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Redskins Have High Hopes For '06

They were written off by many in the sports media with five games remaining last season. Having suffered three straight taxing losses, the 5-6 Redskins appeared doomed.

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Nonetheless, the Redskins of 2005 proved to be resourceful under their Hall of Fame head coach, Joe Gibbs. After topping St. Louis and Arizona, they knocked off NFC East rivals Dallas, New York and Philadelphia by an average of 19 points.

The 31-20 season-ending win over the Eagles hoisted the 10-6 Redskins to wild card status. In their first playoff contest since 1999, the Redskins beat Tampa Bay 17-10 before falling at Seattle 20-10.

Now, having re-gained a measure of respect throughout the NFL and in particular within the NFC East, Washington has very high hopes for the 2006 campaign.

Around the Redskins, in fact, 2005 is being spoken of as a building block season. This is a team that truly believes it has established a firm foundation for a highly successful 2006.

The fact that Brandon Lloyd, Andre Carter, Antwaan Randle El and Adam Archuleta have been added for 2006 only serves to heighten expectations. In short, the spirited 2005 finish and the addition of significant talent has the Redskins talking about taking bigger strides in 2006.

It came to an end, in terms of the 2005 season, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. Just minutes after the Redskins were ousted by Seattle, they were thinking about 2006.

Said Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels: "I'm proud of this team, proud of this coaching staff. We're on the right track."

Gibbs went 6-10 in 2004, his comeback year following an 11-season coaching hiatus. He went on to develop a winning atmosphere among his troops in 2005. The Redskins' offense ranked 30th in Gibbs' first year back but shot up to 11th last season.

Setting franchise records in 2005 were explosive wide receiver Santana Moss (1,483 receiving yards) and running back Clinton Portis (1,516 rushing yards). Chris Cooley had an outstanding season with 71 catches Mike Sellers caught seven touchdown passes.

Those weapons are back, along with veteran quarterback Mark Brunell, who enjoyed a renaissance in 2005 after a season of struggle in 2004. Brunell posted an 85.9 passer rating with 3,050 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Second-year quarterback Jason Campbell and veteran Todd Collins are in reserve, as Redskins followers are well aware.

Brunell will work behind an established offensive line that features Samuels and guard Derrick Dockery on the left side, Casey Rabach at center, and guard Randy Thomas and tackle Jon Jansen on the right. How Thomas rebounds from a 2005 leg injury is key.

Playmakers at wide receiver include Moss, Lloyd, Randle El and David Patten. The multi-dimension Randle El signed on with the Redskins just after helping the Steelers win a Super Bowl. The Washington braintrust has liked his skills ever since he came into the NFL in 2002.

For all of the talented players the Redskins have on offense, though, perhaps their most vital off-season acquisition comes in the form of a coach. Gibbs has brought on one of the brightest offensive minds in the game in Al Saunders. As Kansas City's offensive coordinator, he helped guide the Chiefs' offense to the league's No. 1 ranking the past two seasons.

On the other side of the ball, the hard-hitting defense of Gregg Williams returns looking similar to last season, except for the notable departure of three-time Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington to the Giants. In addition, Williams and the Redskins lost safety Ryan Clark to Pittsburgh.

After finishing No. 3 in the league in 2004, Washington was once again aggressive and attacking in 2005. Lemar Marshall is back at middle linebacker and Marcus Washington at outside linebacker. Phillip Daniels is coming off an eight-sack season and is expected to be joined by Carter and veteran Renaldo Wynn at defensive end.

Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a are solid players at defensive tackle, while cornerback Shawn Springs is the veteran of a defensive backfield that also includes second-year corner Carlos Rogers and safety Sean Taylor, who emerged as one of the most feared hitters in the NFL in his second season. The Taylor-Archuleta safety pairing is a new twist for the team in 2006 and will be one on which to keep an eye.

John Hall is expected to return to form and handle the field goal duties in 2006. Punter Derrick Frost faced some off-season competition from Australian David Lonie.

Beyond that, when the team concluded its June mini-camp, one of the lingering questions concerned depth, especially along the offensive line, at linebacker and at corner.

History conclusively shows that the 10-6 Redskins were in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year. And the defense was spectacular in the victory at Tampa Bay, recording three turnovers including Taylor's 51-yard fumble return for a touchdown. But the offense gained only 120 yards, the fewest ever by a winning team in a playoff game, and continued to struggle in the loss at Seattle.

"We need to get more offense, we need to get more points," Jansen said matter-of-factly after the loss to the Seahawks. "We're happy to be part of the top eight. But obviously we want more."

They return with a solid defense and they've gone to great lengths to spruce up their offense. That's the formula the Redskins hope will help them return to the playoffs in 2006 and this time maybe even take things a step further.

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