- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.”