One of the first things you notice when interviewing Jay Gruden is that he's honest. Or, at least, as honest as he can be. Not that I needed a reminder, but Don Banks' article on SI.com provided another example.
Banks is one of my favorite NFL writers and he coaxed a couple of telling quotes from Gruden after practice Wednesday. Two parts jumped out.
The quote: "Personally my belief is the read-option is better as an element of surprise. If you're making it a major focal point of your offense -- though they had success with it -- that's problematic. You want to have some of it, no question, because it's the way to get the numbers back in your favor offensively. And with a quarterback like [Robert Griffin III], why wouldn't you have some of it?
"But we're trying to develop him as an all-around quarterback. And I don't know if they had that (as a goal). I'm sure they did a little bit, but I think that's the clear intent moving forward, to develop him as an all-around quarterback. That's part of his growth, from '12 to '13 to now.''
My take: It’s rare that a new coach will make any sort of comment about the previous coaching staff. Whether or not you agree with his take, it’s certainly one that can be interpreted as a dig. Nobody wants to be perceived as not trying to develop a guy. I’d say they felt Griffin was more raw as a passer coming out of college and this was the way to go. How much they would have developed him we’ll never know; I know what some of the plans were but that can be just talk. But the other part of this is that it will play well with Griffin who no doubt felt the same. He has to feel he has a coach on his side.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, the Redskins should keep the zone-read as part of the offense. However, I’ve always felt they should run it less and less as Griffin matures. If he becomes a more consistent passer, and improves his pocket presence and keeps extending plays, there will be much less reason to have him run more than a couple times a game. It definitely helped the passing game, but so too did the stretch zone play-action. Both created confusion for linebackers.
The quote: "Some of the quick passing game will be about having the ability to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands to receivers out in space, and let them make a big play after the catch. It's a low-risk, high-reward type play, and you'll see some of those implemented in our offense. But then, here in Washington, they actually had some good play-action shot plays, and we'll carry some of those we like. There's definitely some concepts I really like and think are necessary for pro football quarterbacks.''
My take: Griffin will be comfortable with those quick passes and with the Redskins’ ability to use four or five legitimate targets in the pass game, he should be able to have a favorable matchup. Whether or not the receiver wins is another matter, but it will be available a decent amount. I know he did some of this at Baylor, but the talent gap is much greater in college. And you can’t live only on short passes. But the Redskins do have players who can do something with the ball after the catch -- adding Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson here makes a big difference. Quite an upgrade. For what it's worth, I like Pierre Garcon most in this role because he's a good combination of power and speed, allowing him to break more attempts. Jackson is best on shallow crosses. (I did not see him catch a slant pass last season, though perhaps I missed one.) Regardless, we all know he can run.
But I also like that Gruden will incorporate past concepts that worked. You don’t always see that from a new coach, who wants to run his stuff only. One thing that’s noticeable with Gruden is that he doesn’t coach with an ego, willing to let coordinators do their job and to take input offensively (his expertise). Players and coaches feel like they have a lot of input (and are trusted). Again, time will tell if this approach works but if he succeeds it will be a big reason why. That and an improved pass rush, fewer turnovers and a highly productive Griffin.