AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. - The huge burgundy flag with the word "REDSKINS" in gold letters towers over the front of the team's facility, dwarfing in both size and height the four U.S. flags that help frame the parking lot. The arrangement makes quite an impression, especially when viewed from the practice fields, and serves to help symbolize something that's been true for a long time.
Those Washington Redskins sure think a lot of themselves.
"When you set a standard of Super Bowl trophies," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Anything less than that is unacceptable."
The coach made that statement after the end of training camp while paying tribute to the team's alumni at the annual Welcome Home Luncheon. Never mind that the last of those three Super Bowl trophies was won more than two decades ago, and most of those former players, as well as the fans at the banquet, have since watched in frustration as the franchise descended into mediocrity and worse, let down time and again by the latest new hope who was supposed to help redeliver the glory days.
Heath Shuler. Michael Westbrook. Deion Sanders. Bruce Smith. Marty Schottenheimer. Steve Spurrier. Joe Gibbs, part two. Albert Haynesworth. Mike Shanahan. Donovan McNabb. The parade of names has combined to produce just three playoff berths in the last 19 seasons, and the current run of four consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC East is unprecedented in team history.
Enter the next could-be icon, one who fits the role perfectly, right down to the superhero figurines in his locker and the random references to having powers like Captain Planet: Robert Griffin III.
Heisman Trophy winner. Worth a package of premium draft picks. He can throw. He can run. He's marketable. He's a player, according to Shanahan, who "can do some things that people haven't done."
The No. 2 overall draft pick from Baylor also represents Shanahan's last stand. The coach who won a pair of Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in the 1990s now has a run of five straight seasons without a playoff appearance, three in Denver and two in Washington sandwiched around a year off to recharge the batteries. The coach has put his faith in McNabb (2010) and the combo of Rex Grossman and John Beck (2011) at quarterback with the Redskins and failed each time.
The upside is that Shanahan also spent that time building the rest of the roster to his liking, creating a consistent culture that's had been lacking under the frequent coaching changes made by owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have managed to stick to the same philosophy with the same head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator for the third year in a row, making Griffin feel like one of the final pieces of the puzzle, not one of the first.
"He's still a young kid. He still has a lot to learn," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We still have a lot of weapons we need to put around him, too, but we feel like we have adequate guys around him, a lot of playmakers to where we can definitely make that transition a little bit easier for him."
Still, this is a team that went 5-11 last year. While the defensive front seven looks solid, there was no significant upgrade to an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks in 2011. Shanahan says this squad has more depth, but that could also mean he has lots of Grade B players and not enough Grade As. There's not a running back on the roster who has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, and 33-year-old Santana Moss is the only wideout who's had 1,000 yards receiving.
Maybe that's why the bravado is toned down a bit.
"I'm not going to make any predictions or anything," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We're just going to keep quiet and create some havoc."
At least, unlike in previous years when the losing made the seasons seem endless, the Redskins should be a thrill to watch as Griffin develops week by week. He does indeed have the talent and poise to be the player who, finally, makes the Redskins once again as proud of their present as they are of their past. It just probably won't happen this year.
"Last time I checked, they still have us fourth in the NFC East," Griffin said. "And not that we care, but we're going to go out and try to make sure that we're not."
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