Awaiting training camp brings an anxious silence around Redskins Park.
Are the Washington Redskins better? Counting down to camp's July 24 start, did signing free agents DeSean Jackson, Jason Hatcher, Andre Roberts and Ryan Clark make a difference? Does changing coaches to Jay Gruden matter? Did the team restock through the draft?
The next month is a slow grind during the vacation break. The team can wonder whether it did enough during the offseason free agency, draft and workouts to improve upon last year's 3-13 collapse under then-coach Mike Shanahan.
"Well, I've said it before, when you're 3-13, it's hard to point to one area," said Gruden, who seldom refers to last year given that he was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator then. "There's a lot of things that go wrong, and sometimes, when it rains, it pours. It just keeps adding on. Sometimes it's the offense. Sometimes it's the defense. Sometimes it's the special teams. Sometimes it's a combination of all three.
"You can see the talent level's there. You see explosive playmakers on offense. You see the offense moving the ball from time to time. You see the defense getting stops in key situations. But for whatever the reason, offense, defense and special teams were never able to put it together on the same afternoon, and it cost them a lot of games. In the NFL, there's so much parity nowadays that you have to be consistent in all three phases to have a chance. If one of your phases fails you on a given day, it's going to be a long afternoon for you, and that seems to be the case with the Redskins last year."
Translation: it was a systemic collapse, which is even harder to fix. If the Redskins simply couldn't block or defend the pass, then they'd bring in a couple of new offensive linemen and corners. But that wasn't the case. From punter to playmakers, the Redskins had different problems weekly.
So there have been several goals for the past six months. First, add playmakers such as Jackson, Hatcher and Roberts. Second, improve special teams with Roberts looking like the returner needed. Third, turn around a defeatist attitude with a new, younger coach. Gruden indeed inspired a solid offseason effort from players.
Watching coaches chirp at players on all sides during workouts showed a new energy. And players loved the 11-on-11 drills to show competitiveness. There was even a little pushing and shoving occasionally to indicate an edge needed for the fall. The Redskins didn't look like 53 mercenaries playing for pay, but a team working together.
"The thing that I've been most impressed with is ... the locker room in general -- how they're getting along and how they're playing together, working together," Gruden said. "You see them in the weight room working out together. We haven't had any bickering or any arguing or any fighting so to speak.
"Overall, I feel like the team together is coming along great, and the unity is where it needs to be at this point, and then we when come back to training camp with the knowledge of the system and people knowing one another, hopefully we can take off from there."