> The EliasSports Bureau doesn't keep official track of this stat, but it's probably safeto say that last season Gregg Williams had the worst salary-to-takeaways ratioof any defensive coordinator in the history of football. Williams, properlycalled the assistant head coach-defense in the Redskins' unwieldy parlance,made a reported $2.6¬†million (a league record for an assistant coach) in2006 while overseeing a unit that created just 12 turnovers (a modern NFLrecord for futility). To bolster the defense, which plummeted from ninth in theleague in '05 in yards allowed to 31st in '06, the Redskins drafted LSU strongsafety LaRon Landry sixth overall and signed several free agents, includingcornerbacks Jerametrius Butler, David Macklin and Fred Smoot, and, mostimportant, middle linebacker London Fletcher.
> Fletcherwas at home in Cleveland when the telephone rang at 12:01 a.m. onMarch¬†2--one minute into the NFL's free-agency period. "London,"said the voice on the other end of the line, "this is Coach Gibbs from theWashington Redskins." Over the course of the next 10 minutes Fletcherlistened as a battery of assistants, including Williams, secondary coach JerryGray and special teams coach Danny Smith (all of whom had worked with Fletcherin Buffalo) expounded on the ways in which Fletcher could affect the Redskinsdefense. Fletcher boarded a D.C.-bound plane less than 10 hours later, and bythe time he and fellow free agent Smoot took their seats at that evening'sAtlanta Hawks-Washington Wizards NBA game, he had agreed to a five-year, $25million contract.
The Redskinscoveted Fletcher not only because he's a 5' 10", 245-pound dervish who isthe NFL's leading tackler since 2000, but also because he's a passionate leaderwith the ability to inspire listless teammates. "They want me to be thequarterback of the defense, somebody who looks into the eyes of the other 10men on that field," says Fletcher. "We're going to get the job done. Onkey third downs we're going to get the stops. On fourth down we're going to getthe stops." Although Fletcher turned 32 in May, the Redskins have no fearthat he'll join the line of high-priced, over-30 free-agent disappointmentsthat has marked Daniel Snyder's eight years as owner.
The havocFletcher wreaks up front should ease the burden on a secondary in which noplayer picked off more than one pass in '06 and that allowed an NFL-high 55completions of 20 yards or more. The team blames much of its incompetence on acombination of poor luck and poor depth. The addition of Butler, Macklin andSmoot, who have started a combined 183 NFL games, will provide a stable ofexperienced cover men to turn to when the legs of starters Carlos Rogers andShawn Springs go wobbly. But the key to the secondary's improvement may be the6' 2", 205-pound Landry, who is athletic enough to go sideline-to-sidelineat the line of scrimmage, allowing Pro¬†Bowl free safety Sean Taylor toroam downfield, where he can most effectively deploy his hard-hitting,ball-hawking style. "[With] the things we can do now defensively," saysdirector of player personnel Vinny Cerrato, "we should get moreturnovers."
On offense,former first-round pick Jason Campbell enters a season as the startingquarterback for the first time as a pro. When informed in training camp that heis the franchise's 17th starting QB since 1993--a group that includes two otherSkins No. 1 picks, Heath Shuler and Patrick Ramsey--he responded succinctly,"Oh, man, that's not good." Consider that a rare loss of poise for the6' 5", rocket-armed 25-year-old, who impressed in the seven games hestarted last season after assuming signal-calling duties from Mark Brunell,passing for 1,297¬†yards and 10¬†touchdowns while connecting on 53.1%of his throws. "He's a special guy, that's what he is," says associatehead coach-offense Al Saunders, who wants Campbell to improve his completionrate by 10%. "He's made tremendous progress."
Campbell's growthwill be aided by the presence of running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts,both of whom catch the ball as well as they run it. (The two combined for1,677¬†rushing and 615¬†receiving yards last season.) While Betts has askill set that Saunders says "reminds me a lot of what Priest Holmes didfor us in Kansas¬†City," the Redskins plan to feature him as a bruisingchange-of-pace back behind Portis.
If onlyWashington had such an embarrassment of riches on the other side of the ball.Though the defense as a whole won't perform as poorly as last year'sunit--Fletcher won't allow that--it brings back intact a line that, whilebedeviled by injuries, produced just 10 sacks. That should leave the Redskinsat least one premier pass rusher, and likely a full year of experience forCampbell, away from their second winning season this decade.
COACH JOE GIBBS(145-87 in NFL), 16th season with Redskins
HT 6' 6"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 5"
PETE KENDALL (NewAquisition)
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 5"
SACKS 2 1‚ÅÑ2
LONDON FLETCHER(New Aquisition)
LARON LANDRY(R)(New Aquisition)
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
> 2006 RECORD 5-11 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 4/21/13 DEFENSE27/23/31
17 at Philadelphia (M)
23 N.Y. GIANTS
14 at Green Bay
28 at New England
4 at N.Y. Jets
18 at Dallas
25 at Tampa Bay
6 CHICAGO (T)
16 at N.Y. Giants
23 at Minnesota
NFL rank T18
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .500
Games against playoff teams 9
(M) Monday (T) Thursday
Instant access to the latest and best Redskinsstories, stats and blogs from across the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
ENEMY LINES AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THEREDSKINS
> This is a team that generally goes for the quickfix at most positions, instead of trying to draft well. Jason Campbell is anexception at quarterback. I liked him coming out of Auburn, but this is theNFL, and we just don't know what he's going to be yet. . . . You look at theirroster, they're good in quite a few spots: Their receivers are good; ClintonPortis is good. On the other side London Fletcher, incredibly, is still doing asolid job. Shawn Springs can cover, and the safeties, Sean Taylor and the kidfrom LSU, LaRon Landry, could be a pretty good pair back there. . . . Sothere's talent in a lot of places, and they've got a Hall of Fame coach, butthey just don't seem to be able to put it together.
THE KING 500
Antwaan Randle El
> WIDE RECEIVER
After signing a $31¬†million free-agent deal inMarch 2006, Randle¬†El had the worst season of his career. But a year offamiliarity with offensive guru Al Saunders's system and an off-season of workwith Jason Campbell should allow Randle¬†El to stretch defenses even morethan he did in Pittsburgh. "We'd like to take some shots, and I think we'llsee Antwaan be very effective down the field," says Saunders.
Given the top job, Campbell showed promise in his seven starts lastseason.
WILLIAM E. AMATUCCI JR./WIREIMAGE.COM