington Redskins again next year.

Rob Jackson stepped in this season after Brian Orakpo hit IR for a torn pectoral. Jackson was one of the team's biggest playmakers on defense and was a big reason for the turnaround and 7-straight wins to lead the team to the first division title since 1999. He won't be a pricey contract, yet, but if he keeps playing at this level, he will be looking for/deserving of one. The Redskins will retain Jackson.

Sav Rocca will probably be let go. He had his worst year with the Redskins, granted he was injured for quite a while. He did manage to play better late in the stretch, and he's willing to tackle returners. The team can probably go younger and cheaper, however, so he may be a casualty. Not ruling out retaining his services, but it seems more likely the Redskins go another direction.

Some players the Redskins may decide to cut or restructure deals with? DeAngelo Hall, Santana Moss, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Meriweather, Roy Helu, Jr., Jammal Brown.

So what are the Redskins needs? From most important to least important:

Offensive Line
Running Back

Secondary was a major concern for the Redskins in 2012. I mean, it was almost historically bad. Safety looks to be the biggest concern for the Redskins who will probably be parting ways with Tanard Jackson, Madieu Williams, and maybe even Brandon Meriweather. But the good news is, a lot of talent is likely to be available to the Redskins at Safety.

Dashon Goldson is likely to be kept by the San Francisco 49ers, which could result in SF making a cap-casualty of Donte Whitner. Whitner is exactly the kind of talent the Redskins are looking for, and more importantly, need. He's a much better option than the familiar LaRon Landry who probably won't be making a return to the Burgundy and Gold, and a more promising option than a Kenny Phillips. Jairus Byrd of Buffalo is set to become a Free Agent, but multiple sources indicate that the team will be using the franchise tag on Byrd as quickly as possible, and that he may even be locked into a long-term contract soon enough, using the tag to bide their time to hammer out the details. Should he hit the market, he would ultimately be the main target for the Redskins, who could also find themselves in the market for Pittsburgh's Ryan Mundy, who knows the scheme Washington runs as Jim Haslett suggests it's all the Steelers' scheme anyways. In the draft, many Redskins fans are hoping for D.J. Swearinger out of South Carolina, a dynamic young safety with speed, size, the ability to play the pass and the run, and make sure tackles.

At cornerback, the Redskins could (but may not) be looking at an Aqib Talib, Tracy Porter, or Brent Grimes, who fall in the pricier of targets. They could also be looking at Kelvin Hayden, Quentin Jammer, Mike Jenkins, Rashean Mathis, Leodis McKelvin, Sean Smith, and Cary Williams. All are guys with experience on the outside, which the Redskins want/need. Granted, Richard Crawford looked improved late in the year, they want that other guy in case they part ways with Hall or move him to safety. Another body never hurts. Leodis McKelvin, Sean Smith, and Kelvin Hayden are all viable options who won't command major money but can produce like a big-money player. Many are also hoping the Redskins go with someone in the draft, which will be full of corners this year, but outside of the top first-round talent, it's a little difficult to guess who is going to be better than good, and the Redskins right now need better than good.

Offensive line is a big need strictly because of how many positions are available. 2012-13 starters Kory Lichtensteiger and Tyler Polumbus are set to hit free agency, but as I said before, I believe the team likes Kory enough to bring him back. Polumbus, on the other hand, proved himself incapable, many times, of pass protection, and the Redskins have to be concerned with that as they evaluate him. Jammal Brown is almost expected to go as well, but his exit from the team would likely come with a price, and that's something the team dug themselves into. There are some FA's available who could do the job, but I expect Mike Shanahan to be looking for something long-term, and considering his zone-blocking scheme requires athletes opposed to the greatest of one-on-one maulers, he could settle for someone in the late rounds that he's comfortable with starting games immediately.

Linebacker is more a need of depth than a need of a superstar. I expect the Redskins to retain both Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander, and they may keep Bryan Kehl who contributes on special teams as well as subs in on defense when the Skins go with their LB-heavy packages. An outside linebacker will be acquired one way or another, and while I believe coaches like Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley enough to man the middle after London Fletcher retires, I wouldn't put it past coaches to look at an ILB after injury almost cost Fletcher some games when the team was already without Robinson. I would look more towards the draft than Free Agency if I'm expecting the Redskins to grab an extra body at ILB for cheap.

Punter is an issue I bring up as a cause for concern because field position didn't do the Redskins a lot of favors in 2012 and it could be something that may have changed the early part of the year. Rocca was injured, however, and healing could help him return to the field. But there are plenty of "cheaper" options available, especially young talent. Also having Shane Lechler possibly due to hit the market and not make a return to the Oakland Raiders, it's always worth taking a look at a guy who can punt it further than anyone else. Or turn to a rookie, undrafted Free Agent after the draft...

Running Back isn't a big issue, but it's an issue nonetheless. The team has a decision to make with Roy Helu, Jr., and it's very possible they release the quick, young back. Evan Royster played a lot of snaps for the Redskins, but he made a lot of mistakes, and oftentimes made them more than once. He's not the most confident of blockers and he has been far from successful as a runner this year. Alfred Morris is a big bruiser who doesn't really contribute in the passing game. Coming off a year of being one of the most productive and physical rookie running backs ever, Mike may want to limit how much he throws on Morris as he tries to open the offense up some more to keep RGIII in the pocket. A receiving threat out of the backfield would be ideal, but where to turn? Reggie Bush is the best speedster available in free agency, but he could be looking for big-time money and big-time minutes, and I don't believe he'll find the latter here. The former, he could probably get for his ability to play in the backfield, at receiver, and contribute on special teams (he'd be a much better option than, say, Brandon Banks). New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory is also scheduled to hit the market. Passed over for the more dynamic Darren Sproles, Ivory's speed is a surprise for most because he's not that small. He's a decent pass-catcher and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field, so he could be a suitable option. Jerome Harrison and Felix Jones are also possible options, but Harrison's inability to contribute in recent years could leave him out of the question and Jones is often injured and a we're still reeling from the ridiculous decision to field Tashard Choice here in Washington. There are also a lot of backs available in the draft, many of whom run pretty well and contribute to the ever-changing college game which is relying more heavily on pro-style offenses and passing.

So there are some of the many possibilities for the Redskins this offseason. Have we forgotten some options? Leave a comment and let us know what you think the Skins will do.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Manti Te'o Needs to Answer Questions

By now, we've all heard the news about Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend. It has taken Lance Armstrong's story out of the spotlight. For those who haven't heard about it, click the link and read up. For those too lazy to click and read, in short, Te'o's dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua isn't dead, nor did she ever exist in the first place.

The story has left us with more questions than it has answers. Did Te'o get tricked by someone online? If so, why the contradicting report from him that he met her on the field after a Notre Dame loss to Stanford? Did he make that story up to hide that he met her online and wanted people to think he actually had met her in person? Or did he make that story up as part of a bigger hoax which he was involved in creating? I'm leaning more towards the latter, as Te'o's father has told reporters Manti and Lennay had hung out in Hawaii together... surely Te'o wouldn't go home without being with his family, so did he lie to them to avoid them? Where did Te'o go on the days he was supposed to be out with Lennay?

I've got even more questions. If Manti was involved in the hoax, why go so far as to get his own family emotionally invested in Lennay? Of course they care for her in some way as they "know" their son cares deeply for her. Te'o's father even spoke to "Lennay" on the phone when she was released from the hospital after her fight after a car crash. Surely all of the months that Lennay was in the hospital, Manti visited her at least once?

More questions than answers.

Was Manti involved in all of this? Short of accusing Te'o of anything myself, MILLIONS of tweets have suggested Te'o did all of this to cover up him being homosexual. That thought has crossed the minds of more than just average Tweeters; athletes, journalists, and other celebrities have chimed in wondering the same. OutSports, a popular site dedicated to homosexual athletes, has wondered as much.

But then we get deeper into the search for anything that makes sense, and there have been Tweets from friends of the accused suggesting they knew exactly who was behind the Lennay Kekua Twitter account. The account has since tweeted a joke making fun of Manti's performance in Notre Dame's National Championship loss to Alabama. Did the two have a falling out if indeed Manti was in a homosexual relationship with the accused? Did Manti not have any involvement in this and was being blackmailed? One way or another, the world was fooled. If Manti was apart of this, it was very distasteful for him on many accounts. The worst of all being that he assumed he needed more than the story of his grandmother's death to help be an inspirational story. One death is bad enough, but two? On the same day? Hollywood script-writers try their hardest to write this. Did Te'o do so in poor taste? Or did the accused do so to really wrench at Te'o's heart? DeadSpin also makes note that Te'o is indeed friends with the accused, so there is something to consider there.

Te'o's official statement suggests that he was hoaxed and a victim. Notre Dame's as well. Are they both playing it off? Is it true? Te'o's future as a football player indeed needs some help after this. Making future teammates believe he had no involvement other than being victimized really helps him. But the story of him meeting her, which he told himself, then gets very suspicious. All the times he was in Hawaii with her and didn't bring her home to his family, seems all the more suspicious. The fact he never visited her in the hospital? That he never used Skype or FaceTime or any Instant Messenger to make a video call? Surely an Academic All-American Athlete was bright enough to know those options were available and that he should have doubted until he had proof. So why all the lies?

Te'o is an outstanding football player. Talent alone suggests he'll be a first-round pick. I'm not of the belief he'll fall in the draft, but I do believe that coaches, GM's, owners, and teammates will wonder whether he's honest. As an inside linebacker in the NFL, you're expected to be a leader. The QB of the defense. Generally a team captain. Can he be trusted in those roles if he was a part of creating this hoax? Can teammates trust someone so gullible who lied to cover whatever the reason may be as their leader of men in battle? These are questions all will ask. They're questions that Te'o needs to discover how to answer. He needs to do so through honesty, because dishonesty got him into this position. He needs to fess up to whatever the story may be. If he was truly hoaxed, admit he was ashamed to tell people he met someone online who he never saw and fell for something out of 1995. If he was involved in the hoax, tell people, and tell them why. If he used it to help his own publicity, admit it. If he used it to cover up being homosexual, accept that role and take that to the NFL and make your mark that way.

But the key is to be honest. Answer all of these questions. Because there are way more questions than there are answers.

Monday, January 7, 2013

CNN Dubs Nas The Greatest Lyricist of All Time.

CNN writer Eliott C. McLaughlin dubs Nas the GOAT in his opinion piece, "A case for Nas, hip hop's finest MC." According to him, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones is rap's greatest master of the pen.


After reading his article, I felt compelled to pick up my own pen to offer my own opinion. This is purely my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of the other writers here at DLP(though I do believe Luke might agree with me).

Nas. Why Nas? Mr. McLaughlin mentions Nas' seven platinum albums, but goes on to say this:
"This debate, if you will, isn't so much about who can move the most rump in a club, but rather, if we were delivered back to 1800, who could hold their own with Coleridge and Wordsworth."

Well, let's look at it that way then. If we are discussing how well rap verses are written and constructed on a poetic level, then you can't give the title of greatest rap lyricist of all-time to Nas. Would Nas really be able to go toe to toe with the old masters like William Wordsworth and his friend Samuel Taylor? I have to disagree. I'm not going to sit here and say that Nas isn't one of the greatest writers in the rap community. He is. But to say he IS the out and out greatest? No, I can't agree. Sure, Nas has displayed impressive versatility in his topical range and has written insightful lines on those topics. If that was all we were talking about, fine, hand him the crown. But we're not merely talking about the breadth of topics discussed, are we? We're talking about the verses themselves and their worth as poetic exemplars, right? 

If so, Nas' abilities as a poet are limited. His style is limited to occasional metaphorical imagery, a la I Gave You Power, and intricate rhyming patterns, a la Nas Will Prevail / It Ain't Hard To Tell. In regard to the former, Nas is more a master of artfully constructing blunt imagery, he is able to sell gritty visuals with the best of them. But he is no master of the metaphor. To explain this point better, let's take Jay-Z. Outside of battle emcees, Jay is the most prolific user of wordplay and double entendres. Nas is the superior storyteller and has Jay-Z beat when it comes to topical range, but Jay-Z is Nas' superior in regard to use of poetic devices(particularly metaphors). In regard to rhyme patterns, Nas will let a few words go by before he introduces the next word in his pattern. Where Nas' patterns featured just a little more in-rhyming than the average rapper, lyricists like Rugged Man, Pun and MF Doom marry nearly every single word they write to the next word written via rhyme scheme. Word for word, Doom's verses feature arguably the best rhyme schemes of any known rapper. Even when we discuss Nas' bread and butter, blunt real-life imagery, the fact is that there have been blunter lyricists, most notably Scarface(an emcee who is DISGRACEFULLY ignored in these conversations).

Are we to accept Nas as the greatest lyricists merely because he bridged the gap between the blunt reality rap of Kool G Rap and the superior rhyming abilities of Rakim? No, there is more to poetic depth than rhyme schemes and direct imagery. Shakespeare and Homer are the most celebrated lyric poets of all time because they developed masterful metaphors in the context of their storytelling and image creation. And when we discuss rap, there is but one lyricist who constructs verses as skillfully as the old masters.

Lupe Fiasco.

Now, I'm not saying Lupe is a poet the way Homer or William were. I am saying that he is the only rapper worthy of approaching that altar. Lupe's gift for utilizing literary devices in the context of delivering stories with as wide a topical breadth as Nas is nothing short of amazing. Lu's rhyme schemes aren't consistently as sharp as Nas' patterns, but Lu is far from a slouch. He may not hit as many in-rhymes as Nas does on a regular basis, but at his best, Lu is just as skilled as Nasir at rhyming unconventional sounds in his schemes. But even so, I can admit that Nas' patterns are on that high plateau on a much more consistent basis(there are instances in Lupe songs where the rhyme schemes fall off and you don't hear the pattern at all). But where Nas is a step above Lu in regard to actually rhyming words(purely because of consistence, mind you), Lupe is unequivocally Nas' superior in regard to lyrical architecture. The difference in their rhyming abilities is evident but mostly negligible, but the difference in their technical writing abilities is enormous. There is no verse, no song and no album in Nas' discography that features the level of technical ability that Lupe displays on the first verse of Failure:

"It's so serious, every time I write my John Hancock, like...
could damn near see Detroit. (I see you!)
Niggas is scared of heights.
This is Saran wrap and aluminum foil
some potpourri, a little machine oil.
I stack my paper and throw off my scents
this is top flow, better look out below.
Pennies from heaven is the same as a semi from the second.
And I reign supreme.
Turn your umbrellas upside down...
Did you even catch the change in theme?"

^ There are several interconnecting layers of wordplay and metaphorical imagery here. All in the span of a few lines, Lupe is doling out self-aggrandizing braggadocio, telling the tale of an elusive(and murderous) drug dealer and creating the imagery of dropping a coin from the top of a skyscraper(the John Hancock Center)... all of which he connects via several plays on words. That type of extended metaphor is on par with the extended metaphors employed by Homer in the Illiad(i.e. breaking down a collection of soldiers and relating them to a hive of bees, describing the hive, then relating them to more vicious animals as the battle begins).

Where Jay-Z, in general, would ride a single play on words for a few lines, Lupe will ride a play on words for several lines, introduce new wordplays, connect those new ideas to the initial idea, then connect those new ideas to one another. In a Lupe verse, there will be an initial, secondary and tertiary connection between several different ideas, all within the span of a few lines. No other rapper, past or present, has shown the ability to build a verse that way. Lupe is a master of wordplay and has a genius for literary device usage. No other rapper is as technically gifted as he.

Where Nas, in general, is direct and to the point, Lupe will give you that same direct and to the point surface story, but then he will layer that story with different, but interconnected, metaphorical images. Obviously, Nas has a superior commercial standing, but that is something that can be attributed to Nas' material being more concrete and factual in style. Lupe's writings are a touch more abstract and conceptual, which can be boring and off-putting for the casual fan of music who isn't interested in trying to break down the lyrics of a song.

Our culture has touted Lupe as the next Nas, but no, he is not. Lupe drew influence from Nas, much as Nas drew influence from Rakim and Kool G Rap, but Lupe is easily Nas' superior. 

I am loath to discuss sales here, but since Mr. McLaughlin brought it up, let's discuss it. First, let's remember Jay-Z's Moment of Clarity lyric: "If skills sold, truth be told / I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli." If we can use that to build a lyric-density ladder, the rungs would look something like:





At the bottom of the ladder, you have one of the most astute lyricists in the game. But even as gifted a lyricist as Jay-Z can be(see Reasonable Doubt), the businessman Shawn Carter understands that fans of music aren't listening to music to be inundated with double, triple and quadruple layered lyrics that have to be broken(or slowed) down to be understood. That type of lyricism will bore the casual listener who is just turning on a song to rock out and enjoy themselves. And there's nothing wrong with that, we all have our preferences. But rather than completely disregard complex lyricism, Jay uses it in very small spurts, with the bulk of his material being plain, yet intriguingly phrased, thoughts. The Beatles, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder... these caliber of artists are all time legends in music. Their lyrics are not dense or packed with double and triple meanings. Instead, the lyrics are simple but poignant. That is what Jay-Z has done. Trading in expert
 technical skill for simple poignancy, Jay was able to build rap's greatest commercial career. 

Higher up the ladder is Nas, who built rap's second best commercial career(seven platinum albums, one more than Eminem who has 5 Platinum albums and one Diamond album(I'd include Pac, but like Mr. McLaughlin, let's keep this discussion to living artists, as death inflates sales tremendously)). Nas wasn't able to reach Jay's tier because he never made a transition from dense and wordy lyricism to poignant simplicity. But his storytelling style, while wordy, is so bluntly told that it is understandable to the casual listener. Though, with that said, his lyricism remains dense enough to earn the admiration of rap purists, but straightforward enough for casual fans to enjoy.

A rung up from Nasir is Lupe Fiasco, the greatest rap lyricist of all time. Where Nas is a foot inside the threshold that houses dense lyricism and shields it from the poignant simplicity all around it, Lupe is clearly in dense lyricism's living room with his feet up. His lyric structure is incredibly dense, layered with heavy vocabulary and metaphorical imagery. His writing style is the envy of rap purists, but it is so far removed from being straightforward that casual fans inevitably feel off-put, something reflected in Lupe's count of zero platinum album plaques(a situation exacerbated by his downturn into a preachy wannabe revolutionary(I believe his intentions are well-meant, but music is not the medium for such expressions anymore)). But to his credit, Lu's ability to cleverly dissect popular subjects has merited three of his singles Platinum plaques(Superstar, The Show Goes On, Battle Scars). Lupe's conceptual powers and abilities have won him two Gold albums and two Silver albums, as his lyricism appeals greatly to rap purists(casual fans are what take you into the Platinum range, purists will only get you half the sales casual fans will).

And then, there is Talib Kweli. To use the house metaphor again: where Lupe is lounging in dense lyricism's den, Talib Kweli is in it's basement. Talib does not boast the literary device mastery of a Lupe Fiasco, but his lyrics are twice as dense. Where Lupe thoroughly layers his lyrics with extended metaphors, Talib packs as many words into a verse as is physically possible. His vocabulary is stellar and his metaphor/simile usage is solid, but it's almost as if Talib has TOO much to say and doesn't know when to scale it back. Rap purists rarely tout him as an exemplar and casual fans are unaware of him, something again reflected by sales. Worse off than Lu, Talib's overly wordy style has led to only one of his four albums bring home a plaque, a Silver one at that.

Lupe does not have the commercial standing that Nas has, but that is akin to Nas not having the commercial standing that Jay-Z has. Mr. McLaughlin was able to look past Nas' commercial shortcoming and crown him the G.O.A.T., much as I look past Lupe's commercial shortcomings and crown him the G.O.A.T.

And why do I look past that shortcoming? Because If we're discussing lyrics and lyrics only, Lupe is leagues above any rapper out, for all the reasons I mentioned. He is without question the most technically gifted lyricist in the history of the rap community, considering all emcees past and present. Among rappers, Lu alone would be offered a seat the table with the masters of old... though his seat would be at the far, far end of the table(
Nas would be begrudgingly allowed scraps at the kid's table in the far corner.. lol).

The Greatest Rap Lyricist of All-Time is: 

Lupe Fiasco.

Redskins Fall to Seahawks

It's the same old story. The Washington Redskins go on a late, heroic run to land themselves in the playoffs. They played their hearts out for over a month. They made us all believers again. They drew the Seahawks. They fell to the Seahawks. Again.

It's the same old story. Good-to-great quarterback play highlighted the emotional run at the end of the season to land the Skins in the playoffs. Bad quarterback play broke the back of the Redskins in the playoffs. To the Seahawks. Again.

It's the same old story.

...yet it's not the same old story.

I won't be making excuses. The Redskins got beat, and got beat badly. They got outmatched physically, and it showed on the scoreboard. But these aren't your same-old Redskins. This is a team that everyone agrees is on the right track. This is a team that everyone agrees should be contending in the future, consistently. This is a team that everyone agrees has turned the corner, and looks to be every bit as fun to watch as they were not fun to watch for the better part of 20 years.

Robert Griffin III clearly wasn't as healthy as he hyped himself up to be. I think we all had an idea that was the case, but when the player tells you his body feels fine, you almost have to trust him, because you don't know what he's feeling. He could have had a point about the brace. But we saw two instances yesterday (the first where the knee was aggravated, the second when he got injured) where the brace didn't provide the support it was supposed to, and his knee gave out.

But it's not stupid. He looked to be in form early passing. He was planting and managing. Then he took to the sideline, leaped into the air to throw the football, and came down on that leg. It was eerily reminiscent of the Falcons game, almost the same spot on the sideline down in the redzone, fighting to make a play. But Robert stayed in the game and he fought, with all of his heart, to show the team, the coaches, and the fans that winning is the most important thing to him. He was still trying to prove himself when he didn't have to... and that's the kind of thing that earns respect.

Robert will learn not to do too much one of these days. Right now, he feels he has to. We can tell him he doesn't, but in his mind, and in everyone's, no rookie can do enough to prove themselves. He'll get right. He'll get better. He'll handle himself with the poise and leadership he showed all year until his body couldn't hold him up any more.

Robert had to be carried off of the football field against his will. He didn't just walk out and decide it was too much. He could have, and we wouldn't have thought less of him. At any point. We saw the limp. We know the story. It wouldn't have been a Jay Cutler thing. But he showed heart, and strength, and will, and determination.

#KnowYourWhy ... Robert's Why is to win, and be the hero. That's all he knows. That's all he can be. It's written into his DNA.

I'm not making excuses, or taking anything away from the Seahawks. However, I will say, this could have been an entirely different game if Robert was healthy. But this is football, and injuries happen. So it's not an excuse, just a "what if" of sorts.

This team played their hearts out. Jim Haslett will be criticized for the second half of the game, but the truth is, the defense played pretty well. A lot of short possessions for the offense added up and it cost the defense in the long run. Any defense would have been fatigued.

Kyle Shanahan will be criticized for abandoning the run when he did, but Seattle was getting physical and the line wasn't holding up as well.

Players made mistakes. Coaches didn't coach their best game. It happens to all of them, even in the playoffs.

This team has a franchise quarterback, and we were reminded last night of how hard it is to play football without a franchise quarterback on the field. Robert was limited, and that's not what a franchise QB is. We've been spoiled by heroic movies and a couple real situations (Leftwich's broken leg, Rivers' torn ACL) and we expect anyone to be able to have those moments. RGIII may accept it, but doesn't deserve that kind of pressure.

What Washington did this year should remain in our hearts and minds moving forward. It was no small feat to make the playoffs. It was an incredible display of will and teamwork. Mike Shanahan challenged his players to play like they wanted to be here for the future, and they answered his call. Everyone from RGIII himself, all the way down to Reed Doughty. Guys played with heart, even though they got beat in the end.

The stretch of 5 division wins, and 7 consecutive wins, was impressive. It was amazing. It captivated the football world, and solidified the belief that the Redskins have gone about business the right way finally. Our hope was answered in the form of RGIII, who is every bit what he is promised to be. A playmaker, a leader, and electrifying.

This team was down $18M in salary cap this season, and called weak, and small, and bad. People predicted 4-12 or worse before the year. Most people didn't predict much better than 8-8. At 3-6, we definitely weren't supposed to look better than 4-12. But the guys responded, they put on a show, and finished 10-6 to win the NFC East for the first time in 13 seasons and make the playoffs for only the third time in 13 seasons. The defense turned around and didn't fall to historically bad-levels. They made plays, they played with passion. The offense clicked and scored points. Special teams eliminated most of the mistakes.

This team will get better. By experience. By improvement. By return.

Robert Griffin III will heal. Trent Williams' thigh bruise will not be a problem. Alfred Morris will be rested. Roy Helu, Jr. should be healthy and back. Fred Davis will hopefully be returning. Adam Carriker will be healed and returning to bolster a D-Line that improved leaps and bounds every week in the second half of the season. Brian Orakpo will be back to add more rotation to the depth we maybe didn't know we had. Keenan Robinson will be able to help spell an older London Fletcher who appeared to find his motivation late in the year. Brandon Meriweather, if the team chooses to retain him, will be healed. The team could have a possible all-pro FS in a number of guys set to hit the market this offseason. The young guys to be drafted. Guys to be added after contracts are restructured. This team can, and will improve, because Washington is relevant again, and plays fun football, and has the most electrifying young football player in the NFL at the Quarterback position.

It was a Cinderella season, and the clock struck midnight. But this isn't the same old story. There's a future waiting ahead full of promise, hinted at in the final months of this NFL season. Redskins Nation, Redskins players... hold your heads high, even in this defeat. It's painful because we know we had a real chance, but the deck was stacked. We fell short. But we have hope.

"Our will! Our way! Our win!" - London Fletcher

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012-13 NFL Awards

I'll be doing my single season awards, but not just the big 5 or 6. I've got many categories to spotlight that I think deserve to be mentioned that don't tend to get recognition around the league. Remember, these are MY awards. I speak only for myself and nobody else.

Special Teams Player of the Year

Lorenzo Alexander, Washington Redskins. Homer right off the bat? No. Lorenzo Alexander is one of the most fearless men in all of football. Granted, his story of coming in as a DT really boost his case for the award, he's still going out and performing better than any other special teamer in the league, and he takes great pride in his hits or eating blocks that free his teammates to make those hits. Washington's coverage units are annually good, and while I don't know where they rank all time, they're usually one of the best units every single year. That's in large part due to Alexander who helped keep the unit on track this year. There are many unsung heroes on many teams in the league and kickers and punters deserve recognition too, but Lorenzo's contributions are extraordinary.

Reserve Player of the Year

Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers. I was very tempted to throw this one over to Rob Jackson, who contributed huge to the Redskins defense in the turnaround. But I have to recognize real with this Hayward kid, who filled in for a Charles Woodson who went down early in the year as well. Hayward played strong all season long, and did it without the greatest pass rush after Clay Matthews was sat down a few weeks for injury. Hayward posted some terrific numbers this year and while he was no match for Charles Woodson's production, he was still better than most and that's what is most impressive.

Assistant Coach of the Year

Bobby Turner, Washington Redskins. Running backs coach Bobby Turner is historically good and productive. He has been with Mike Shanahan his entire head-coaching career and has never once taken available, deserved opportunities to move up to offensive coordinator, because he simply loves his job. All of those great running backs Mike Shanahan gets credit for finding and producing, go through Bobby Turner before they ever hit the field. Turner has done it again, and this time turned out his most productive rookie runner in Alfred Morris (yes, better on the ground than Terrell Davis' outstanding rookie season). The Redskins ranked first in the league on the ground, and Morris 3rd overall. Bobby Turner is clearly as much a part of that success as any position coach in the league.

Defensive Coordinator of the Year

Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos. There are some guys out there who did good in many ways with their defenses, and some guys who stymied some offenses that Del Rio couldn't. But Del Rio's unit was the most consistent in terms of not allowing points, yards through the air, or yards on the ground. They also weren't one of the most penalized units. I love what Del Rio was able to do this year. He took a very good defense, and made them better. His team gave Peyton Manning more opportunities with the football as well, and when you can do that for a guy who doesn't need them, you're doing your job.

Offensive Coordinator of the Year

Kyle Shanahan, Washington Redskins AND Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots. I thought Josh McDaniels deserved this award outright as his team finished 1st in total offense, 4th in passing, and 7th in rushing (!!!) but Kyle Shanahan's innovation at this level earned him the right to sneak in and share this award as the Redskins finished 5th overall in total offense, 1st in rushing. While Washington finished 20th in passing, they finished 1st in yards per play in passing. Both offenses also protected the football very well. Both were also top 4 in the NFL in scoring. I could have also thrown Peyton Manning's name in the share of this award, but I figured I'd stick to just two.

Quarterback of the Year

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers. This award is going to a guy who won't be MVP or Offensive Player of the Year. Rodgers quietly had another brilliant season and most of his struggles came from going through player after player due to injury, either at running back or wide receiver. Rodgers also didn't have a run game he could turn to for most of the season and had to do it himself, and got his team in position for a bye late in the year before ultimately failing to lock it, in large part due to the Packers' inability to slow down Adrian Peterson.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers. Kuechly came in as a rookie and led the NFL in tackles. He picked up some serious slack on his defense. The Panthers didn't win many games as a result of Kuechly making impact plays, but he did just enough every play to be an impact. The Panthers were also very undisciplined on offense, which contributed to their not competing this season, so Kuechly can brag that he held up his end of the bargain.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins. Griffin is the only offensive rookie that I feel faced real adversity this year. Luck came in to a 2-14 team, but the Colts last year didn't even have a bad quarterback with experience. They had a horrible quarterback with no experience. Russell Wilson played his ass off, but it wasn't until late in the year when he became really relevant, and his defense did help make his life easier. Griffin's Redskins were 3-6 heading into their week 10 bye and he promised things would change after the bye, and helped the Redskins rattle off 7 straight wins (including 5 division wins) to help his team win their division and get into the playoffs. My question is, if you gave Griffin the offense/field Luck had, or the defense that Wilson had, how much more impressive would he have been? That's why he's my Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Coach of the Year

Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts. It's not so much that other guys weren't clearly more deserving for generating on-field success. It's the matter in which Arians had to conduct himself all year. Colts' Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia early in the year and took a sabbatical while he dealt with treatment, which has sent the leukemia into remission. Arians stepped up and kept his team motivated and focused and went out and helped them earn a playoff spot. Nobody wants to be in that position under those circumstances, but Arians handled himself with class and dignity, all while maintaining that the Colts are still Chuck Pagano's team.

Comeback Player of the Year

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos. Manning missed ALL of last season after undergoing multiple surgeries to his neck. The injury itself shouldn't have been career-ending, just an annoyance until the surgery, which should have been career ending. Manning had a reported three surgeries on his neck between the end of the 2010-11 season and the 2012-13 season. Manning at first didn't look terrific, in fact, he looked to be what everyone feared, done. But Manning sparked the Broncos into a huge streak to take the first seed in the AFC, and he did it with long throws down both sides of the field, reading defenses before the snap, and making safe and smart throws (smart throws for Peyton Manning are some of the best throws football has ever seen, btw).

Offensive Player of the Year

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings. What Peterson did this season was incredible. For Peterson to do it this season, was even more incredible. Peterson went down in Week 16 last season with what experts and doctors say is the "worst injury imaginable" for a football player, especially a running back. Peterson returned this year and went off. Whatever Mutant X-Gene Peterson has, it worked. He produced his best season of his career. 2,000 yards used to seem like it was in reach but out of the realm of possibility for Peterson who always fell just short of the mark. But Peterson did it, and did it in exciting fashion. He fell just 9 yards short of breaking Dickerson's single-season rushing record, but he did manage in the last month to direct his team with less-than-average QB play to the playoffs.

Defensive Player of the Year

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans. There are a lot of guys who did a lot of amazing things this season in the NFL. Any other year, I might have to bump Watt up higher than this. The young beast is a 3-4 defensive end, which is very close to being like a 4-3 defensive tackle. Usually, ends in a 3-4 are there to consume blocks, push the pocket back, and help free up the gaps and edge for the linebackers to get all the glory. The great ones get a few sacks and pass deflections. For the year, Watt swatted 16 passes down, registered 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Everyone is very split on how many tackles he had for a loss/no gain, but they all agree it's anywhere from 25-55% of his tackles, which is an unreal number considering it's from 20-45 tackles. Granted he had 20.5 sacks, we can assume the number is much higher than 25%.

Most Valuable Player

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos. Yes, the Broncos made the playoffs last year. They did it with Tim Tebow making 2 plays a game and going 8-8 in one of the league's worst divisions. Yes, they won a playoff game, with the defense making plays to make up for Tebow's shortcomings until he could finally make the play or two he needed. Peyton Manning came in and made everything easier. While he fell to some teams who are very good, those were early in the year before his confidence was picking back up. Manning didn't just go 8-8 and sneak into the playoffs in Week 17 because of a terrible division. Manning went out and outright won his division, and the conference, to gain homefield throughout the playoffs with the Broncos now favored in the AFC.