NFC East: Sean McVay

Two years ago the Washington Redskins had one of the most potent running games in the NFL, a mix of conventional and new school with the zone read option. It worked. They led the NFL in rushing yards, were second in yards per carry and gained more first downs than any team courtesy of the run.

Morris
It wasn’t just the zone read. While the Redskins averaged 6.18 yards per carry with that tactic, they still averaged 4.94 yards on their 401 traditional runs. That average alone was topped by only three other teams. The zone read helped, but so, too, did Alfred Morris being an excellent fit in the outside zone running scheme.

As he improved his tracks on runs, the Redskins’ run game flourished even more. Morris’ ability to plant and cut and make the first defender miss meant the run game would work even minus the zone read aspect.

Last season, the Redskins ranked third in the NFL in yards per rush (4.78). They averaged 5.33 yards on zone read carries and 4.65 on traditional runs; the latter number would have left them tied for third.

Here’s the point: The run game has worked the past two years, with or without the zone read option. That’s a big reason why offensive coordinator Sean McVay said shortly after getting his new position that “the run game will be very similar.”

Lauvao
The offseason moves suggest that’s the case. The Redskins added a bigger player at left guard in Shawn Lauvao, but he moves well -- after the Redskins signed him, multiple Browns sources said he’d be a good fit in the outside zone game. Lauvao might not be a great guard, but he’s bigger than Kory Lichtensteiger, now at center, by a good 20 pounds. Lichtensteiger moves better than former center Will Montgomery but is not as strong.

Meanwhile, the two linemen they drafted, guard Spencer Long and tackle Morgan Moses, both can move. The problem for Moses is that in college he was inconsistent getting to linebackers in the run game. It’s yet another area he must improve before he’s truly ready to start. Long, nearly 10 pounds heavier than starting right guard Chris Chester, spent a lot of time pulling at Nebraska but he also plays with strength. The Redskins definitely left yards on the field in the run game last season, sometimes because the backside blockers failed to get their men and other times because Morris needed to make a stronger cut down the field.

On paper, bigger should also equal more ability to play smash mouth when needed, adding more versatility to the ground game. But I’m not sold that Lauvao, for example, is as strong in that sort of situation. That’s not what he showed in Cleveland (whether at the line or when reaching linebackers).

lastname
Bernard
Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not have the run game in Cincinnati that he’ll have in Washington. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a bubble player for the Bengals this season; he carried the ball a combined 498 times the past two seasons. Gruden opted for a mix, with Giovani Bernard receiving 170 carries in 2013, in part because he had no one such as Morris.

Meanwhile, the Redskins actually led the NFL in rushing versus seven-man fronts (275 times for an NFL-best 1,332 yards).

Perhaps Gruden’s influence will result in more carries against five- and six-man fronts. The Bengals had 51 more such plays than Washington a year ago, a function of formation and likely also game situations. Then again, two years ago the Redskins had more runs against those fronts than Cincinnati.

But with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed, Gruden has more weapons in the pass game as well. Which, of course, could lead to more spread formations -- and runs against even more favorable fronts.

Helu
Meanwhile, Roy Helu can catch the ball and perhaps he’ll run better out of a shotgun spread formation than in the outside zone. But I can’t imagine him in a Giovani Bernard role; the Bengals’ back had 226 touches from scrimmage last season. Though Helu averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he’s not a move-the-chains runner (eight carries against an eight-man front resulted in a total of 14 yards). Even against seven-man fronts Helu averaged 4.06 yards, which is fine but is much less than Morris (4.96, with an NFL-best 937 rushing yards against that type of front).

The point? Helu will be able to handle the third-down duties again, but there’s little reason to take a whole lot away from Morris. And rookie Lache Seastrunk has a lot to prove -- as a third-down back in particular -- before being ready for anything other than pinch-hitting duty as a runner. But he’s a potentially good fit in the spread. Chris Thompson is, too, but size and durability remain two big issues for him.

Do not assume the Redskins will see fewer eight-man boxes compared to last season. In 2013, Morris only ran 44 times against an eight-man box, which was six fewer times than he did so as a rookie. So it’s not a given he’ll pile up more yards because of fewer eight-man boxes. But given the success of the past two years and that Gruden wants to keep it mostly the same, there’s also no reason to think Morris or the Redskins’ run game will suddenly drop off. That is, unless Gruden falls too much in love with the weapons at receiver.
  1. Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay praised quarterback Robert Griffin III for how he handled the offseason – physically and mentally. “He did an excellent job above the neck,” McVay said, “as far as absorbing the new system, some of the terminology. … He’s done an excellent job translating his knowledge in the meeting room onto the field, recognizing some of those looks. Some of the audible situations we’ll give him the opportunity to call things at the line. He’s shown he’s fully capable of doing it and that’s what gives him a great chance to have success this year.”
  2. Griffin did not call audibles the first two seasons, but in talking to players the past two years, the Redskins had built-in rules in their offense so that if a bad look presented itself, there were automatic checks to another option.
  3. Cord Jefferson wrote an interesting piece on receiver DeSean Jackson in ESPN The Magazine. One thing that jumps out is his father’s involvement in his life. We already knew about this, but Jefferson wrote about Jackson’s father having an argument with his oldest son Byron after the latter told him he was giving up football after stints in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League. Jackson’s father eventually pulled a gun on him, leading to them being estranged. That was broken because Byron Jackson returned to help groom his younger brother.
  4. But it also illustrates the pressure put on DeSean Jackson to succeed in the NFL by his father. It wasn’t always easy, though in the end it sounds as if Jackson understood it better. And the heavy role his dad played is what Griffin gets. It’s why Griffin feels as if he understands Jackson’s motivation, which in turn helps him relate better.
  5. For what it’s worth, the Redskins obviously were pleased with what they saw of Jackson on the field this spring. As one coach texted last week, “He’s the real deal.” That’s not a surprise given his talent and background, of course, but they are excited about what he’ll do in Washington. Then again, I doubt they’d say otherwise right now.
  6. OK, in case you missed the last week of the Redskins’ nickname controversy: Here’s a story on a school board in the state of Washington that said they won’t force the local high school, in a heavily Native American district, to change its nickname; Senator John McCain said the name should change; a Redskins Pride Caucus was formed by Virginia politicians tired of the controversy.
  7. Here’s something I stumbled upon about Redskins running back Lache Seastrunk. Before last college season, he guaranteed that he’d win the Heisman Trophy. Don’t believe me? Here’s his quote to the Sporting News, “I’m going to win the Heisman. I’m going to win it in 2013. If I don’t, I’m going to get very close. I’m shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it.” Seastrunk also told the Sporting News, “I feel like there’s no back who can do what I do. I know I’m the fastest back in the country. I know I’m the best back in the country. Nobody’s going to work harder.” Have to say, I like guys who aren’t afraid to say how they feel. Don’t forget, Seastrunk said this spring, “I don’t have any weaknesses.” This kid could be a reporter’s dream.
  8. This story by Phil Sheridan surprised me as well: In the last 10 years, the Eagles have a home record of 44-36 and their road mark was 45-34-1. It’s mystifying how a team that has largely been a playoff contender during this stretch hasn’t been better at home. They were only 4-4 at home last season as well, though they won their last four (before losing a home playoff game). In the last 10 years, the Redskins have gone 5-5 in Philadelphia. Players get a kick out of pulling into the parking lot in their buses, seeing little kids flip them off and seeing eggs splatter on the windows. By the way, Philadelphia has added 1,600 seats to the Linc for this season.
  9. If the New York Giants want their passing attack to flourish again, it would help tremendously if third-year receiver Rueben Randle becomes a consistent target. He caught 41 passes for 611 yards and a team-leading six touchdown receptions, which our Dan Graziano likened to a “little like being the tallest dwarf.” Graz has a way with words. Anyway, Randle had three games of 75 or more yards but 10 with 40 or fewer. That has to change. And Giants receivers coach Sean Ryan said recently, “I've seen a difference in his seriousness towards his work. This spring, I thought he was locked in. I thought he did a good job learning the new offense. Like I said, he's got some football intelligence to him. Things come to him. He sees things pretty well. But I thought he really worked hard at being locked into the meetings and on the field as well. I noticed a difference in him." Receiver is a tough position for young players to learn; we’ll learn a lot more about Randle after this season and the direction he’s headed.
  10. For the first time in a while, Dallas lacks star power when it comes to its pass rush. Not that anyone else in the division will feel sorry for the Cowboys, entering life without DeMarcus Ware (not to mention Jason Hatcher and his 11 sacks from this past season). The problem is, where will their rush come from? The best options are a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and a defensive tackle coming off ACL surgery (Henry Melton). Calvin Watkins explored that situation here.

Jay Gruden a good fit with RG III

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
3:15
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Robert Griffin IIIPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesQuarterback Robert Griffin III is smiling again under new Washington coach Jay Gruden.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- They notice a difference. Robert Griffin III is happier, something just about everyone who has seen him at Redskins Park has picked up on. It could be because he’s not spending his time in Florida rehabbing his knee, as he was doing a year ago. Or that he knows the knee brace likely is a thing of the past.

Or it’s the fresh start that he -- and everyone else, for that matter -- is getting. When the Redskins changed coaches, they also changed the outlook for Griffin. Regardless of who was to blame for the failed relationship between him and former coach Mike Shanahan, the bottom line is it didn’t work. Enter Jay Gruden. Enter an excited young quarterback.

One Redskins employee described Griffin as “18 times happier.” Others echo that sentiment. Whether a happy Griffin translates into a productive one will be answered in about six months. But there is little doubt the offseason has unfolded in a positive way for Griffin.

“Jay sees football through the eyes of the quarterback,” Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of his former offensive coordinator. “It gives him the opportunity for the quarterback to grow through him. That’s really helpful. The offense and everything has to be quarterback-friendly, and that’s important.”

It’s not just Gruden’s arrival. It’s Sean McVay being elevated to offensive coordinator. Like Gruden, McVay offers a more measured demeanor. It’s also the hiring of Doug Williams as a personnel executive. Williams will not coach Griffin, but will act as a sounding board, as someone who played the position at a high level in the NFL and understands scrutiny. The two already have spoken.

“This kid came in here as a rookie and single-handedly raised the play of everybody on that football team,” Williams said recently on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “At the end of the day, you can’t put it all on his shoulders. You’ve got to have some people around him. And I think that’s the course we’re in now. This guy, man, he comes to the office, always smiling, always upbeat, and you can tell his leadership character and the things that he’s got going for him that are gonna take him a long way.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsJay Gruden on developing the offense around Robert Griffin III: "I think it's gotta be a two-way street. It's gotta be something we're both interactive with."
Even Gruden sees how eager Griffin is to get going. But it’s about more than just having a new coach; Griffin also wants to make up for a subpar season and to regain his rookie mojo. But Gruden wants to make sure Griffin, who is often at Redskins Park (though they can’t yet discuss football together), doesn’t burn out.

“He just needs to relax right now. Enjoy the offseason,” Gruden said. “When it’s time, it’s time. We’ll get plenty of time with him to work with his fundamentals, and just don’t stress out over it right now. He’s so anxious and wants to do so well all the time. He’s such a perfectionist that he needs to settle down right now, enjoy the offseason, enjoy the players he’s working out with right now, and have some fun.”

Griffin had to mature; it’s also important to note that he’s still only 24. And, yes, maybe he needs to be treated differently than, say, backup Kirk Cousins. Is that right or wrong? Well, coaching is about knowing how to reach every player, especially one who plays the most important position and who can define the franchise for the next decade.

Shanahan had his way of doing things, and it earned him two Super Bowl titles. As a rookie, Griffin flourished under him: 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 815 yards rushing and 3,200 yards throwing. But, fair or not, Griffin never trusted him, never fully bought what he was being sold. Doesn’t matter who’s at fault, but the reality is that it makes it tougher to grow, both as a player and as a team.

Gruden has never quite relinquished a quarterback’s mindset. Heck, he says he’s still bitter about never getting a shot in the NFL. But maintaining that mindset helps him relate well to those who play the position. In Cincinnati, Gruden and Andy Dalton shared a strong bond. If that develops here, perhaps he’ll coax even more out of Griffin.

“There’s the physical tools to the game and then there’s the mental aspects, where you have to have confidence in everything you do,” Gruden said. “The quarterback needs to know that the coach has the quarterback’s best interests [at] heart. He has to understand that I want nothing more than for him to succeed. Obviously, he’s got my future in his hands. And it kind of works both ways. It would be foolish for me to think I have all the power: ‘You do exactly what I want. I don’t care if you like it or not.’ I think it’s gotta be a two-way street. It’s gotta be something we’re both interactive with.”

If there’s a disagreement, Gruden stressed that he has the final call. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. Gruden must be in control, and that concept must be accepted by Griffin. But if they develop a strong relationship, they can weather any storms. Last season, a storm turned into a tornado.

Griffin, now working out with teammates in Arizona, must smile at Gruden's words. It’s a new day for him: a full offseason and a coach known for building strong ties. All that’s left is to produce next season. If that happens, Griffin will give the entire organization reason to smile. Again.

Quick takes: Offensive line

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
11:30
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Because I'm thinking too much about the offensive line and what the Washington Redskins are doing:
  • At coach Jay Gruden’s introductory news conference, he talked about wanting to have versatility and variety in the offense. So he wanted to use the zone read (some) and he wanted to run power. Here’s what he said:
    “I like the power plays. I like the gap-blocking plays. So there’s a little bit of everything. I don’t think any offense in the NFL anymore is just, ‘We are this.’ I think we have to adhere to what we have offensively, talent-wise. We can do the read-option. We can do naked bootlegs. We can run outside zone. We can run bubble screens. We can run deep balls. We can do play-action deep things. I think the whole idea to be a successful offense is to be diverse and be good at a lot of different things and not just one.”
  • So it’s no surprise that when looking at offensive linemen in free agency, he’s opted for players with a little more size. That doesn’t mean the Redskins will abandon what they had done in the past. This offseason, offensive coordinator Sean McVay said, “The run game will be very similar." But it does mean that they want players who can perhaps be capable of doing more.
  • McGlynn
    They hosted two linemen Wednesday: former Saints center Brian de la Puente and ex-Colts guard/center Mike McGlynn. De La Puente weighs 306 pounds (former center Will Montgomery weighs 304; Kory Lichtensteiger, who will move to center, weighs between 280-285 but is adding 10-15 pounds in the offseason. I'm anxious to see Lichtensteiger at center; I've long thought that would be his future home and agree with Chris Cooley that he would be good here).
  • McGlynn weighs 325 pounds. The problem here: he struggled big time at guard by all accounts last season. As much as everyone wants to hammer the Redskins’ offensive line, few were worse than Indianapolis’ -- especially in the interior. Where McGlynn started. But he started three games at center and, again, according to those who watched the team on a daily basis, he fared much better.
  • Here’s what ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells wrote about McGlynn: “McGlynn was in a tough position last season. He started 11 games at guard but he’s weak at that position and was part of one of the worst interior offensive lines in the league with center Samson Satele and guard Hugh Thornton. ... Slide McGlynn to center, which happened three times because of injuries to Satele, and all is better for him because he plays the position better than Satele. ... Colts coach Chuck Pagano had an opportunity to keep McGlynn at center and bench Satele in the playoffs but he decided against it.”
  • And here’s what Stephen Holder, a Colts’ beat reporter for the Indianapolis Star, wrote about McGlynn: “McGlynn was not a strong performer when used at guard this season, but he and the line overall played better when he was the starting center (he started three games). If the Colts offer a contract to McGlynn, expect it to be modest in value and look for McGlynn to have to compete for playing time and/or a roster spot.”
  • De la Puente
    De la Puente did not exactly play with a lot of power in New Orleans. I saw him get moved back in a couple games, but I also saw him be effective when on the move -- whether to block a linebacker or maintain leverage on a defensive lineman.
  • I think he was helped playing with Saints quarterback Drew Brees; the bulk of his throws (54 percent) were unloaded in less than three seconds. Robert Griffin III unloaded in that amount of time 45 percent of the time (according to ESPN Stats & Information).
  • But the point is it’s not as if De la Puente would be a bad fit for some sort of outside zone-based scheme (if they sign him, that is). Actually, he's probably a good fit. Nor would his signing signal some shift to a strictly power-based run game. It does sound as if he was a smart center with the Saints, so that would be good.
  • Newly-signed guard Shawn Lauvao weighs 315 pounds, about the same size as Chris Chester (Josh LeRibeus is bigger, though his listed weight was 315 pounds last season). So if Lauvao and Chris Chester are the guards (not sure yet if that will be the case; if they sign someone else, then I’d imagine a current Redskins linemen could get released and Chester represents $2.7 million in cap savings) then that would give them a bigger tandem than the past couple years. But both are capable of running outside zone plays -- word out of Cleveland is that this style would fit Lauvao. And Chester is not a power blocker.
  • Point is, the Redskins still don't look like they're abandoning what they have done in recent years with the run game. But that doesn't mean it will look exactly the same, and other aspects will be emphasized because Gruden will want to incorporate some of his style. It is his offense after all. Some of the changes they're making, or trying to make, are as much about performance as scheme.

Rookie report: Jordan Reed

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Tight end Jordan Reed, a third-round pick from Florida, could easily end up being the best pick from this draft. Right now his only competition would be second-round cornerback David Amerson. Even if Amerson plays well, it's easy to see that Reed could become one of the better players at his position because of his game-breaking ability. Here's the book on his rookie season:

Stats: Reed caught 45 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. He missed the final six games because of a concussion.

[+] EnlargeJordan Reed
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsRookie tight end Jordan Reed showed a lot of promise before a concussion ended his season.
Role: Reed began the season as the No. 3 tight end, but surpassed starter Fred Davis as the primary pass-catcher within three games.

Highlight: Reed caught nine passes for 143 yards and a game-winning three-yard touchdown grab in a 45-41 win against Chicago.

What I liked: Just about everything, starting with his approach and his talent. Reed consistently stayed after practice to work on his game; after being drafted he hit the weights hard, and that helped him improve as a blocker. He understands what he must work on to improve. I list those things first because it’s why the kid has a chance to be good for a long time. As for his game, there is a lot to like. Reed’s athleticism was obvious in camp, and his ability to create separation is fantastic. There were times in games I saw him create five yards of space as he cut (against Chicago), just because of a hard plant the other way. He used footwork that he once used for basketball moves to separate from linebackers over the middle. He showed a knack for knowing when to sit in an area against zone coverage. Saw this against the Bears when the linebackers over the middle were less than seven yards apart. Rather than continue his route, he quickly sat and caught a pass. Reed became a trusted target because of his wide catch radius, as the coaches liked to say. Here’s a better way: he’s highly athletic and makes terrific adjustments on the ball. Sometimes they were so subtle that you forget it’s hard for tight ends to make those grabs. On one out route, the ball was thrown inside, but Reed easily spun back the other way for the grab. There were many such examples, but it enabled Robert Griffin III to throw with more trust to Reed. Reed's blocking was better than anticipated after watching him in college, where he transitioned from quarterback. He did a good job blocking in space because of how he moved his feet -- it helped him a lot against Dallas linebacker Sean Lee on a screen. He typically did a nice job with his hands, though his blocking was definitely inconsistent. Reed plays with enthusiasm, though that was evident more so after his blocks than his big catches.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything I didn’t like. But there were areas he must improve. His blocking needs to be more consistent. I saw improvement in this area. There were times early in the season when he would go to engage defenders, but lower his head too much when he blocked. I did not see that being an issue later in the season. But he must learn how to block for situations. At times he was beat not because he was overpowered, but because he failed to account for how his man was aligned compared to what he might have faced in other games. That didn’t happen often, but it did occur. Durability will be a question until he plays an entire season. That’s not to fault him for getting a concussion; it was bad enough to cause him to miss six games, so clearly there was a legitimate issue. But Reed knows that he entered the NFL with questions about his durability.

Projection: He’ll be a force at this position if he stays healthy. Reed had just started to become more of a downfield threat before he was hurt. The bulk of his passes before the Bears game in Week 7 were underneath routes, but he hurt Chicago on a couple downfield throws, burning the Bears secondary on some post-corners. That will increase in 2014. The Redskins averaged 37 fewer yards through the air with Reed absent the final six games. I don’t know what Jay Gruden’s plans are for him, but I do know that new offensive coordinator Sean McVay loves Reed and it’s not hard for anyone to see the talent he has just by flipping on the film.
  • Orakpo
    The three Redskins in Hawaii won’t be split up for Sunday’s Pro Bowl game. Running back Alfred Morris, left tackle Trent Williams, and linebacker Brian Orakpo all were drafted by Team Prime, coached by Deion Sanders. Can’t say I’m a big fan of this format; what would happen if Orakpo had a chance to level Morris? Would he really do that to a teammate? It might have been fun to watch Williams and Orakpo go one-on-one; it’s the matchup we get to see daily in training camp. But this game hasn’t been fun to watch in a while.
  • It makes sense if former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams joins Washington’s front office. This was actually first mentioned a few years ago when general manager Bruce Allen joined the organization. Several months later Williams was out of a job and said he had talked to the Redskins, but that the timing was off. It’s no longer off. He soon became the general manager of the Virginia Destroyers in the United Football League.
  • Keep in mind that Williams worked in Tampa Bay with both Allen and new head coach Jay Gruden as a personnel executive. After both were fired by the Bucs, Williams became the coordinator of pro scouting for two years.
  • I would expect a decision on who will coach the running backs Thursday or Friday, based on a conversation I had with a team source early in the week. Yes, Earnest Byner remains in the running, but last week two team sources said they had planned to interview more candidates.
  • For those who missed it, Sean McVay said he will coach the quarterbacks.
  • Hall
    Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett spoke with reporters at the Senior Bowl and had a couple of interesting comments. He called re-signing linebackers Orakpo and Perry Riley priorities, and also mentioned lineman Chris Baker and corner DeAngelo Hall as players they would like back.
  • Haslett also told reporters about Jay Gruden: "He’s going to spend his time with the offense, and I think he’ll trust the guys we have on defense to do what we have to do. Obviously, we’ll play as a team, from defense to special teams. I think we’ve got to get back to playing. I think we’re closer to the 10-win season than the three-win season that we had. We’re much closer to the 10-win season as a football team than the three-win season."
  • That word trust will be said a lot. Obviously, Mike Shanahan was involved quite a bit in the defense. One player said having another strong voice involved in the defense sometimes led to confusion in assignments and over who was really calling the shots. How much did it hurt? Tough to say. But it couldn't have helped.
  • Haslett also said, "We played much better, I thought, that last 13 games. We played extremely well from the standpoint that we didn’t give up a ton of points, we didn’t give up a ton of yards. We played Peyton Manning about as good as you can get. And, I think that’s something to build off of. We played good after those first four games. Can we get better? Yeah. We were middle of the pack. But we were fourth in the league on third-down efficiency. So, all that stuff is something you can build on."
  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins ranked ninth in total yards from weeks 4-17, allowing 323.2 yards per game; they were last in the NFL for the first three games, allowing 488.0 total yards per game. They allowed 32.7 points per game in the first three weeks (31st in the NFL) and 29.2 thereafter (29th).
  • The Redskins ranked 18th in the NFL by allowing 88 points off turnovers. Considering how many they had (34), that’s not a bad number. The league average was 82 points allowed. There were eight teams that had at least 30 turnovers; the Redskins, with 34, were tied for second most. But they were second best in the points allowed per turnover.
  • So let’s say the Redskins had repeated 2012 when they were fourth in this area at 51 points allowed. And let’s say they only allowed three returns for a touchdown (on special teams and offense) instead of seven. That would deduct 65 points from their total, leaving them with 413 allowed for the season. And that would have left them 24th in the NFL at 25.81 points per game allowed.
  • Only two teams in the bottom 15 of points allowed finished with a winning record. One happened to be Denver (24.9 ppg); Green Bay (26.8) was the other. So the Redskins' performance in this area was unacceptable, and I don't think Haslett would disagree. But his overall point was finding positives upon which to build.

Sean McVay: Run game will be similar

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
1:30
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The Washington Redskins’ offense has new coaches and ideas. That doesn’t mean it will be dramatically different.

They might not look exactly the same under new coach Jay Gruden as they did under coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But they will carry over a lot of what they’ve done the past few years.

The Redskins obviously haven’t had enough time to put together their playbook -- they'll start going heavy on it after the coaching staff is finalized (the goal, Gruden said, is to have that happen by early next week). But as they continue to discuss how the scheme will look, and the terminology that will be involved, it won’t just be a duplicate of what Gruden did as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

“I don’t think it will change a lot,” new Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said. “The foundation and base principles will remain the same. Jay does a great job of adjusting to his players. He doesn’t make the player adjust to his scheme.”

That means bootlegs, or keepers, and the outside-zone run game that benefited running back Alfred Morris. He rushed for 2,888 yards in his first two seasons under Shanahan – the Redskins ranked third in yards per carry this season and second in 2012. He’ll continue to be a big part of the offense.

“He’ll be the same guy,” McVay said. “The run game will be very similar.”

McVay said he was excited after speaking with quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“Everyone knows what ability and talent he has,” McVay said. “He’s already had a bunch of success in this league. Everyone is excited about him and I’m confident he’ll have a great year leading this team.”

There is not yet a detailed plan for Griffin’s offseason work. But, obviously, working on fundamentals will be a big part.

“With any player, especially at quarterback, I don’t care if you’re talking Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Drew Brees,” McVay said, “you want to make sure to continue to hammer down the fundamentals and it all starts with your feet. Everything starts with footwork.”

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
10:00
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In Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, the topics include free agency, how many Bengals might follow Jay Gruden to Washington, Jim Haslett's return and more.
 

Redskins coaching scorecard

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
8:39
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In less than a week, new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden has put together a good portion of his staff. Gruden's staff will include several holdovers, including Sean McVay (promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator), Chris Foerster (offensive line), Jacob Burney (defensive line), Raheem Morris (secondary) and Jim Haslett (defensive coordinator). But they still have hires to make. Here's an updated list:

Head coach: Jay Gruden

Offensive coordinator: Sean McVay

McVay is highly respected by his players and comes across as older than his 27 years. He won't call plays, so he'll be able to ease into this position. Still, it's a lot of responsibility and there will be a transition and learning period. There always is.

Quarterbacks: Vacant (Gruden, a former quarterback, will no doubt work with this position)

Running backs: Vacant (Earnest Byner interviewing Friday)

Wide receivers: Vacant

Tight ends: Vacant (Wes Phillips interviewed for the job Thursday)

Offensive line: Chris Foerster

He has experience in different blocking schemes, though he works best in the zone blocking system. Players have spoken highly of him over the years. His lines the past couple of years have not been the most talented individually, but still had more success than anticipated. We don't know how much the young linemen have developed or if any will be future starters (but keep in mind that Joe Bugel did not develop any young players in his second stint in Washington either. Just some perspective.).

Defensive coordinator: Jim Haslett (has not been officially announced)

Like many, I'm surprised by this move given how the defense has played and the natural inclination to clean house, especially if a staff is unsuccessful. My guess: Haslett is surprised, too, or at least would not have predicted this on the day Mike Shanahan was fired. They improved down the stretch the past two years, but even this year their points per game -- the stat they point to the most -- did not dramatically improve (they were 30th for the season; 25th from Weeks 9-17). They finished 18th in total yards allowed -- 10th in the second half of the season (they faced five top-10 offenses in the first half and two in the second). Excuses can be made that explain some -- certainly not all -- of their deficiencies. The salary cap, head-coach meddling (though certainly there may have been some "suggestions" that worked; we never hear about those). After a while, excuses get old. But clearly the front office felt they were legitimate and perhaps they felt keeping Haslett, a former head coach, would be beneficial to a first-time head coach, one with whom he has a relationship. But it's now time for this defense to finally produce at a greater and more consistent level.

Defensive line: Jacob Burney

He's helped Barry Cofield become a solid nose tackle and the front has been solid against the run; I like how Chris Baker has developed, but Jarvis Jenkins has not done enough in the pass game. Overall, the pass rush needs to improve.

Inside linebackers: Kirk Olivadotti

Had a great reputation when he was here the first time around. This is an excellent hire, but he will be limited to just working with the inside linebackers. He worked with Perry Riley as a rookie and will have another starter to train inside with the loss of London Fletcher.

Outside linebackers: Brian Baker

Don't know a whole lot about him other than he's a veteran coach who has worked with Haslett in the past. He's coached linebackers in three of his 17 NFL seasons, serving as Cleveland's outside linebackers coach last season, but he played linebacker at the University of Maryland. Cleveland's linebackers did not produce as hoped. Dallas did not retain him after the 2012 season when it changed coordinators. His last three seasons have been spent in a 3-4 scheme.

Secondary: Raheem Morris

Energetic and enthusiastic. I'm sure he felt he'd be someone's coordinator by now, but he'll instead enter his third season as Washington's secondary coach. It's not as if the secondary play the past two years would have helped him land a coordinator's job. That's not all on him, however, as there's little doubt they have to upgrade the talent base. And what matters is this: general manager Bruce Allen wanted to keep him around. Fletcher gave him a strong endorsement on Twitter after Gruden was hired.

Special teams: Ben Kotwica

Have heard good things from people who used to work with him. In New York he had to replace a legendary coach in Mike Westhoff. That won't be the case in Washington so those players who remain from last year will be more eager to buy what he's selling.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach Wes Phillips is interviewing with the Washington Redskins, according to multiple sources.

Phillips is among a handful of Cowboys assistants with expiring contracts. He has been with the club since 2007 when his father, Wade, was named head coach. In 2013 Wes Phillips was the tight ends coach after serving as the assistant offensive line coach in 2011 and ’12. He also spent time working with wide receivers and special teams in his time on the staff.

In 2013, Cowboys TE Jason Witten caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdown catches, the second-best single-season total of his career. As a group, the tight ends caught 94 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Cowboys have yet to announce any changes to the coaching staff, although the team and assistant special-teams coach Chris Boniol mutually agreed to part ways two weeks ago. Like Phillips, Boniol had a one-year contract.

The Redskins hired Jay Gruden as head coach (to replace Mike Shanahan) and promoted tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator.

Sean McVay becomes new OC

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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It was expected and now it's done. The Washington Redskins have elevated Sean McVay to offensive coordinator for new coach Jay Gruden.

McVay signed his new contract, according to his agent, Bob LaMonte (who also represents Gruden). McVay and Gruden are tight, but general manager Bruce Allen wanted to keep McVay around regardless of who he hired as head coach. McVay, who was the Redskins' tight ends coach for the past three seasons, turns 28 on Jan. 24. But players have praised him the past couple seasons because of his knowledge of the offense and for the way he relates to players. McVay coached with Gruden for one season in Tampa Bay, and one in the United Football League.

Gruden has said he wants to call plays, so McVay's primary task could be to mostly help formulate the game plan and run meetings when Gruden is unavailable. There has been no official announcement about Gruden's new defensive coordinator, but it is widely expected to be Jim Haslett.

Also, ESPN980's Chris Russell reported that Cleveland's outside linebackers coach Brian Baker will be hired in the same capacity in Washington. Baker has coached since 1996 for seven different teams. Baker coached for three seasons with Haslett in St. Louis. If Baker indeed is hired, it would be only the second defensive position coach hired with ties to Haslett since he joined the Redskins in 2010.

Bobby Turner, Richard Hightower let go

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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The Washington Redskins told longtime running backs coach Bobby Turner on Monday that he would not be part of Jay Gruden's staff, a team source confirmed. They also informed special teams assistant coach Richard Hightower, whom many players wanted to succeed Danny Smith a year ago, and assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan that they would not be retained.

Turner was with Mike Shanahan for 14 seasons in Denver and all four in Washington. He excelled at turning no-names into productive backs in the one-cut stretch zone system. One former coach called him the MVP of the staff for his productivity. What this signals as far as Gruden's offensive system is concerned is uncertain. Gruden said last week that he likes to use all sorts of blocking schemes, some zone and some power. Turner helped turn Alfred Morris from a sixth-round pick into one of the NFL's most productive rushers the past two seasons. Turner has had six different backs rush for at least 1,000 yards.

Hightower spent four seasons in Washington as an assistant, the last two of which were spent helping the secondary and special teams.

The Washington Post reported that the Redskins will retain offensive assistant Aubrey Pleasants.

The team still has not officially named the new coordinators, though the speculation still centers on Sean McVay for offense and Jim Haslett for defense.

Cooley, Redskins rave about Sean McVay

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
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ASHBURN, Va. -- When they had a question, Sean McVay had an answer. That sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s one thing for a position coach to know an offense; it’s another to know what everyone must do – and their adjustments.

The Redskins' tight ends liked that McVay would know – and wouldn’t hesitate.

“There’s no indecision, ‘This is what we do; this is how we do it,’" Logan Paulsen said. “There’s no gray area in my life, which is fantastic. Making sure the player knows what he has to do puts us in a great position. ... You have certain coaches who don’t like when you ask questions. They don’t know the offense spot on.”

That’s why players would be happy if McVay is elevated to offensive coordinator for new coach Jay Gruden. Though Gruden said he will interview other candidates, McVay still is considered the likely new choice. He’s young, only 27, but he also has impressed players because of his knowledge of the offense. Gruden said he will call the plays, so that could make it easier for a young coach such as McVay to ease into an expanded role.

“His ability to digest a game plan and give it to his players in a streamlined manner allows us to digest us efficiently making sure to emphasize details that are important,” Paulsen said. “Every week he’d try to call plays without looking at the sheet. He knows what everyone has to do on the field. He approached it like an offensive coordinator. That’s advantageous to a player. He knows every detail the same way Kyle [Shanahan] used to know the details. He has that big-picture mindset that helps out.”

Former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley played one and a half seasons under McVay.

“He had the highest understanding of an offense of any position coach I’ve ever been around,” Cooley said. “We’d go back and forth in meetings on scheme, why and how. There was always an answer. I love that in a coach.

“Two years ago I said if anyone becomes a head coach on this staff it would be Sean McVay.”

Players at other positions echoed what Paulsen and Cooley said. The tight ends often worked with the linemen in practice because they needed to be in tandem with their blocking.

“The relationships he has with players and what he gets out of a player with both effort and production on the field by not being a screamer,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “He’s a guy you can relate to. He has a lot of shared characteristics with hard-working players. Players can see if a guy knows what he’s talking about and he goes about it the right way getting that type of effort out of his players.”

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jay Gruden's familiarity with several coaches on the Washington Redskins' staff helped make the job attractive. But, while it's likely that his future coordinators already are in the building, he's still going to interview other coaches for those positions.

The leading candidates to be the coordinators are thought to be Sean McVay (offense) and Jim Haslett (defense). Both are holdovers from the previous regime -- and both have ties to Gruden, having coached with him in the United Football League. Gruden said later Thursday that he greatly respects both. Because Gruden said he will call plays, it would be a surprise if McVay, who turns 28 later this month, wasn't elevated from tight ends coach. Also, Gruden said he wants to stick with a 3-4 defense, which Haslett has coached for four seasons here and two others in Pittsburgh.

But he also wasn't ready to name his coordinators just yet.

“We'll go through the process,” Gruden said. “There are a lot of great coaches out there.”

The Redskins also retained secondary coach Raheem Morris, who worked with Gruden in Tampa Bay for four seasons. But Morris fired Gruden when he took over as head coach in 2009, though it would still be a surprise if he wasn't retained considering he's well-liked by general manager Bruce Allen. Washington also has holdovers in running-backs coach Bobby Turner, offensive-line coach Chris Foerster, defensive-line coach Jacob Burney and assistant special-teams coach Richard Hightower.

“I will interview a lot of coaches,” Gruden said. “I'll look at each coach that has been retained by Bruce [Allen] and interview everybody. I know a lot of coaches here that can coach. There are also good football people across the country looking to work and work for the Redskins. I've had 350 texts from great coaches looking to coach. I don't think finding a great coach and coaching staff will be difficult as it will be finding the right ones.”

It helps the Redskins that only two other teams have filled their coaching vacancies and four others remain.

“The good part about getting our coach now is, his phone is blowing up with people ready to coach who are available now,” Allen said.

Jay Gruden offers hope and concern

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
12:45
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This is the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That’s what some who know Jay Gruden say. He’s reserved and bright, they say. He’s an excellent motivator, others say. His relationship with general manager Bruce Allen will soften any tension that could arise with owner Dan Snyder. Look what he did with Andy Dalton, they say.

“I would have hired him,” one former general manager said.

This is not nearly the best hire the Washington Redskins could have made. That's what the skeptics say: There’s nothing special about him; his last name paved the way. Look what he did with Andy Dalton in the playoffs, they say.

“I like him, but his offense wasn’t more creative than any other coordinator out there,” one NFL defensive coach said. “If his last name wasn’t Gruden, we wouldn’t be talking about him.”

When it comes to the Redskins’ new coach, there’s a split opinion, and it makes this one of the more unusual hires they have made. Yes, he has a last name everyone knows. But it was his brother Jon Gruden’s success that made it a big name, not Jay's own success. In the past, all but one of the coaches hired by owner Dan Snyder was a big name.

But when it came to this coaching search, there was no big name left to hire. Bill Cowher wasn’t coming out of retirement. Nor was Jon Gruden. And no coach in this field had that wow factor the Redskins often gravitate toward (with the exception of Jim Zorn).

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad hire. We also don’t know if it’s a good one. There’s a chance it could be excellent. But one coach said several days ago that Jay Gruden does an excellent job of getting players to buy into his system. If that’s the case, it will be welcomed. While quarterback Robert Griffin III might have run the last system, it’s clear he did not buy into it. Others did, but if Gruden can sell this to them, as well, that will be a good start.

His Bengals offense sputtered in the playoffs, averaging 11 points per game the past three years -- all one-and-done showings. That’s not good. Nor is the fact that he was knocked for getting away from the run each time. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to judge a potential head coach by what his offense did when he was a coordinator.

Being a head coach incorporates so much more. It’s about leadership and command of the room much more than system. It’s about hiring the right people on your staff, and promoting tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator will be viewed by many on the roster as the right move. We’ll see where Gruden goes defensively, and that will be worth watching.

It was telling this morning that retired linebacker London Fletcher, knowing Jim Haslett was still around, tweeted this: “Defensive struggles where not solely on salary cap #excuses #blahblahblah” and this: “I think [Raheem] Morris as DC would be great choice! Brings energy & excitement! Would feel pretty good about HC, DC, & OC then!”

I’ve seen too many Redskins hires under Snyder to fully know if this one will work. There are parts to like and wonder about. Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan -- three of the all-time winningest coaches in NFL history -- all have failed to build consistent winners.

I know the opinions on Gruden from the people I spoke to throughout this search were as diverse as any.

But I also know of the candidates available, perhaps Gruden was the best fit. To have the familiarity he does with Allen and others on the staff will help. Gruden knows what he’s getting into, not just with Snyder but with the market and the entire organization. The fact that a relationship already exists will matter; Gruden needs to trust whatever he’s been told and to know how he must operate in regards to ownership. Here’s a tip: Keep Snyder involved -- and that doesn't always mean allowing him to meddle -- and win. Then he will be happy.

It will also help the Redskins and Gruden to avoid the leaking of stories that hurt the franchise since early December -- and in past years. The organization needs to rebuild a trust, not only with certain players (Griffin), but with the fans. As tired as everyone at Redskins Park was about the leaks, it’s probably quadruple for the fans, who thought that two decades of mediocre to bad football -- and needless drama under Snyder -- had finally ended after last year’s playoff run. A low-key guy has to help here, right? You would think.

Gruden is also tight with the Redskins’ director of football operations Paul Kelly, an understated but important aspect because of how closely the two must work.

There are a lot of reasons this has to work, for many people -- including Allen (who was at the forefront of this hire) and Griffin (who clashed with Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan). It's their jobs, their reputations on the line here.

What I also know is that this hire will shape the franchise for a long time. That’s obviously the case whenever you hire a coach. But it’s even more true now because of Griffin. They have a young head coach; they have a young quarterback. It’s boom-or-bust time.

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