(Sorry for the delay in getting this up — let’s just say that the hotel internet and I are not exactly friends at this point.)
It’s finally time. After almost 50 days of practices and preseason games, we’re just a few hours away from the actual kickoff to the NFL season. It’s no longer about watching the guys at the bottom of the roster to see if they’re going to make it; now it’s about watching the guys at the top and seeing if they can implement the lessons of the offseason.
At the first game of the season, though, there are still not that many surprises on my list of things I’m going to keep an eye on. The biggest question is fairly obvious, it applies on some level to just about every team out there, and it runs through all of these points: can they do it?
- Can Jim Zorn be a head coach at this level? So far, I think signs are encouraging. He, for lack of a more useful word, SEEMS like a head coach. And we should remember that success in one’s first regular season game is by no means a guarantee of future coaching success (sad memories of the one shining moment of the brief Richie Petitbon era). After the way the preseason ended, though, it would certainly be nice. At the very least, everyone will be watching to see if the offense can move the ball, find a rhythm, and avoid careless mistakes. At which point the question moves to….
- Can Jason Campbell implement Zorn’s offense? The key word here is “tempo”. Tempo between plays, tempo in and out of the huddle, and — most importantly — tempo getting rid of the ball. Frank Hanrahan asked me about this last night on ESPN 980’s 24 Hour Pregame Show — an insane endeavor, incidentally — and I said then that I think Campbell will succeed, that Zorn has spoken encouragingly of his progress, and that even in practice he seems to be making quicker decisions. I’m still going to be watching it, though, and it will largely depend on….
- Can Stephon Heyer perform as the starting right tackle? On a grander scale, the question is if the offensive line can stop the Giants pass rush, but I — and probably everyone else — will be focusing largely on Heyer, the surprise starter at the position as he squares off against the Giants’ Justin Tuck. On the flipside….
- Will the defense generate a pass rush? It feels like Redskins fans have been asking this question for years now. In fact, I have trouble recalling the last time the Redskins pass rush was one of the team’s strong points. I think Jason Taylor is going to at least try to play tonight — for all the dancer jokes and Hollywood shots people take, the guy seems to take football tremendously seriously and to honestly WANT to play — and his being able to contribute obviously plays a large part in this one.
There are more questions, of course — Will the cornerbacks be able to cover? How will LaRon Landry perform with so little preseason action? And so on… — but these are the ones that have me preoccupied as this gameday gets underway.