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Offense A Work In Progress

Redskins.com concludes its three-part series taking a look back at last season. Today: the offense.

In the Redskins' very first preseason game, an Aug. 9 game against the Denver Broncos in Canton, Ohio, right tackle Jon Jansen suffered a ruptured Achilles injury. A hush fell over the press box as soon as the injury was announced. This was a season-ender.

It's safe to say the Redskins' offense never seemed to develop consistency following Jansen's injury. The unit finished 30th overall in total offensive yards last season, 29th in passing offense and next-to-last in points scored. Pass protection struggled at times. And the Redskins would not score more than 20 points in a game until the Week 13 win over the New York Giants.

Coaches cited improvement late in the season. In three of the last five games, the offense eclipsed that 20-point barrier and Patrick Ramsey continued to improve. It's expected that Ramsey will go into next season as the starter.

"I think we were moving the ball well in the last part of the year," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "Of the last six games, if you go back and look at the stats, we improved offensively. I wish we had done that all year long, but we didn't.

"Over the last six weeks, we had some long drives, we held on to the ball longer, we scored more points and we were more effective in the red area."

In Jansen, the offense lost one of its top leaders. Although Gibbs and the offensive coaches quickly put that setback aside, it was clear that there was some uncertainty about the position and the effect Jansen's injury would have on the offensive line. Kenyatta Jones had the first opportunity to man right tackle, but it was 19-year NFL veteran Ray Brown who would eventually start 14 games at the position.

Meantime, left tackle Chris Samuels would step up as the primary leader of the offensive line. The two-time Pro Bowler earned praise from Gibbs, who said that Samuels would be among the offense's building blocks moving into the offseason.

You wouldn't have guessed the offense would struggle most of the season based on the Redskins' first running play from scrimmage. It was Sept. 12, the season opener at FedExField, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mark Brunell handed off to Clinton Portis, he burst through a gaping hole to the right...and he was gone.

Many were convinced that Portis's 64-yard touchdown run would be a harbinger of things to come. And his season numbers were certainly impressive: For the season, Portis rushed for 1,315 yards on 343 carries, a 3.8-yards-per-carry average. He also caught a career-high 40 passes for 235 yards.

But it wasn't always easy for the 5-11, 205-pound running back. After recording a 171-yard effort against the Chicago Bears in Week 6 and a 147-yard effort against the Detroit Lions in Week 9, Portis's production fell off the next three weeks. Part of that was because the Redskins trailed early in those games. But in the Week 12 game at Pittsburgh, he logged only six carries for 17 yards.

A week after the Steelers game, Portis returned to form. Against the New York Giants, he rushed for 148 yards on 31 carries, a solid 4.8 yards-per-carry average, with two touchdowns.

Overall, Portis's importance to the offense was demonstrated by this statistic: The Redskins were 5-0 when Portis rushed for 100-plus yards.

"Clinton Portis was a 1,300-yard back in this league in a year where our offense struggled," Gibbs said. "His rushing yardage last season was better than any runner I've had with the exception of John Riggins in 1983. [Portis] can run inside, outside, and he's a good pass receiver. He plays tough and his effort on pass protection is great. I think he'd be a reason to be excited about next season offensively."

At quarterback, Mark Brunell entered the season as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. Along with Portis, Brunell was one of the signature off-season acquisitions by Gibbs and the Redskins. Brunell won a training camp competition against Ramsey, clearly out-performing the third-year QB.

But with the exception of the Week 3 game against Dallas, when Brunell connected with Rod Gardner for 10 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, the downfield passing offense mostly struggled last season.

For the season, Brunell was 118-of-237 for 1,194 yards, seven touchdowns, six interceptions and a completion percentage of 49.8. His quarterback rating of 63.9 for those nine games was the lowest of his career as a full-time starter.

Ramsey took over for Brunell midway through the Week 10 game against Cincinnati, a 17-10 loss. Gibbs named Ramsey the starter for the foreseeable future. That meant Ramsey would take the bulk of reps in practice and coaches could evaluate whether he was truly the quarterback of the future for the Redskins.

Ramsey's first two starts? Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. These were two of the best defenses in the league--not to mention two of the most aggressive defenses. Ramsey was under intense pressure both games and led the offense to just one touchdown and 13 points.

Ramsey followed those two games with perhaps the best performance of his career. In Week 13 against the New York Giants, he completed 19-of-22 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. His QB rating was a career-high 139.2. And the Redskins had their most dominating performance of the season, a 31-7 win.

For the season, Ramsey was 169-of-272 for 1,665 yards, 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 62.1 percent completion rate. During his seven-game stint as starter, he completed 66 percent of his passes.

"Patrick did make strides," Gibbs said. "His preseason was not what any of us expected. But I think he did a real good job of studying and learning when he was watching Mark Brunell play. When he got his opportunity to play, he had tough assignments in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Dallas. He went up against some tough teams.

"He started to make plays as we went along. The offense started to make more plays and he helped engineer some long drives."

Gibbs added that Ramsey must continue to learn from his mistakes, such as the untimely interception at the end of the Philadelphia game at FedExField.

"He needs to keep improving and keep stepping up," Gibbs said.

Asked what he had learned the most last season, Ramsey said: "That I don't have to do it all. I learned just to make sound decisions because we can drive the football down there. I think in the past, I've been a little bit too much like, 'I'm going to go down there and make this happen.' A lot of times that works and a lot of times that doesn't."

After the last two seasons, it's clear that Ramsey has a strong rapport with wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

Coles followed up his 82-catch performance in 2003 by setting a career-high with 90 catches last season. That's the third-most ever by a Redskins receiver. (Only Art Monk has caught more in a season: 106 in 1983 and 91 in 1984.)

Symptomatic of the offense's struggles in the downfield passing game, Coles logged only 950 receiving yards and one touchdown reception--which, incidentally, came on a halfback option pass from Portis.

Ramsey also developed a rapport with H-back Chris Cooley. The rookie out of Utah State was a clutch receiver, particularly in the red zone, and led the team with six touchdown receptions. He finished the season with 37 catches for 314 yards.

"I've been fortunate to have passes come my way in the red zone," Cooley said. "There have been plays called where I run into the end zone, and all I have to do is get open and they'll throw me the ball."

Cooley, a third-round pick last April, started all 16 games in his rookie season and has solidified himself as the starter next season.

"It felt so great to know that I'm going to be the type of player on this team that the coaches can trust to give the ball to and make plays," he said.

Given the offense's struggles last season, there could be some changes on that side of the ball in the coming months. But in Portis, Ramsey, Coles and Cooley, Gibbs and the offensive coaches clearly have some players to build around.

"Offensively, none of us were where we wanted to be last season," Gibbs said. "Anytime you are unsettled some at quarterback, it always affects that. We were not as productive as we wanted to be. More than anything, we need to take a long, hard look at that. We need to look at the whole offense, work through it and get it figured out how to score more points. That's my commitment."

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