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Redskins on the Rise

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Redskins jerseys are seen around school

Redskins jerseys are seen around school

Lindsey Bowers

Lindsey Bowers

Redskins jerseys are seen around school

Topher Wagner, Sentry Staff Reporter

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Flashback to week two of the 2016 National Football League (NFL) season. After a back-breaking interception to lose to their arch rival Dallas Cowboys and 0-2 on the season, many could already hear the murmurs in the Washington Redskins’ locker room. After two lackluster games, Kirk Cousins’ hold as the franchise quarterback already seemed to be slipping. Despite leading the team to its first playoff appearance in three years while setting numerous team records in 2015, there was legitimate worry that Cousins would be out the door by the end of the year. Cousins fired back with a rejuvenated passing attack and the help of a smothering defense, winning four straight games, getting the team to 4-2. That was only the beginning as Cousins would go on to break his own single season passing record with 4,917 passing yards, finishing third in the NFL. It was quite the roller coaster year for the team with countless tight finishes and even a tie. Despite a final record or 8-7-1, and missing the playoffs by half a game in the standings, there is reason to be optimistic for the future.

“Every year the Redskins improve, whether it be through individual improvement or through learning to play better as a team. The team has so much potential, and therefore a lot to look forward to,” senior Caitlin Shea said.

The Redskins’ season was a wild ride full of unexpected twists and turns throughout the season. This began at the very beginning of the 2016 League year. Not expecting to make any major moves in free agency, the Redskins laid low for the first couple of weeks, letting many major players sign with teams. A week before the NFL Draft in late April, many teams, along with the Redskins, had already shifted their focus from free agency to the incoming rookies entering the league, when the unthinkable happened. Star cornerback Josh Norman had the first All-Pro season of his career as the best player in his position in 2015 for the Carolina Panthers. However, when it became clear that a long term extension could not be reached with Norman, the Panthers cut him almost a full two months after the start of free agency. Within four days he became a Washington Redskin. Norman made an immediate impact in a vulnerable secondary keeping the Redskins in many games this season with his stellar play.

“I feel Norman played like an above average cornerback; he was not elite but he was not terrible. The media always made it out to be him vs the other team’s best receiver and if one big play happened for the receiver everyone would freak out. For example when he played Dez Bryant he held him to 3 receptions and about 30 yards,” sophomore Matt Herrlein said.

On the offensive side of the ball the 3rd ranked offense in the NFL continued to make strides in Head Coach Jay Gruden’s system led by Cousins and the wide receiver duo of Pierre Garçon and Desean Jackson.

“There are some intangibles that you just don’t find often. Pierre Garçon has those traits. He’s early to work, stays late, a true leader by example. He is also one of the toughest receivers in the game. He plays with a physicality that is just hard to find elsewhere,” senior Anton Hessler said.

Garçon and Jackson made life easy for their quarterback as the veteran duo both topped 1000 yards in the same season, a rare occurrence for two teammates. 2016 also acted as breakout seasons for undrafted rookie running back Robert “Fat Rob” Kelley and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. While Crowder improved on his rookie season with an 847 yard, seven touchdown year, Kelley took over the starting job from Matt Jones and never looked back. This offense was on full display vs. the Green Bay Packers in week 11, one of the highlights of the season for the Redskins.

“My favorite moment from the season happened during and after the Packers game. I was at the game and we beat them 42-24. The Redskins aren’t a team that usually beat other teams by much. It’s usually a really close score, so it was exciting to finally win by a comfortable margin. Right as that game was ending and for a while after, all the fans in the stadium started chanting ‘We want Dallas! We want Dallas!’ It was great to hear because it shows how the fans support the team and rally around the team,” Shea said

The big one was certainly one of the most entertaining games of the year for Redskins’ fans with Garçon, Jackson and Crowder each caught a touchdown from Cousins and Kelley recording the best game of his career with 137 yards and three touchdowns including a 66 yard run. Despite the Packers ending up making the playoffs over the Redskins it was a statement win to show that the burgundy and gold could compete with anyone.

Going into the offseason, the Redskins have several top priorities to improve their team between now and September. Since Cousins, Garçon and Jackson are all free agents, General Manager Scot McCloughan will have his work cut out for him to resign all three. The Redskins are widely expected to give the franchise tag to Cousins if a long term deal is not attainable, however, it will be intriguing to see if they will have the money to bring back both of their talented wide receivers.

“Both Desean and Garçon are getting pretty old but they both are productive. I feel Garçon has better chemistry with Kirk and is more aggressive and wants it more. Desean on the other hand is not as aggressive… although Desean is fast, that is all he does. Most teams have finally figured out that all he really does is go deep and [so they] cover him with a safety over top so I would much rather have Garçon than Desean,” Herrlein said.

In terms of the draft, many analysts believe that the Redskins will likely target players on the defense side particularly on the defensive line and in the secondary. With McCloughan having a knack for finding diamonds in the rough, fans should be optimistic that the team will be able to improve through the incoming rookie class.

“Well for starters the draft class this year is teeming with talent. There’s a lot of potential everywhere you look. Secondly the Redskins are going into the offseason with an abundance of cap room. This will allow us to sign a bunch of the talent back that are free agents and sign on some new guys,” Hessler said.

The 2016 NFL season was full of highs and lows for the Washington Redskins and their fan base. Despite the week 17 heartbreak loss to the New York Giants to be eliminated from playoff contention, this is still the first time that the team has had back to back winning seasons since 1996-1997. With one of the best offenses in the league and a defense with a balance of young playmakers and veteran presence, there is no reason to believe the Redskins can’t make it back to the postseason next year.

 

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Redskins on the Rise