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Redskins training camp: Robert Griffin III ushers in new era

  • By Jeff Darlington
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NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps over the next few weeks. Jeff Darlington details his visit with the Washington Redskins below. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)

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In Ashburn, Va., where there was no Albert Haynesworth, no Donovan McNabb and no Jim Zorn. Wait a second. Where is all of the drama? During the Washington Redskins' first practice of training camp Thursday, the three most negative storylines the team has endured the past three years were clearly gone, replaced by the only storyline that matters: Robert Griffin III. Somehow, we think coach Mike Shanahan might be just fine with that.

OBSERVATION DECK

1. Don't forget about Chris Cooley. I heard plenty of chatter about the future of the tight end, who was hampered in 2011 by a knee that hadn't fully healed from surgery and a broken finger. Yes, Fred Davis did an excellent job in Cooley's absence. Yes, Cooley might see fewer opportunities this season. But the two-time Pro Bowler is still convinced he has plenty in the tank -- and he's back to being healthy. The Redskins are converting receiver Niles Paul into a tight end, which is causing some to wonder if Cooley's days in Washington are numbered. Don't count on it yet. Let's not cast aside the talented Cooley before he has a chance to prove his injuries were merely a speed bump in an otherwise productive career.

2. Remember, RG3 is still a rookie. When one -- yes, just one -- of quarterback Robert Griffin III's pass attempts fluttered badly toward the sideline, loud chatter rushed through the hundreds of fans in attendance. On the very next play, Griffin completed a nice throw. The lesson here? Chill out. While every snap is important, it's OK to let rookies be rookies. Griffin isn't going to be perfect, particularly on his first few days of practice, but he certainly looked like he'll get up to speed quickly. He is already gaining the respect of his teammates -- even veteran teammates -- which will go a long way toward solidifying his leadership role. In general, Griffin's first day was a very good one.

3. In their defense ... The Redskins didn't do much to alter their defense during the offseason, focusing instead on beefing up the offense. It isn't hard to understand why. The defensive unit is an underrated crew that should carry much more weight for the Redskins than many might otherwise believe. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Stephen Bowen proved to be good additions last year. The benefits of continuity showed Thursday; just two years removed from some fairly bad play, the defense is poised to keep improving.

THE NEW GUYS

Pierre Garcon: Easily the most impressive player on the Redskins' offense on Day 1, Garcon looked like the polished veteran receiver Washington wanted when it aggressively moved to add him. Many players showed plenty of rust; Garcon wasn't one of them.

Josh Morgan: No Redskins receiver topped 1,000 yards last season. The team clearly made it a priority to change that in 2012. However, many of its moves were based on potential. Garcon and Morgan have yet to eclipse 1,000 yards in any season. (Garcon came the closest in 2011 when he had 947.) On Thursday, Morgan looked like the front-runner to start alongside Garcon, with Santana Moss in the slot. The Redskins are obviously expecting big things from Morgan and Garcon.

Darlington: RG3 ready to work
Robert Griffin III is eager to put the offseason behind him and start a new era of Redskins football, Jeff Darlington writes. More ...

OVERHEARD

"A lot of the stuff in the past, we've created ourselves, with the different distractions, drama and things like that. Right now, we just have a team of guys that just really want to go about their business."
-- London Fletcher, on what it's like to enter a training camp that feels "normal."

OUTLOOK

It's true: There really is reason for hope with the Redskins. But don't think Washington is already a playoff-caliber team. The offensive line has issues with depth and durability. Though the defense should be solid, several positional battles still need to be decided. Of course, the Redskins are still destined to go as far as Griffin can take them. This is his squad. How much time will RG3 need? It won't take forever, but he'll need more than one season. Winning eight games in 2012 would be a notable success.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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