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Expectations are high in Washington as we enter Year 3 of the new Joe Gibbs era. The NFC semifinalists from a year ago return a vast majority of last year's team.

If there is one thing we have learned about team owner Dan Snyder, it's his commitment to do whatever it takes to attract free agents to Washington. Once again, the Redskins were aggressive in the open market with the additions of wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, safety Adam Archuleta, linebacker Andre Carter and restricted free-agent receiver Brandon Lloyd, who was acquired in a trade with San Francisco. They also added Christian Fauria (tight end), Todd Collins (backup quarterback), Tyson Walter (guard), Mike Pucillo (guard) and Kenny Wright (cornerback) to improve depth with experienced players.

As for the draft, the Redskins selected only six players and gave up a sixth-rounder this year and a second-rounder in 2007 to acquire the rights to outside linebacker Roger McIntosh out of Miami. McIntosh is a versatile linebacker who has the skill set to play all three linebacker positions as well as special teams. He has the quickness and aggressiveness to rush the passer and the athleticism to match up with backs and tight ends in coverage. He should end up starting as the weakside linebacker in the Redskins' 4-3 system.

The Redskins are geared up for a run at the NFC East crown and possibly deep into the playoffs. Let's check out what else they have done this offseason to position themselves to overtake last year's divisional champ, the New York Giants, in the toughest division on paper in the NFL.

Led by Gibbs, the Redskins have one of the most experienced staffs in the NFL. One of the major hires this offseason was new offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who will replace Gibbs on game day as the primary play caller.

The Redskins finished last season ranked 11th in the NFL in total offense, averaging 330.6 yards per game. Led by running back Clinton Portis, who finished third in the NFC in rushing (1,516 yards), the Redskins finished seventh in the league in rushing, averaging 136.4 yards per game. However, the problems on offense revolved around the passing attack, which ranked 21st in the NFL, averaging 194.1 yards per game.

With the addition of Saunders, the Redskins begin a new era on offense. Saunders has led one of the most impressive offensive systems in the NFL over the last few years in Kansas City. He uses a lot of motion and shifts to keep defenses off balance. He does a great job of creating mismatches out on the perimeter and attacking the weakness of the opposing coverage.

When looking at the Redskins' offensive personnel, they have all the makings of being an explosive team. Wide receiver Santana Moss led the Redskins in receptions last year with 84. Along with Lloyd, Randle El and David Patten, the Redskins have the ability to create a lot of problems with their multiple-receiver sets. Throw in H-back Chris Cooley as well as Portis and the Redskins can strike from anywhere on the field. Cooley, who finished with 71 receptions and seven touchdowns last year, is another weapon the defense must account for.

Is Mark Brunell the answer at quarterback in the nation's capital? When do the Redskins turn the page and start building for the future with former first-round pick Jason Campbell? Brunell will turn 36 in September. He played in 16 games with 15 starts last year and finished with an impressive 85.9 quarterback rating. However, his physical skills are diminishing, along with his arm strength. He doesn't posses the vertical arm strength to stretch deep zones down the field.

The future in Washington is Campbell, who has seen no playing time in his short stay in Washington. However, Campbell has been impressive in the offseason passing camps and the coaches love his potential and upside. He has been working overtime on learning the new system and refining his footwork, along with shortening his throwing motion. Veteran journeyman Collins understands the system and will be an extra set of eyes and ears for both Campbell and Brunell while the system is being installed.

Nevertheless, Saunders loves veteran players and Brunell will get the starting nod. So look for defenses to load up again in the box to stop the run and force Brunell to attack through the air in their controlled short-and-intermediate passing attack.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has produced top-10 defenses during both his years in Washington. Last year the Redskins finished ninth in total defense, allowing 297.9 yards per game. They were 13th against the run and 10th versus the pass. In order for this team to improve even more on defense it must become more consistent in gap discipline and tackling against the run.

Defensively, the Redskins attack with multiple seven- and eight-man fronts. They are very aggressive and feature run blitzes from every angle. Also, they will utilize moving fronts that confuse and disrupt blocking patterns. Once again, this defense will rely on its linebacker corps to attack downhill and get into gaps. Middle linebacker Lemar Marshall and strongside linebacker Marcus Washington finished 1-2 on the team in total tackles last year. Washington is a versatile player who has played at a very high level since coming over from Indianapolis.

Prototypical free safety Sean Taylor and the addition of strong safety Archuleta, who's an upgrade over Ryan Clark, should improve the run defense even more in 2006. Taylor is a versatile player who continues to develop into an outstanding player at his position, while Archuleta has better value versus the run than pass. Taylor is a big, physical hitter who can run the alleys and strike with force in open space.

The secondary needs to make more big plays in coverage -- the starting group combined for only eight interceptions last year. Cornerback Shawn Springs has been a solid contributor since coming over from the Seahawks; Carlos Rogers, last year's first-round pick, had a typical up-and-down season based on his draft status and inexperience. He should be the starting corner opposite Springs and a much-improved player in his second season. Also, the Redskins need to generate more pressure and sack production than a year ago, when they combined for only 35 sacks.

Last season, the Redskins took care of business at home with a 6-2 record. Their schedule this year is tough, but it has them playing four out of their last six games at FedEx Field. The Giants come to town in Week 17, which could decide the NFC East crown.

So how good are the Redskins in 2006? By my estimation, the Redskins have had a very solid offseason and should be the team to beat in the NFC East. They are led by a Hall of Fame head coach and a very experienced coaching staff.

Brunell will be the key to this team's success, along with the defense. It has been a slow development in Washington, but a lot of the pieces are now in place for the Redskins to control the NFC East and make a deep run into the playoffs in 2006.

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