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Sunday, August 10, 2014
Redskins' running game must power mindset

By John Keim

RICHMOND, Va. -- The reason they kept offensive line coach Chris Foerster around and the reason they haven’t altered their running game stems from a simple truth: The Washington Redskins want to run the ball a certain way this season.

 One preseason game does not start a trend, but through training camp, it’s evident that Washington’s offensive identity must start with the running game.

They have the offensive weapons to be explosive and exciting in the passing game. But they also have a young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who is still learning the passing system -- not to mention everyone else is learning it as well.

But they don’t need to learn the running game. They need to use it to shape their mentality. They ran for 177 yards against the New England Patriots on 44 carries. Again, preseason is not always a predictor. In this case, it needs to be.

“We felt we could pound the ball down their throats,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said of the Patriots. “We wanted to assert ourselves in a physical way, and I think we did. As we go, hopefully it will gain some momentum and keep it rolling throughout the year.”

There’s no way to know that of course. When the passing game starts to click, will they lean that way? No way to know right now; a knock on Jay Gruden in Cincinnati was that he abandoned the running game too fast. Then again, he did not have a running game as strong as what he inherited in Washington.

The Redskins’ left side did a terrific job (guard Shawn Lauvao does not play with as much strength as you’d like when he reaches the second level, but he can obstruct). Fullback Darrel Young is off to a good start and Paulsen is an excellent blocking tight end.

When you’re starting a new program and want to instill a mindset, it’s good to start with the physical aspect of the game on both sides of the ball. That’s why it’s good that Ryan Clark, if he can stay healthy, is at safety. And it’s good that they drafted tough-minded players such as corner Bashaud Breeland and linebacker Trent Murphy (and guard Spencer Long for that matter).

“There’s an element of physicality you bring,” Paulsen said. “You know the defense will try to stop you and you want to assert yourself in a way that says we know and you know, but we’re still gonna do it. It’s always something special when you get that done.”

Having a certain mindset carries you through tough times. You don’t get that just because you can run the ball, but it does help.

“You want to find the right guys who are very competitive and can handle it,” Gruden said. “You have to be mentally tough because there are so many ups and downs through the course of a season. Only time will tell when adversity strikes how they react.”

I always enjoyed watching Marty Schottenheimer’s teams because they adopted a certain mindset of tough, hard-nosed ball. It helped them recover from an 0-5 start way back when. I have no idea if Gruden can shape his team in that manner; there’s a ways to go. But he and the organization at least understood that they needed to be more physical on offense and defense. It’s not as if they’re killing each other in practice, but it has been more physical. The Redskins under Mike Shanahan also wanted to run the ball.

“With Mike, we knew we wanted to run the ball, but it got a little convoluted how we would run the ball,” Paulsen said. “For a while, we didn’t have the pieces in place to run it. Now everything is here and we’re established, and that’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in.

“As we get in the season the [passing game] will become a bigger part. We have outstanding playmakers. But it will be nice if this carries us forward.”