Rick Snider: Redskins' Shanahan now quick to change direction

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,Rick Snider

Speed makes even Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan change his mind.

Brandon Banks made the roster even though it wasn't as a receiver, which Shanahan once mandated. After catching only two of nine passes targeted his way in one preseason game, there's no way to justify the decision other than the Redskins kept Banks as a returner.

There's nothing wrong with changing your mind. It's not a mortal sin. Banks had four of the Redskins' 11 preseason plays of 40-plus yards, including a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. His game-breaking speed earned him the job.

Shanahan showed he wanted younger and faster players during the final 53-man cutdown Friday. The team's average age is 26.7 years with nine starters 25 or less. Only linebacker London Fletcher is older than 31. That's a perfect blend of ages.

The Redskins need two things -- playmakers and speed. The two often go together. The team was slower and older than normal in recent years. Shanahan is rebooting with youngsters.

If Shanahan guesses right on the newcomers, the Redskins might be good for a few years. Guessing wrong means more mediocrity. Considering Shanahan in entering his third season with an 11-21 record, the grace period is narrowing.

Foremost, the Redskins have gone with a 22-year-old quarterback known for near-Olympic sprinting speed. Ironically, Washington will need Robert Griffin III to win games with his arm more often than his legs. But there's nothing like speed when protection collapses, which will happen too often. Predecessor Rex Grossman was a statue in the pocket who fumbled when he was hit.

Washington got faster by acquiring receiver Pierre Garcon to replace last year's top target, Jabar Gaffney. Indeed, the receiving corps is now so quick that Shanahan cut downfield options Terrence Austin and Anthony Armstrong.

The offensive line doesn't have anyone older than 30. Shanahan's run blocking relies solely on speed to turn a mediocre lineman into an effective one. Too bad it doesn't work on passing downs.

The defense returns nine starters, adding only safeties Madieu Williams, 31, and Brandon Meriweather, 28. The unit ranked 13th last year, so it can age another year or two together before linemen Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and Barry Cofield all turn 30 in 2014.

Thankfully, the Redskins have finally stopped overpaying aging free agents and recycled veterans whose best years are past. They're now gambling on youngsters to grow into success.

Griffin could play 15 years for Washington, though that's a Dan Marino fantasy. Few grow old with their original teams anymore. Even Peyton Manning is in Denver now. Still, a rookie quarterback is always about the future, and Shanahan has gone young around Griffin to create a new era. It certainly worked for the Washington Nationals' pitching staff.

The NFL is mostly a five-year league. Turning 30 like tight end Chris Cooley this season means vulnerability. Shanahan knew Cooley's best years were past when he cut him. The Redskins want future stars who can run past older opponents.

At least, it's one way to go. It's not like recent approaches have succeeded for Washington lately.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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