A lot of things about the Washington Redskins will be different in 2008. There is the new head coach in Jim Zorn and a new offensive coordinator in Sherman Smith bringing in a new offense. The West Coast scheme has a new approach, increasing the emphasis on passing and utilizing less of the power running game that Joe Gibbs preferred.
There is a new defensive coordinator in Greg Blache. By and large he will take the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, keeping the same basic scheme that Gregg Williams used to bring three top-10 performances in the last four years. But Blache is certain to put his own stamp on the defense and there will be differences, most of which will be unveiled starting Thursday night in the Meadowlands.
There are a lot of new players, 15 of them to be exact. Ten of them were drafted as 100% of the team's draft class made the final cut.
But for all the change, things will look very familiar when the team takes the field in Giants Stadium. Of all of those new players, only defensive end Jason Taylor is slated to start, and he might not due to a sprained knee. Rookie Durant Brooks will be handling the punting duties. Stephon Heyer will start at right tackle in place of Jon Jansen, but Heyer started there the last five games of 2007, so that's nothing new.
So what will all of this change add up to in 2008?
The best-case scenario has the team grasping the new offense quickly and getting up to a reasonable level of proficiency in a hurry. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts keep things rolling on the ground while Jason Campbell fine tunes his game. Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas get into the act by Halloween given the Redskins the deepest, most versatile receiving corps in the game.
The Taylor-Andre Carter defensive end tandem becomes one of the most feared in the league. The added pressure on the opposing quarterback leads to the defense getting takeaways by the bucket, setting up a lot of confidence-building short drives by the offense.
The Redskins stay reasonably healthy and Zorn is portrayed by the media as a quirky genius. They pull off a few upsets, win most of the games that they should win, and finish 10-6. They win a Wild Card playoff game and go into 2009 as a team on the rise.
The worst-case scenario has the team being out of synch offensively from the get-go. With little threat of the pass, opposing teams crowd the line of scrimmage and Portis and Betts can't get untracked. The defense holds its own early in most games but the same fourth-quarter collapses we have seen too many of over the past several years persist because the offense can't put away the opposition.
The Skins suffer a few key injuries and Zorn is portrayed by the media as being in over his head. They go 1-5 in the tough NFC East and stumble to a 6-10 record.
And so it goes. For all that is new and different about this team, the Redskins remain where they have been for the past 15 years. They are in the muddled middle of the NFL. They could have a few things go right and get a fifth or sixth playoff seed. Or some things could go wrong and they could be picking fifth or sixth in the '09 draft.
Given that, it says here that the Redskins will go 8-8 this year. They will start off reasonably well as opposing teams see Zorn's version of the WCO for the first time. Let's say 3-2 in the first five games, winning the home contests and pulling a road upset against one of the division foes.
Once the other teams have enough on film to counter Zorn's schemes things will get tougher. They stumble somewhat against what should be a soft spot in the schedule, going 1-2 against the Rams, Browns, and Lions.
Standing 4-4 at midseason, their play improves but the opposition gets tougher and they go 1-3 while facing four 2007 playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle and the Giants.
In a script familiar to Redskins fans, they have a good December, going 3-1 to finish off the season.
It's possible that 8-8 will get them into the playoffs in the NFC. The way things worked out last year, the Redskins could have lost to Dallas in that last game and they still would have been the sixth seed at 8-8.
Still, the playoffs are an unlikely destination for the 2008 Redskins. They will go into 2009 still in search of the keys to breaking out of the mediocre NFL pack.