NFC East: Mike Shanahan

Some Washington Redskins news and notes for Friday morning:

Griffin
Briles on RG III: Baylor coach Art Briles watched his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, work out earlier this week. He saw a guy he used to see with regularity. "I think it's as fresh and uplifting as I've seen him in a long time quite honestly," Briles said on the SiriusXM Blitz Wednesday via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "The thing about ACLs: I've always thought they take a complete year to get over. And I think he rushed himself a little bit, just because that's the way Robert is. He's always going to be determined to do more than is humanly possible."

Briles' prediction? "So I think this year, I do think we'll see a very healthy RG III. I think we're gonna see a guy that's happy playing the game, that has a fire and attitude that you need to have a chance to be successful, because that's who he is."

Revisiting Week 1 2013: Steinberg also wrote about former Redskin Chris Cooley saying that Griffin should not have started the 2013 opener. It wasn't because of Griffin's health, but rather his readiness. Griffin was cleared by doctors and was ready physically. But it's clear in hindsight he was not prepared to play in an NFL game. Mike Shanahan did a bad job of managing Griffin, from not pulling him in the Seattle game despite his gut feeling to do so and to being afraid of how his moves were perceived by the young quarterback. If you have a conviction on something, do it. Instead, Shanahan did not and instead we got the mess of last December.

Jackson
More on Jackson: ESPN980's Chris Russell exchanged texts with safety Tanard Jackson, who told him his fourth suspension was not like the others, that it had nothing to do with marijuana. It's hard to buy any story from a guy in his position, regardless if you want to or not. Maybe it's true; maybe it's not. Bottom line: Whatever Jackson thinks, the NFL's ruling is the one that matters. They ruled he tested positive for violating the NFL's substance of abuse policy. It's over.

Power rankings: The Redskins ended the 2013 season ranked No. 31 in ESPN's power rankings. The rankings suggest they'll be better over the next three years -- but not by a whole lot. The panel of experts ranked Washington No. 24 Insider for what it could do over the next three years. That's a dropoff from last season and it stems from a fall at quarterback and coaching. They dropped 12 spots at quarterback and 19 at coaching from this time last year. The knock on Griffin traces back to his knee injury and a subpar season. And going from Mike Shanahan to first-time head coach Jay Gruden caused a tumble (of course, had Shanahan returned after such a bad season they might have fallen far regardless). It's not as if Gruden's hire was considered a great one at the time, so until he proves himself there will be split opinions on him. They also were knocked for the front office. The Redskins need Griffin to rebound and they'll climb in the rankings, but they also have to do a much better job building the defense. If Griffin plays well, the offense is in excellent shape. But the defense needs more help and will need several new parts after this season.

Jay Gruden energizes Redskins

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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Jay Gruden AP Photo/Nick WassIn a short time, Jay Gruden has brought a more relaxed atmosphere to the Washington Redskins.
The energy is different, as it always is when there’s a new coach. New drills, new voices, a new vibe, new storylines that don’t involve backroom drama. The Washington Redskins needed it, badly, after a 3-13 season punctuated by anonymous swipes at star players and a few at the coaches. Reputations were altered; the direction of the franchise changed.

Life is calmer now for the Redskins. (Well, if you don’t count the storm over their nickname.) That’s the result of hiring Jay Gruden, whose candor, insight and friendliness provides the franchise a breath of fresh air. But also an unknown: Though opinion around the NFL was split on his hiring, Gruden has passed the first test of his tenure by laying a solid foundation. And the Redskins head into training camp next month energized.

It’s about a new trust, felt by players and coaches. Gruden has made it clear from the get-go: This is about the players. There’s a different level of ownership by the players and even some of the coaches. Maybe it helps that Gruden took a different path to reach this point, starring in the Arena League for many years, but he coaches without much of an ego, or at least not one that overwhelms him. He didn’t come to Washington with a system, he came with beliefs in what he wanted to run and fused them with what worked well here in the past. Not all coaches operate that way.

Any change after such a disastrous season feels like a good one. Any new voice feels like the right one, especially when the new guy is a lot different than the old one. Mike Shanahan loved having total control; Gruden favors delegating authority. Shanahan did not jump into drills to provide a look for the offense (others would); Gruden will do just that. Not that one way is the right way. And, of course, one of them won Super Bowls and the other hasn’t won an NFL game yet. That’s why, for now, all we know is that the offseason has been a mostly good one for the Redskins.

Griffin
The feel-good offseason started with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s work. He got the necessary work in that he could not get last season because of his knee. He worked hard on his mechanics and will continue to do so; he looked much more relaxed around Gruden than under Shanahan. He’s not wearing a brace; he can be more himself. He’s as confident as he’s been in a while.

However, Griffin also is still learning to be a pocket passer. That doesn’t just mean throwing a pass from the pocket, but also knowing when to run and where and how quickly to go from your first option to your second or third. It doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do it, but it does mean there’s an ongoing transition that will take time. Nor does it mean he won’t make plays in the process. If he’s more himself, why wouldn’t he? There are things he does well as a passer; the trick for Gruden is incorporating those while he improves in other areas. Knock the Shanahans all you want, they coaxed a terrific season from a rookie quarterback two years ago.

Jackson
DeSean Jackson’s arrival might not be the same feel-good story because there’s some risk involved, but it certainly can be cause for optimism. The guy is a playmaker; the Redskins needed a playmaker.

But Jackson is an emotional player, and the Redskins need to successfully harness that and know how to deal with him. The good news for Washington is that Griffin made it a point to learn what motivates Jackson and bond with him. That helps now; it needs to pay off during the season.

The defense can feel good, too. It added pass-rushers in Jason Hatcher and, the Redskins hope, Trent Murphy. They have a vocal leader at safety in Ryan Clark. They’ve added two outstanding linebacker coaches in Kirk Olivadotti (inside) and Brian Baker (outside), the latter of whom has focused heavily on pass rush techniques. They’ve talked a great game about a more aggressive pass rush.

Hatcher
Hatcher
But as the Redskins exit the spring, Hatcher is coming off knee surgery, joining two other key players along the defensive line in that regard. The defense might have five starters 30 years or older and there are questions about what certain players have left.

Then there’s Gruden. Players have talked about the new energy in practices, stemming from him and his new hires. Coaches like him because they have more freedom -- to hire, to implement ideas, to coach. It matters. It’s too early to say he changed the culture; Shanahan was said to have done the same thing. But Gruden has changed the mood. There’s a different level of passion, stemming from his energy and the coaches. It rubs off on players. Because of that, it (should) enable him to command the room, a pre-hire criticism. That is, as long as you bring in the right players who won’t abuse that trust. It’s a fine line.

Is he organized enough? That was a knock before he was hired. Then again, his offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, is ultra-organized. Can Gruden command the room? How will he handle it if the defense struggles and he feels they should tweak or change their coverages or philosophy? Or how will he handle in-game adjustments, clock management? Player discipline?

We’ve learned a lot about Gruden, but there’s so much more to learn -- questions that can’t be answered until the season begins. Until then, the Redskins can feel optimistic. They’ve been at this point before. The next step has always been the hardest.
ESPN's fantasy sports writer Eric Karabell is taking a look at every NFL team for the Insiders page , checking out the storylines fantasy league players need to follow this summer.

Among this thoughts on the Redskins:

Garcon
Garcon
“Pierre Garcon should still be the first Redskins wide receiver off the board.”

My take: Garcon, not DeSean Jackson, will be the primary receiving target this season. No one has said that to me because until we get closer to the season – and probably into the season – no one really knows how things will unfold. But Garcon is a sturdier player, capable of running a greater variety of routes. Jackson caught 82 passes last season, but his previous high was 62. He can be dangerous to defend even when grabbing around 60 passes. In fact, it wouldn't stun me at all to see Jackson as the third leading receiver in terms of total catches behind Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Durability plays into this as well (though Jackson has missed fewer games than Garcon in his career; both have played six seasons).

Morris
“Running back Alfred Morris will simply be underrated.”

My take: From the time coach Jay Gruden was hired, the word has been clear: They will continue to use the same run game as under former coach Mike Shanahan. That's among the reasons they kept offensive line coach Chris Foerster. While they have added size along the offensive line, the players they added all can block in the outside zone -- where Morris excels. So he'll continue to put up good numbers. I do wonder how many carries he'll get after receiving 611 combined his first two seasons. Remember, one knock on Gruden in Cincinnati: He abandoned the run too often. He also didn't have the depth at receiver he now has in Washington.

The Redskins will spread the field and I can see them throwing more, or at least wanting to. Or they'll spread the field and run the draw; will Morris be the guy they want in that situation? Or someone with a little more burst (or a threat in the pass game) such as Roy Helu or even rookie Lache Seastrunk, who was perfect for this sort of setup at Baylor. The Redskins would like Morris to catch 20-25 passes; he's working on his route running this offseason. He's still their best running back, but if they want to diversify I can see others chipping away a little at his work. Or because they want to throw more.

Griffin
“It all should come down to [Robert Griffin III]. A standout summer could, in theory, push him into the draft day quarterback class where Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton reside, in the 4-to-7 range. A poor one and he's out of the top 10. That seems unlikely.”

My take: If Griffin shows improvement this summer -- and his old burst -- then he will be dangerous, just as he was in 2012. That season, he definitely missed plays in the pass game but he made quite a few and he should be further ahead now thanks to a good offseason. Just know that Griffin's mobility looks good this spring. Add to it the extra talent around him with Jackson, Andre Roberts and a healthy Reed and Griffin will have plenty of reasons to post good numbers. It's not a stretch. But keep in mind that Griffin is learning a new passing attack. He also still has to show he can be a consistent pocket passer. But if he can extend plays better, he should hurt defenses with this receiving corps.

Will defenses blitz him as much if they see him hurting them with his legs again? Teams blitzed him on 33.6 percent of his dropbacks in 2013 compared to 21.1 percent as a rookie, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Do you want to blitz as much knowing a short pass could quickly turn into a long gain? Griffin has to improve his downfield accuracy. He went from completing 55.7 percent of his throws on routes 15 yards or more downfield as a rookie to 40.7 last season. One note: I remember one talk with a general manager before the 2012 draft who was worried about Griffin's accuracy on intermediate routes. Still, that's a big drop-off. Griffin's mechanics were off after missing a full offseason, leading to errant throws. Was that the only reason for the fall? Regardless, I'd expect that number to improve. How much? We'll find out this season.
Jason Hatcher didn’t provide details; he didn’t want to come across as ripping his former team. But in going from Dallas to Washington, Hatcher went from a coach who had one way of running things to a coach who has a different style.

Hatcher played eight seasons in Dallas (Jason Garrett was his head coach for three-and-a-half seasons) and has only been around Jay Gruden for a couple of weeks -- and on the field with him for only three days during a minicamp that ended Thursday.

Hatcher
Hatcher
But that was enough time for him to formulate an initial opinion on the differences between the coaches and teams during an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“They really take care of the veteran guys,” said the Redskins defensive end. “They give us more say-so over the team. This is our team. The head coach don’t want to be policing the team. This is our team, so when we set the foundation for this football team, the way it’s supposed to go, that’s the way it’s supposed to go, through the players and not the coaches. It’s a players’ team, so whatever we say goes, pretty much, if it’s going in the right direction.”

What this means exactly, I’m not sure. Could be more about the players taking responsibility for what goes on, both in the locker room and on the field. If that’s the case, that’s a good thing especially if you have the right leaders.

Gruden does not come across as someone who wants to control all aspects of the team, which is why, for example, he’s giving defensive coordinator Jim Haslett more freedom than his predecessor did. Which way works better? We’ll find out this fall and over the next few seasons. But every coach needs to let it be known they’re in charge, otherwise the ship will go astray at some point. Gruden knows this well, I'm sure. But when Hue Jackson took over for Gruden in Cincinnati, he vowed to be more of the disciplinarian he felt the team needed -- and to coach certain players harder on offense than they'd been coached in the past. And no coach can take a completely hands-off approach. You need to trust the players, you need to give them freedom but you also need to be in charge. Joe Gibbs did not hover over his players, but, especially during his first tenure, they were afraid of what might happen if they did not produce.

Still, it’ll be something to ask about when we finally get a chance to be around the players during workouts later this month. Mike Shanahan had a reputation for taking care of his players, too, mostly through how they practiced and the time off they received. And, this spring, the Redskins already had one week off (after starting workouts two weeks earlier than all but six other teams because they have a first-year coach).

Ultimately it will be the players who decide fates around here. Too often in the past, they haven’t gotten it done.

RG III strengthening knee, bonds

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
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This is the sort of offseason Robert Griffin III wanted, and it’s one that has resulted in him noticing a difference. Both in his physical ability and also in his bonding with teammates.

He sees a difference in himself. He sees a difference growing with teammates, too. It started with being able to strengthen his surgically-repaired right knee. It continued into training with teammates in Arizona (and now at Redskins Park).

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesA smiling Robert Griffin III has been a familiar sight during Redskins offseason workouts.
“That building a trust, building a bond, those memories you create help you on game day,” he said. “People underestimate that bond. I didn’t have as much bonding time last year. I didn’t have the offseason I had to do all the things I’m going to be doing this year. But that’s not an excuse for what happened last year. I’m grateful I got the chance to go through the offseason this year. Building those bonds and trust with teammates, that matters on game day.”

And that’s why Griffin doesn’t look back and begrudgingly thank former coach Mike Shanahan for, in his words, shutting him down with three games left. Griffin is glad to be healthy in the offseason, but to him that’s beside the point.

"What I'm doing now, being able to go through the offseason with the guys and be around them and compete with them, get better, throwing, conditioning and in the meetings," Griffin said, "all that means a lot to me, but it means more to be out with my guys on game day. So, yeah, it was difficult, but you have to play the hand you're dealt. Coach made a decision and you abide by that."

Numerous people at Redskins Park have commented on how happy Griffin seems these days, as if he's been let loose to be the sort of player and leader he envisioned when he came to Washington. The ability to condition with his teammates and having a coach he's not sparring with has increased that happiness. Plus, he's also become one of their top recruiters. He met with receiver DeSean Jackson in Los Angeles after the Eagles released him. He phoned receiver Andre Roberts before free agency, in addition to numerous other players. It's a role he relishes. Griffin also said he'll have more input in the game plan and at the line of scrimmage, where audibles in the past were discouraged. Not now.

But what feels great is this: running sprints with his teammates. It's about bonding. It's about feeling good and running without a knee brace and feeling like himself again -- in more ways than one.

"That's probably the biggest difference," Griffin said. "Being able to run and strengthen the knee as opposed to trying to get it back to where it was. That's the fun part, being able to run the half-gassers, the 300-yard shuttles. All that stuff with my teammates. That's what makes it fun again."

Quick takes: RG III interview

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
6:15
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Some quick takeaways from my sit-down with Redskins QB Robert Griffin III:
  1. It’s only April, so players are always loose and relaxed. So I don’t want to make a huge deal out of Griffin’s demeanor. But it’s clear he’s in a better spot mentally than he was a year ago, thanks to the change in coaching staffs and, just as important, because of his knee. He just feels better and it shows.
  2. I’ll write more on this later, but Griffin worked hard at speeding up his release. But he does not feel in no way shape or form that reading defenses was an issue or caused a slow trigger. Rather, for him it was all about fundamentals, which he worked on with quarterback guru Terry Shea.
  3. Suffice to say, he likes the results of his work. The time for real excitement over his game is when the season begins. But he really hasn’t focused on his fundamentals since his rookie year. It’s too hard to do so during the season, at least to the degree it’s necessary. So it matters that he’s been able to do this so much in the offseason.
  4. Have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: The fact Jay Gruden is a former quarterback, who still thinks like a quarterback, makes a big difference. They’ve already watched film together in which Gruden has told him he could understand his thought process. Yes, Mike Shanahan was a former quarterback (Kyle Shanahan was not), but it’s different with Gruden. Will it be better? Time will tell. Again, it’s much easier to get along now than when you’re losing or have endured the stresses of a season. Their relationship is only in the beginning stages, but Griffin knows that.
  5. Griffin wouldn’t single out anyone in particular for the anonymous attacks. Safe to say he has strong guesses as to where he thought those were coming from; and those people are no longer employed by the Redskins.
  6. He likes being the face and leader of the franchise. That’s important; not all players in his spot have that comfort level. He does. It’s why he liked recruiting players in free agency such as DeSean Jackson. They used him a lot more than people realize.
  7. His inability to work out with teammates last offseason hurt him in his mind as far as building a bond and a trust. Not sure it ever quite got to where he wanted it to be.
  8. The excitement he feels about the offense is real. He’s also good at reminding everyone: They’ve done nothing yet. But the opportunities cause him to smile.
  9. He definitely feels different when running, thanks to being able to actually strengthen his knee. When you’re rehabbing, all you’re doing is returning the knee to where it was before you got hurt.
  10. Griffin wanted to be real clear about one topic: He wasn't benched last season; he was shut down.
One person after another has let it be known how happy Robert Griffin III has appeared this offseason. It’s why I wrote a column on it a couple weeks ago.

But Griffin hasn’t spoken much this offseason, other than the occasional text messages to include in stories. His tweets Monday night, however, were telling. There is not much need to rehash what happened in 2013, but one word was used more than any other over the past year: trust. Griffin did not trust coach Mike Shanahan. Doesn’t matter how the coaches perceived it, it was reality for Griffin.

There is little doubt Griffin has been energized by the offseason, because of the coaching changes and, more recently, the acquisition of receiver DeSean Jackson. Griffin is working out the way he likes; he’s taking charge of working with others and he had a highly active role in recruiting free agents -- probably more so than most outsiders realize.

Then came this: Griffin retweeted a Pro Football Talk tweet about a Jay Gruden comment regarding his quarterback and the new logo. (Thanks to the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg, who always has his eyes out for such things). And in retweeting the link, Griffin added this: “Coach supports his players, new year.”

.

Then, after retweeting another PFT link to comments Trent Williams made to the local media regarding Jackson, Griffin added: “Players have each other's back, New Year”. Now, it did not seem like that last part was a big issue last season, especially given the 3-13 record.

.

But it’s difficult not to interpret Griffin’s first tweet regarding the coaches as a decisive nod to what he endured over the past year. This offseason is going so much different for Griffin than in 2013. For the Redskins, it’s a welcomed start.
The first day provided everyone a chance to see the change up close. Jay Gruden was hired to replace Mike Shanahan in January; many players did not have to be at Redskins Park until Monday. So they knew the changes, but Monday gave them a chance to feel them.

According to nose tackle Barry Cofield the attendance for the first day of voluntary workouts was “nearly perfect.” One player not there: receiver DeSean Jackson. But a team source said Jackson had told them before signing that he had a previously planned vacation and would be in town next week.

But that hardly detracted from the vibe at Redskins Park Monday, both Cofield and left tackle Trent Williams said. Gruden addressed the players before they began workouts.

Cofield
Britt
Williams
Players can only participate in strength and conditioning exercises for the first two weeks; position coaches can't work with them on the field during this time.

“You can see the intensity and excitement in him and that carried over to everybody as we went to work out,” Cofield said. “There’s a ton of excitement and energy within the program.”

That’s what Williams said he felt, too.

“I was really impressed with how down to earth [Gruden] is and how approachable he is,” Williams said. “He obviously has a great football mind. He made the guys feel comfortable. There’s a new aura in the building, a lot comes with the coaching change and the new free-agent pickups. I’m really excited to see how this season turns out.”

Williams, though, said he wasn’t saying the Redskins needed a change from Shanahan, who was fired after a 3-13 season in his fourth year as coach. But the offshoot of any change is a new, or different, energy.

“The change brought a new attitude,” Williams said. “It gives everybody a fresh start, so in that sense that lifts a lot of people’s spirits because you get to start off on a clean slate. Nobody has an upper leg on anybody and Coach Gruden is a very people person. He’s just a fun guy to be around.”

Cofield played for older coaches in New York (Tom Coughlin) and Washington (Shanahan). Gruden, at 47, will be the youngest head coach he’s played for.

“It’s a different vibe,” Cofield said. “[Coughlin and Shanahan] had a different mindset and mentality and both were great coaches in their own way, guys I loved playing for. Coach Gruden brings something different, a different energy. The whole staff, they seem more comfortable, maybe a little more free. Obviously it’s early. The way we finished up with Coach Shanahan it was disappointing, it was a whole different atmosphere. So bringing in a new regime, a lot of assistant coaches and coordinators feel they have a new lease on life and a new chance to prove themselves.”

But Williams said that no one can ignore, or forget, what happened last season -- even if it happened under a different regime. Going from 10-6 to 3-13 led to a difficult year, particularly in the final month of the season.

Williams, an offensive captain the past two years, said players must keep last year in their minds.

“You got to know what falling down feels like,” Williams said. “You have to know what losing feels like to want to win and a season like that, you can’t forget that. It has to be a driving force to want to do better things. It has to be that motivation to say, ‘Look, we’re too talented to go 3-13 again.’ That was us. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We had the talent to perform with anybody and we didn’t come together like we were supposed to and we didn’t win games like we were supposed to. That needs to be in our back pocket at all times and be a driving force.”

Ten thoughts (plus 2) on Jay Gruden

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
10:35
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some leftover impressions after Jay Gruden's breakfast meeting with the press Wednesday:

1. I've said a few times that he's a breath of fresh air. Here's why: You don't get the feeling he's putting himself above anyone, even though his position puts him at quite a high level. He's personable, he's respectful. Shortly after he was hired, I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes. After I was done asking him questions, he actually asked one of me. What does that mean? Probably not a whole lot, but I was not used to it. This only suggests that Gruden will be good to deal with from a professional standpoint. That doesn't mean he'll get a free pass.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsCoach Jay Gruden has set himself apart in interviews from his predecessors in Washington.
2. Jim Zorn was personable as well. But from the minute he took over, you knew he was in over his head. He also was a bit goofy with his stories and that did not play well with players and coaches who often wondered where the heck his tales were going.

3. There's zero of that with Gruden. He's at least been an offensive coordinator so being elevated to this job was no surprise, whether people think he should have been or not. Nobody outside of the Redskins felt Zorn should have been a head coach. Some thought Gruden should be one, others did not.

4. One reason Gruden did not want to come to the NFL long ago was because he wanted to enjoy his family, coaching their youth sports and just being a dad. I completely can relate to that sentiment. But I also think it makes him less likely to believe he's smarter than everyone else. Some coaches from the past did not share that outlook.

5. Gruden spoke for an hour at Wednesday's breakfast and said quite a bit that provided insight. Former coach Mike Shanahan often spoke that long, but usually said little -- for obvious reasons, of course.

6. Gruden has a sense of humor. The topic was Robert Griffin III's running and taking too many hits. Gruden, too, hurt his knee when he played quarterback. It was not from running, however. “I hurt my knee because the right tackle missed a block,” he said. You know, that may have sounded funnier when he was talking. Now I wonder if he's not still annoyed. Whatever. It was funny at breakfast.

7. It was very different to see other teams' coaches garner much more attention than the guy leading the Redskins. Chip Kelly, for example, had reporters sitting at the table and then another ring standing behind them, with cameras all around. Gruden had a couple of national guys stop by, ask about Griffin and then leave.

8. Look at the coaches hired by the Redskins under Dan Snyder (outside of Zorn): Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan. All brought a certain level of attention. Gruden's last name does, but despite him being a good quote there will be less attention. Unless they win: Hey, another Gruden who wins! Or unless things go south in a hurry: Hey, another Redskins coach in trouble! Griffin's presence will always bring a high level of attention, however.

9. One question that was asked often during the coaching search about any candidate: Can Gruden command the room? Can he sell his vision and plan? That was typically tops on the list of importance when I'd talk to various NFL people about coaching candidates. Don't know if Gruden can do that or not yet in Washington because he hasn't had the chance. But I'll be curious to hear how that goes. It's a key.

10. So, too, is Griffin's improvement and a defense that must -- must -- show some teeth for a change. They still need a safety. (Yes, Ryan Clark remains in the mix.) They need to prove that the talk in March will result in a better pass rush in September. And they need to cut down on big plays allowed. Do that and Gruden's task is much easier. Otherwise, all the personable traits won't matter a bit.

11. I also wonder how he'll handle the bigger media market and how dysfunctional things can get with this organization. There's no way to know until it happens, of course. But coming from being a coordinator in small-market Cincinnati to being in charge in Washington represents quite a leap.

12. What does all this means for wins and losses? Well, that depends on other factors -- do you believe Bruce Allen can build a winner is one of the big questions, of course. The organization has failed to produce a consistent winner and until it does, there will be massive questions about that ability.

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.

Expert's take: Robert Griffin III

February, 19, 2014
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The Washington Redskins don't need to get a quarterback this offseason. They do have questions at the position after Robert Griffin III's second season. After one terrific season followed by a tough one -- yes, brought on in part by other factors -- Griffin has shown promise but also rough edges that need smoothing when it comes to his development as a passer. He'll also now get his first full offseason to work on his game. So Wednesday's question for our experts is about Griffin.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassRedskins QB Robert Griffin III has a hefty challenge ahead of him for the 2014 season.
What are your expectations for RG III -- and what do you think for him going forward?

Louis Riddick: It's lukewarm. Obviously a player's success and failure has a lot to do with other factors that you can't necessarily scout and that means the relationships between players and coaches and players and players, off-field distractions, how he lives his life and how dialed in he is. Those are things you can't evaluate from afar. Number one, his relationship with Jay Gruden, his health, his relationship with teammates, what his level of commitment to being an all-around great quarterback. Those are all things that determine it. From what I've seen and know and what I've heard, I think it could really go either way with him. He could turn out to be the guy everyone thought he would be coming out of Baylor and what he showed glimpses of his rookie year. I also would not be surprised to see him become a guy who never fully realizes or meets the expectations of being the second overall pick in the draft and is looked back on in disgust. Was it his relationship with Mike Shanahan or the knee injury or the fact that he was never going to be the prototype pocket passer. Was he always going to be reliant on the zone read and be a one, two progression thrower and he just missed. It could go either way. That has yet to be determined for me.

Matt Williamson: Just watching him on tape I'll bet he was never healthy all year. He has to get healthy first and foremost. He rushed back way too soon, but that wasn't the only problem. His lower body mechanics were bad and I don't know if it was because of the injury or not. I think you need to build him from the ground up with the new staff. I imagine they will. I think the league caught up to the read option, too. It was the first offseason that every defensive coordinator was putting time into stopping the read option. That's such a key component. That's a big blow. Everything was read option or play-action. They ran so much play-action [in 2012] they weren't able to do that nearly effectively [last season]. Game scripts were part of the reason, too; the defense was so bad. A Shanahan offense is based off that zone run game but when you're down 21-0 in the second quarter no one cares about your run game.
I'm still confident he's going to be a star. But that was a rough year. He didn't put any good tape for most of the season. I think he's so unbelievably gifted, we saw him make a lot of great plays -- not just as a runner. He's a good deep passer. He has a big arm. Jay Gruden has to be salivating. I'm not an Andy Dalton fan at all and he got a lot out of Dalton. People looked at it the wrong way by asking why hire a guy whose quarterback falls apart in the postseason. I'm saying, ‘We hired a guy who had a quarterback with below-average skills and he got them to the postseason.' There wasn't a lot of clay to mold in Cincinnati.

Experts' take: Jim Haslett's return

February, 18, 2014
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The Redskins face numerous questions this offseason. Too many to mention, perhaps. But there are a number that can be addressed and answered -- with the help of people who know the game much better than me. So all week I'll pose a different question to two experts -- former NFL executive, player and scout Louis Riddick (now an ESPN NFL Insider) and former NFL and college scout Matt Williamson (now ESPN's NFL scout). Tuesday's question is one the Redskins already answered because it involves defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. But this topic remains a lightning rod for fans, so ...

There's been a lot of talk about Jim Haslett coming back and how the lack of interference from Mike Shanahan can help. How much do you think it can help that Haslett is more on his own -- and what did you think about the Redskins retaining him?

[+] EnlargeJim Haslett
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Redskins decided to retain defensive coordinator Jim Haslett even though Washington was tied for 30th in points allowed in 2013.
Matt Williamson: That's a good question. I don't think Haslett needs help. I'm not sure keeping him was the right move either. I'm not necessarily a fan of his, but I also don't think he's in over his head. He's been doing it long enough that he understands his job so it could be a good thing [without Mike Shanahan around]. Shanahan obviously was offensive-minded, but I'm sure he knows defense. But maybe he wasn't helping.

At the time, I did not understand [keeping Haslett]. But he does have ties to Jay Gruden so knowing that, it makes sense. But at the time I was wondering what Haslett has done to make the defense any better than it should be. They were really lacking in personnel so it's tough to kill a coordinator when you don't have the horses. But I don't think he got more out of anybody in particular.

Louis Riddick: Depending upon what the level of interference was and depending on how knowledgeable Shanahan is about teaching and scheming and calling defensive football given that his background is offense. It's hard to know how much it will affect it in a positive way. I will say this, knowing Jim like I do and having played for him back in the early '90s when I played for him in the World League, I know he knows defense and I know what he believes in philosophically. I know he likes to pressure and I know he understands good coverage guys and wants safeties with good range and has a good feel for down and distance tendencies. He's not a guy overwhelmed by the moment on game day. He's a very good teacher and motivator. So I would think if the interference was a negative then, yes, this could be a positive. … Sometimes the communication issues you have between a coordinator and head coach can cause things to go off the rails because people are grasping at straws. Everyone thinks they have an answer when the best answer is to let the people who you hired do their jobs. But the calls weren't the problem for Washington, the players were the problem.

Only because there was so much chatter around the fact that the defense has underperformed since he's been there and there seemed to be a desire to make a clean sweep and start over, I was surprised they were keeping him. But knowing him like I do and believing in how he approaches a game philosophically I think it's good that they did keep him. He's more than capable and deserving of leading that defense. I'm not with the public opinion that he needed to go based on where they finished statistically because there's more to it than that. If he can do it the way he wants and teach the way he wants and call it the way he wants on game day, I think you'll see a tremendous improvement in that defense from a statistical perspective, provided they address areas that need to be addressed.

In case you missed it:

Monday's question: What would you do with Brian Orakpo?

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Griffin
Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”


Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Cousins
Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”


Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.

RG III offseason key to Redskins rise

February, 10, 2014
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He took off down the field against the Minnesota Vikings and the team's broadcaster used one word to describe the moment: electrifying. That's what Robert Griffin III provided for the Washington Redskins' offense as a rookie, those 76-yard sprints for touchdowns. He extended plays, fooled defenders with fakes and turned the Redskins into a dynamic offense.

Last season, he did not. Last season the focus wasn't on his electrifying play. Rather, it was on his surgically-repaired right knee. It was on his relationship with Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan. It was on catchy slogans. It was on whether he should be playing.

And it all started around this time a year ago, when Griffin was recovering from knee surgery.

[+] EnlargeGriffin III
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsWith a fully healed knee, Robert Griffin III can now focus on improving his game this offseason.
But do you hear the sound around Griffin these days? It's all quiet -- and that's a good thing. Griffin is back to worrying about football and football only.

It's not as if those worries prevented him from becoming better last offseason. But they contributed to the mess the team became in 2013. Griffin was a weekly topic in the media throughout the season, not just for his play, either.

But his knee led to his sluggish start because he was unable to adequately prepare for the season.

"I thought we would have seen a great jump from Year 1 to Year 2 if he wasn't rehabbing the whole time," said former Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. "You can't work on your craft when you're rehabbing."

Griffin already has started to attack the offseason, throwing passes to some of his receivers away from Redskins Park. He and some of his receivers, tight ends and running backs will meet in Arizona in March to work out together, some bonding time that never really developed last offseason.

Griffin also will work out again with Terry Shea, the former NFL quarterbacks coach who trained him (and others) before the NFL draft. There's a desire to improve his footwork and to speed up his release, to work on areas that will help him in an NFL pocket.

By the way, what he's doing isn't because of 2013, it's what he also did before his rookie season: he worked with Shea; he got together with his receivers before training camp. It's just that he couldn't do any of this last offseason.

He also has a new staff to work with in Washington, with whom thus far there is nothing but good vibes.

It's a fresh start that someone only two years into his career probably needed.

Another bonus for him: Most likely, he'll also be without the knee brace that protected his knee, but didn't help his mobility.

"Everybody will see a big jump in his game and he'll look more like he did in Year 1 than in Year 2," LaFleur said.

There's no guarantee, of course, that Griffin will have that sort of jump. He has a lot to prove. And every player must own up to his mistakes. But it's a better bet it will happen after an offseason of work than one spent strengthening a knee. Griffin needs to study defenses and how they played him, then go onto the field and translate what he's learned. He couldn't do that in 2013.

Now he can focus on seeing how defenses play him and anticipate coverages. At times this past season it took too long for that to happen and plays ended with him sacked or in trouble.

"He'll be able to recognize and play the position faster," said LaFleur, now the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame.

Griffin needed an offseason like this. Two years ago it was a heady whirlwind before the draft, going from Heisman Trophy winner to working out to savior in Washington in but a few months. Last season it was about rehabbing and documentaries and hidden meanings in quotes. There wasn't much time to take a breath. Now he's the player who some wonder what he'll eventually become, providing extra motivation to a guy who is always motivated.

When Griffin was The Guy as a rookie, he provided hope for Redskins fans as well as teammates. Defensive players used that word, knowing they were still in games even if they messed up. A broken offensive play -- or covered receivers -- could still result in heroics.

"When you've got a quarterback capable of taking it the distance at any point in time, it definitely strikes fear in the defense because you can't defend that," LaFleur said. "They might have you perfectly defended across the board but if a guy can take off and outrun the defense, there's nothing you can do."

With an inconsistent Griffin in 2013, other parts of the team needed to help him, but failed.

Griffin needs to get more of his 2012 game, but while improving in other areas so he can be a longtime starter. He's a smart player who has never had his work ethic questioned. Combined with talent, those attributes give him a chance to get back there. He'll also have to buy into what Jay Gruden is selling offensively.

The Redskins, done with their salary-cap penalties, will spend in the offseason. They'll add more young guys in the draft. All of that is important. But more than anything they need to see Griffin's game elevated. That will provide hope for not only this season, but for many to come.

The next big thing: Redskins

January, 23, 2014
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The first priority for the Redskins is finalizing Jay Gruden's coaching staff and putting together their playbook. After that, here is what they need to do in the next few months:
  1. Figure out who they want to keep. They have a number of free agents, especially on defense. They need to find a way to keep linebacker Brian Orakpo, a pivotal player because he can rush the passer and has become a solid run defender. He'll always flirt with double-digit sack totals and twice has gotten there. The team can always use the franchise tag to keep him around, but he is a priority. They also will want to re-sign inside linebacker Perry Riley. Then there's cornerback DeAngelo Hall, coming off a good season, and backup D-lineman Chris Baker, who contributed late. He showed enough to warrant interest elsewhere.
  2. Who fits up front? With a new offensive system, the Redskins must decide how much they want to reshape the line. The O-line is a smaller group, built for Mike Shanahan's outside zone and stretch zone system. Gruden will still use zone blocking, but he also featured bigger guards at Cincinnati. Kory Lichtensteiger will need to bulk up to stay at guard; perhaps he could move to center. It's tough to make a lot of changes -- at least in the first year of a new regime -- but the Redskins likely will make some.
  3. Spend. The salary-cap penalty is gone. And that means the Redskins will be able to spend -- money has never helped them win a title, but it will enable them to rebuild their defense. They'll have approximately $30 million in salary-cap space; of course, they'll need to spend a decent amount to fill out their defense since six players who started at least seven games are free agents. But the Redskins can be active. Considering they have no first-round pick, that's important. They need to fix their secondary, even if they re-sign Hall. They need to replace retired linebacker London Fletcher and re-sign Orakpo and Riley. They also could use another receiver, especially if Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery takes a long time. The good news for Washington is that this draft is deep, especially with bigger cornerbacks.

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