As the recaps of an NFC East-winning season continue for the Washington Redskins, CSN Mid-Atlantic's Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler have been handing out their yearly awards.
Note that these awards are what El-Bashir and Tandler (who have been on the beat for years) think and these are not the officially awards presented by the team.
Let's have a look and see what they have to say.
Coach of the Year
Tandler: "I'm going to go a bit off of the beaten path here. Last week I wrote about the remarkable turnaround accomplished by the Redskins special teams. In three seasons the performance of the kicking teams has gone from historically bad in 2013 to bottom of the league to a strength of the team in 2015. Football Outsiders had the Redskins' special teams ranked sixth. Two men are primarily responsible for the turnaround. One is kicker Dustin Hopkins, who pounded kickoff after kickoff through the end zone. The other is special teams coach Ben Kotwica. He lost core players Niles Paul and Adam Hayward in the preseason and due to other injuries he dealt with a revolving cast of contributors throughout the year. But Kotwica held things together and the special teams turned from a glaring weakness into a strength."
El-Bashir: "Good pick, Rich. But I've got to give credit where it's due, and my pick is the C.E.O. of the staff, Jay Gruden. Following a disastrous four-win first season in Washington, Gruden told the assembled media at his end-of-year news conference, "Sometimes when you go about the same way you train, the same way you work, the same way you prepare, you're going to get the same results." And, indeed, significant and gutsy changes were made. Gruden hired a new defensive coordinator (Joe Barry), a new strength coach (Mike Clark) who revamped the players' training program, brought in experienced position coaches (Perry Fewell, Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh) and, of course, spearheaded the most controversial/important decision of his brief tenure: he installed Kirk Cousins as the starting quarterback. Gruden also showed growth in the areas of in-game strategy, clock management and coach's challenges. After his first season, people wondered if he had the chops to lead an NFL team. No one is wondering anymore."
Rookie of the Year
Tandler: "I see no need to overthink this. The Redskins' top draft pick was their top rookie. Brandon Scherff contributed from the beginning of the year to the end, playing all but one snap at right guard during the season. One of the keys to the Redskins' turnaround in 2015 was a big improvement in pass protection and Scherff was a big part of that. Scherff was one of five guards in the league to play at least 1,100 snaps and allow two or fewer sacks. Like every first-year player, Scherff still has a lot to learn; his run blocking technique, while effective much of the time, still needs plenty of refinement. But he brought his tough attitude with him every game and that bodes well for the future."
El-Bashir: "Pass rusher Preston Smith is my rookie of the year. Sure, the Mississippi State product got off to a bit of tepid start, but he came on strong during the team's playoff push. He recorded five sacks in the final three regular season games and took down Aaron Rodgers for a safety in the Redskins' Wild Card loss to the Packers. Smith's eight sacks led all rookies (by two) and ranked second on the Redskins behind Ryan Kerrigan, who finished with 9.5. If Smith is able to build on the momentum he generated down the stretch, it's not hard to imagine him joining the double-digit sack club as a sophomore."
Play of the Year
El-Bashir: "Since Kirk Cousins yelling, 'You like that!' after the Tampa Bay game wasn't an actual play, I'm going to go with something that actually occurred on the field prior to the quarterback's unexpected outburst. Yep, I'm talking about the momentum-turning onside kick by Dustin Hopkins, whose perfectly executed kick was recovered by Trenton Robinson early in the third quarter. Cousins capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Jordan Reed that trimmed the Buccaneers' lead to 24-21. Indeed, Jay Gruden's gutsy call and the resulting touchdown set the stage for the biggest comeback in franchise history. It also marked the turning point of the Redskins' season."
Tandler: "That onside kick certainly was a huge play this year but I'm going to go a little bit later in the season. The Redskins hosted the Giants in Week 12 and needed a win to keep up in the playoff race. The defense picked off two Eli Manning passes in Giants territory but the Redskins could not get any points out of the golden opportunities. In the second quarter the home team took possession at their own 37 clinging to a 3-0 lead in a game they had dominated. Kirk Cousins stepped back, executed and play action fake, and launched a deep pass to DeSean Jackson, who had blown past the defense. He made the grab and rolled in to complete the 63-yard touchdown play. The Redskins led 10-0 and would go on to win 20-14. The win sparked a strong finish with the Redskins winning five of their last six games to take the NFC East title."
Special Teams Player of the Year
El-Bashir: "I'm going with Tress Way, who served as unit captain in 2015 and continued to blossom into one of the NFL's top young punters. Although Way's average this season was more than a yard less than his league-leading 47.5 yards per in '14, he was particularly strong during the team's playoff push and, more important, proved to be more polished player in his second NFL season. He's still got enough leg to flip the field, but he's now better at the details such as location. Way was rated as the eighth best punter in the game by ProFootballFocus.com, which takes into account average, hang time, return yards and punts placed inside the 20, among other factors."
Tandler: "Kudos to Way for his solid season. But I'm going with the other guy who puts shoe leather into pigskin for a living, kicker Dustin Hopkins. He was signed off of the street in Week 2 and improved the place kicking position by leaps and bounds. Hopkins was in the top 10 in touchbacks, long a sore spot for Redskins' kickers, and in net kickoff average. He booted a 52-yard field goal as time expired to send the Falcons game into overtime, the first time any Redskins kicker had made a kick like that in at least 18 years. And he was responsible for Tarik's choice for the most important play of the year, a successful surprise onside kick in the third quarter against the Bucs, a key part of the Redskins' record-setting comeback win."
Defensive Player of the Year
Tandler: "My defensive player of the year was not supposed to be a starter. Chris Baker was listed second on the depth chart behind free agent acquisition Stephen Paea during the preseason and when the regular season started. But he didn't accept that and worked his way to the top of the depth chart. Baker ended up playing 635 snaps, 240 more than any defensive lineman not named Jason Hatcher. And he had impact, with six sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. On a defense that scuffled at times, Baker was the one consistent force."
El-Bashir: "I figured we'd eventually agree on one of these awards. And the reason we agreed on this one is simple: From week to week, Baker was the Redskins' most impactful player on defense, and there's really no debating that. The 28-year-old end didn't just get better in '15, he took a huge leap forward. His six sacks, which earned him a $280,000 bonus, tripled his career output. He went from goose eggs in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries to three and two, respectively. And according to ProFootballFocus.com, he was tied for ninth among all 3-4 ends with 32 stops, which the website describes as solo tackles that constitute an offensive failure. Amazing what happens when a guy (temporarily) faces a challenge for his job, isn't it?"
They have not handed out their Offensive Player of the Year award yet, but when they do we'll let you know.