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Visions of 1999.


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I recall the offseason before the 1999 season began. It was brutal to be a Redskins fan. Brad Johnson was brittle and couldn't be counted on to play. We had absolutely no running back. We had no receivers. Our offensive line was coming off surrendering 61 sacks and was among the worst in the league. Our defense was terrible. These were all the statements you had to listen to and debate with fans of other teams throughout the offseason.

Worse, these are all the points you had to listen to and debate among fans of the Redskins during that offseason. For those that remember, it is this period of time that created the legendary E.J. Harris, depressed, morose, self-assigned fan of the Redskins, and the tremendously long and painfully fun arguments had by all -- especially me -- with him.

Looking back on that season, it's hard to imagine how one could have actually been positive about our chances. Johnson was brittle. Our receivers were always injured Westbrook and Connell. Our running back was certainly going to be Skip Hicks who we were excited about, and who was only competing with a converted fullback who got beat up by a receiver in front of us. We hated Mike Nolan, rightfully. Additions to the line were washed up or too young to matter.

But, if you could envision Johnson being healthy and applying his accuracy and ability to limit mistakes, the team looked substantially better. The yearly, "If Westbrook doesn't get hurt," mantra was at a fever pitch, and healthy, what could he do with a legitimately accurate QB? Jansen was exciting and the veteran additions were going to make the line better. Had to. Importantly, our running back had to emerge and be explosive and Hicks fit that bill -- and he was the favorite.

We were able to convince ourselves -- many were -- that 1999 could be a successful season. Growing as the season approached were more and more negative media assessments to conjoin opposing fan romps. Looking back, I recall thinking to myself just how little these people knew. And I didn't mean it as they lacked knowledge.

I meant it that the lacked any real comprehension of just what could happen if that team didn't sustain each and EVERY negative possibility imaginable. It was when making predictions against the Redskins that the slightest possibility of a positive answer to ANY of the substantial questions was not factored in at all. It was assured all would be met with a negative answer and none of these people had any real concept about what could happen if Johnson was healthy and the receivers were and we had a back take advantage of his situation and the line improved.

No one could process what the Redskins could be if those major questions were answered with a positive answer.

More and more I'm seeing similar reviews of the Redskins now. Similar media thoughts. Similar fan assessments. I was listening to Sean Salisbury last night when it came together for me. Salisbury said the Bills defense is going to be fine. A winning defense. He said the reason is because they have two good corners. With two good corners he said, it means you can do anything else you want with the rest of the defense. You don't have to have a lot of talent.

I thought this was an odd assessment because I've heard him otherwise comment that with our defensive line, we can't possibly do anything. And that's when it clicked. People just don't know.

It's not that they are wrong to question the possibilities we have at defensive line -- tackle in particular. It's not that they are wrong to openly say Ramsey is a key and while not brittle like Johnson, he's inexperienced and therefore limiting. It's not that they are incorrect to question Canidate as a starting runner. It's simply that for them, every flaw we have as a team is assured to be the worst possible answer.

That's how they get to where they get when the predict record like SI did. They will assess us on different criteria they allow themselves to assess other teams. The contradictions are easily seen by fans of the team, like us, because we're so close. But, I honestly don't think they even realize what they're doing.

They are right that if our line is as weak as it might be on defense and if Ramsey is as inexpienced and struggling with his growing pains and if Spurrier's system isn't NFL-ready and if the new additions won't gell together, the Redskins are a 5-11 team.

If every question is answered badly, that's exactly what we are. I know that. We all, as fans of this team, know that. They don't know, however, what it means if the opposite answer is applied. If Ramsey, while inexperienced, is steady. If Spurrier's offense which was always called an NFL offense in college remains an NFL offense in the NFL. If familiarity within the scheme for the majority of players will actually make the team more comfortable with what it's doing. If our defensive tackles hold up and prove reasonably solid in a rotation. If Canidate can flourish in his opportunity playing in a system tailor made for him.

They really don't know what it could mean for the Redskins.

If the major questions, which exist, as they existed in 1999 -- though in far less troublesome a way -- are answered well, no one seems to fully grasp that the opposite of their thoughts should the questions be answered poorly is possible.

In the end I can't get myself as excited as I was about the 1999 team. That team to me was going to be good. The reason was the questions were based almost exclusively on the injury bug and inexperience at the running back spot, which can be masked by fine QB play.

This year I can't get over the fact that Ramsey is a second-year player and that as a second-year player he is going to be inconsistent enough and prone to enough mistakes to alone limit this team. But there's a part of me, buried pretty deep, that is calling out.

It's suppressed. Forced rationality keeping it down. But it's there.

And it keeps saying, if Ramsey is as above the norm for a second-year player as he was as a rookie, none of the other questions matter. If he's steady and largely mistake free and efficient, even just somewhat, and he runs the offense in a manner close to what Spurrier wants, none of the other questions matter. If he is the exception to the typical second-year QB -- the Brady, Culpepper type -- this Redskin team is much better almost everywhere than it was heading into 1999. By leaps and bounds better.

I just don't think enough people really understand that. In 1999 I wrote something like this and ended it with, "Those people will understand soon enough."

For now, I won't say the same. But, the tickle to say just that, and know it's right, is bubbling to the surface pretty quickly :).

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Fine QB play will mask a host of issues. Look at Green Bay for the last 5 years. Their team has been rather pedestrian over that time, but they have Favre, which instantly makes them playoff contenders.

This is what I was alluding to yesterday when I said that SI's prediction was a worst-case scenario. The media is inclined to go with that in regards to the Redskins. While I disagree that their play over the last decade has warranted a reflexively bleak forecast, neither has it earned an optimistic one. What it has earned is a staunch prediction of mediocrity.

As fans, we're conditioned to seeing the sunny side. I want to believe that all the questions will be answered positively, but my enthusiasm is tempered by the reality of the last decade. Things will go wrong. Even in 1999, there were elements that made you wince (that game where the Bills just mauled them at FedEx stands out).

The thing about Ramsey that has made me happy this preseason is that he hasn't made any stupid throws and hasn't been tricked into them (alright, the pick against NE wasn't great, but the right intention was there). Perhaps every pass hasn't been on the money, but he hasn't been throwing into a sea of defenders either, or completely missing the defender standing right in front of him. Those are the stupid throws young QBs make, and the lack of them gives me reason for optimism in regards to his development. I'm sure he'll have the occasional brain cramp during the season, but the preseason has given me hope that they'll be the exception and not the rule.

With solid QB play, and acceptable interior D, this team (barring injury) is going to give teams headaches. They may not win every game, but they won't be an easy mark, either.

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I remember in 1999 thinking we would be dumping tons of passes off to Larry Centers and Stephen Alexander, relying on defense (which looked very good inthe pre-season) and winning games 9-6. Shows you what preseason is good for. :)

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Originally posted by Henry

I remember in 1999 thinking we would be dumping tons of passes off to Larry Centers and Stephen Alexander, relying on defense

Actually it was a dump-off to Larry Centers that clinched the division for us, with his game-winning TD against the 9ers.

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Good analysis Art.

Well at this time of year I usually tend to be an optimist, rather than a pessimist, at least until the Redskins prove me wrong on the field. And why not? I mean within the last decade we have seen at least four losing teams turn it around the very next year, and win the Super Bowl. That is quite a quantum leap in one year, so anything is possible.

But analysing Ramsey's play last year, here are some things I observed which makes me even more optimistic.

1 - First of all for a rookie, his TD to INT ratio was even better than it actually showed. For two of his interceptions were Hail-Mary pass interceptions, where he came in for only one play, and then heaved a pass up for grabs at the end of the 1st half, with DB's waiting back in the end zone. So if you take away those two INT's, he really had 9 TD's to only 6 INT's. That's damn good for any rookie quarterback.

2 - Over his last four games he was: 66/125 or completed 52.8 % of his passes, with 6 TDs to 2 INTs and sacked only 3 times. He wasn't taking the sacks he took earlier, in spite of playing behind a weak offensive line.

3 - Except for Houston & Dallas, all opponents he played against were playoff teams.

4 - In six of the seven games he had significant playing time in, the team never scored less then 20 points in EVERY GAME. Scoring against Tenn. 31; N.O. 27; NYG 21; Philly 21; Hous. 26; and Dallas 20. Anytime you can score 20 points in a game, you are really competitive and will win most games if you have a decent defense.

So with any kind of improvement in Ramsey, the Skins may very well sneak up on people and surprise quite a few teams. Of course, he could also regress too. I think we have seen that happen, when a young quarterback has difficulty reading defenses and starts forcing the ball. But most young quarterbacks have a lot room to improve before that hit a wall. :)

Therefore I remain optimistic on Ramsey. :D

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Henry, I remember thinking the same thing. Our Offense looked shaky and our D looked phenomenal during the preseason...

Anyway, I remember that year was one of the only years that I had lowered expectations for this team. For all the reasons Art pointed out, it just didn't seem like something that would turn into a 10-6 season.

I would love for this to be like that.

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You know, its funny. In 99, it was the players we were concerned with and their health. We knew we would be good if they just stayed healthy.

This year, the players are a treat to have on the team. The injury bug is a scare but not a decision maker for us as to our ability to rebound if it hits.

The difference appears to be solely put on the coaching staff. Turner, while being the most hated of all, had his best year. We despised Nolan and his inablity to figure out what offenses were doing to him. Also, his lack of a true MLB didn't help his cause.

Spurrier has yet to prove in the win column his ablitiy as a coach, though a 7-9 year with last years offense is pretty damn good IMO. Edwards is a rookie DC who has to show he and his staff can adjust during the games.

Understanding that the coaches are the ones who actually push a team beyond its limits and bring about success throughout a year, its interesting to look at this year and 1999 and compare.

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Everything revolves around Ramsey-- much like it did in 2000 for the Eagles when Donovan McNabb entered his second season. He had WR's like Charles Johnson and Torrance Small starting for him, but the team managed to go 11-5 because of his stellar play. While I don't think Ramsey has that same game changing ability that McNabb has, if he can be effective this year the Redskins will have a good season IMO (not good enough to unseat the Eagles :) but good enough to suprise alot of the media critics).

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