Gibbs the coach remains at the mercy of Gibbs the president
ASHBURN, Va. -- Only two of this year's draft picks made the Washington Redskins, along with a pair of 34-year-olds acquired late in the preseason to fill holes not satisfactorily addressed in the offseason.
These are the latest reminders why Joe Gibbs is in the Hall of Fame as a coach, not as an executive.
Too often during his second term with the Redskins, Gibbs the head coach has been let down by Gibbs the team president. This year, the coach is trying to rebound from his worst season ever. Once again much of his fate is at the mercy of the president's offseason moves.
There were many calls for Gibbs to hire a general manager after last year's 5-11 season, which left him with a record of 21-27 since emerging from retirement. Under Gibbs -- and owner Dan Snyder -- the Redskins had made their mark signing older, big-name players at the expense of the rest of the roster.
So Gibbs changed tactics, spending less on free agency and putting more emphasis on the draft. The Redskins had traded picks wholesale in recent years, depleting the team's youth and depth. Gibbs' goal is to eventually go into a draft with a full set of picks, something Washington hasn't done since 2002.
So how does the new strategy manifest itself as the Redskins prepare for Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins?
As always, there is good and bad.
Gibbs' biggest gaffe was a case of wishful thinking. With Derrick Dockery leaving to sign a mammoth free agent contract with Buffalo, Gibbs figured he could fill the hole by simply talking veteran tackle Todd Wade into playing left guard -- even though Wade had never played the position and didn't have the right build for it.
The experiment faltered quickly. Wade struggled and then was hurt in preseason. Because the Redskins have had so few draft picks, there wasn't a well-groomed, up-and-coming lineman to take his place.
None of the recycled veterans signed in the offseason was up to scratch, either, so Gibbs traded for 34-year-old Pete Kendall. Kendall probably could have been acquired much earlier -- he was in a bitter contract dispute with the New York Jets -- but instead he's racing against time to fit in with his new teammates.
"I think it was legit what we tried there," Gibbs said. "The good thing about Todd doing that is now we know he can play guard. I think it was worth it. We had a good plan, but sometimes your plans, you wind up adjusting them."
Then there are the ripple effects. To get Kendall, Gibbs had to trade a draft pick -- something he didn't want to do. The lack of depth on the line also meant the Redskins had to play an undrafted free agent at left tackle when Chris Samuels was hurt during camp.
Another issue: The Redskins had only five draft picks and didn't make the best of them. They selected three who didn't make the cut: linebacker Dallas Sartz (fifth round), quarterback Jordan Palmer (sixth) and tight end Tyler Ecker (seventh). Sartz appeared overmatched from Day 1, Palmer seemed a wasted pick for a team that had more pressing needs elsewhere, and Ecker got hurt.
The Dolphins, by comparison, have nine draft picks on their roster.
The lack of depth surfaced again when linebacker Marcus Washington dislocated his elbow during preseason. Gibbs responded by coaxing 34-year-old Randall Godfrey out of retirement and cutting well-liked veteran Lemar Marshall. There was no younger alternative on the team ready to plug the gap.
The news is certainly not all negative. Gibbs was savvy to re-sign running back Ladell Betts late last season, especially given Clinton Portis' ongoing knee problems. He also locked up valuable tight end Chris Cooley to a long-term deal last week.
The two draft picks that made the team look solid. Safety LaRon Landry (No. 6 overall) could be a great one, and linebacker H.B. Blades (sixth round) has won raves from coaches. Undrafted rookie tackle Stephon Heyer was a good find, as is first-year defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander.
The modest free agent crop includes middle linebacker London Fletcher, who appears to be just the veteran needed to organize a defense that was shredded last year. Fred Smoot and David Macklin provide needed depth at cornerback.
Gibbs gambled by not upgrading an aging defensive line with a big-name free agent or high-round draft pick, but this is one case where youth development has paid off: Second-year players Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery are ready to play bigger roles, leading to the release of veterans Renaldo Wynn and Joe Salave'a.
Still, a lack of top-to-bottom talent is why few people are picking the Redskins to make the playoffs this year. While Gibbs' coaching performance has also been scrutinized, the success or failure of Gibbs' second time around has much to do with the other hat he wears.
"Always the proof is in the regular season," Gibbs said, "and how we play there."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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