Saturday, June 14, 2014
Redskins notes, thoughts: Clark a leader
By John Keim
Safety Ryan Clark never stops talking on the field -- and I mean that as a compliment. With Clark and Brandon Meriweather on the field at the same time, there's an awful lot of chatter, drawing heavy praise at one point from secondary coach Raheem Morris this past week. It's important and the more teams communicate, the better they play.
Clark shouts to players pre-snap, telling the young corners (David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland) what to watch for and if he thought a play was coming their way. Whether it did or not doesn't matter as much; it forced the young players to react as if it was coming to their side. Clark shouted out adjustment; he'd loudly praise teammates after a play. Nobody else on defense gives the Redskins what Clark can in this area. He has to prove he can still play, but the leadership and knowledge he brings will be vital. I'll also say this: the other safeties were not as vocal as Clark.
There's more energy with this coaching staff than the previous one -- whether that results in more wins, I don't know. But Jay Gruden will occasionally give the receivers and quarterbacks a look by playing corner or safety. He tried to run with Jackson one fade route. He failed. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay does this every so often as well. Special teams coach Ben Kotwica has a commanding presence; outside linebackers coach Brian Baker seems to be a passionate guy. Just a different energy.
With Gruden, the added energy comes from his style, but also the fact players feel they have more ownership and with coaches feeling they have more say. Again, wins and losses ultimately prove whether this style works or not. Being considered a players' coach isn't always great, so Gruden has to make sure everyone knows he's in charge. But he does have a comfortable, confident air about him.
I've covered two first-time head coaches in my tenure: Norv Turner and Jim Zorn. Gruden isn't an offensive mastermind like Turner, but he's also a better communicator and less insecure. Zorn was a terrific guy, but just corny from the start and it was more shocking that they went 6-2 in his first eight games than that they ultimately collapsed. Gruden is not Zorn. But I'm going to hold off on making some bold predictions about him; need to see how he handles various situations first. This job is so much more than X's and O's. Joe Gibbs won because he understood how to manage a team, not because he called great plays.
Because it's Father's Day weekend, might as well talk a little dads. Mine died a few months ago, right around the time DeSean Jackson was signed. Loved going to games as a kid, with my dad and my brothers. But one memory that sticks out from when I was around 10 was playing pretend football games in the backyard, then going to my locker room (aka: my basement) and having my dad interview me (because, well, I was the star). I wanted it to be like the scenes I saw on TV after games. Then I'd draw up a photo of a play on a blue sheet of paper. Enjoy your kids; enjoy your dad.
I thought about that anecdote again after NBC reporter Dianna Russini asked Jason Hatcher about how it was with his dad. Hatcher said, "He wasn't in my life. I had great guys around me who mentored me and showed me how to be a father." But Hatcher took pride in talking about how his kids make him breakfast (he uses a token that has a chore written on it; their gift to him). Has to be a nice feeling for him knowing that he can be the dad he never had.
Point is, for me, football has always been a key part of my life and extends from one generation to the next. With my kids, watching them play has been fun. But the memories extend to texting with my oldest, who is in college, during fall Saturdays about various games; or watching with all of my boys or playing knee football with my middle son or just playing catch with my youngest.
Back to on-the-field stuff. Guard Josh LeRibeus had a terrible offseason a year ago, but he looks in good shape and is working at both guard spots. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has noticed (knowing he has to prove himself in August). "His weight was down. He's in good shape and he's made some improvements from what I saw last year. I don't have a lot of history with him obviously, just what I've seen this year. But he does look a lot better this time of year than he did last year from what I hear. He's doing well."
One thing I forgot to mention in this article, taking a look at what Gruden said the other day to Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, is how one thing I haven't seen this spring is any zone read option work. Doesn't mean they won't run it; they already know how. And Gruden has said many times they will use it on occasion. But the emphasis has been on a more diverse attack. Robert Griffin III has spent a lot of time under center and in shotgun. If this offense grows, it has to come from Griffin's improvement as a passer. Gruden knows this (but so, too, did the previous staff).