With the 2016 offseason about to kick into high gear, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to take one last look at 2015 in the coming days. That’s right, it’s time to hand out awards for Play of the Year, Coach of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year.
Coach of the Year
Tandler: I’m going to go a bit off of the beaten path here. Last week I wrote about the remarkable turnaround accomplished by the Redskins special teams. In three seasons the performance of the kicking teams has gone from historically bad in 2013 to bottom of the league to a strength of the team in 2015. Football Outsiders had the Redskins’ special teams ranked sixth. Two men are primarily responsible for the turnaround. One is kicker Dustin Hopkins, who pounded kickoff after kickoff through the end zone. The other is special teams coach Ben Kotwica. He lost core players Niles Paul and Adam Hayward in the preseason and due to other injuries he dealt with a revolving cast of contributors throughout the year. But Kotwica held things together and the special teams turned from a glaring weakness into a strength.
El-Bashir: Good pick, Rich. But I’ve got to give credit where it’s due, and my pick is the C.E.O. of the staff, Jay Gruden. Following a disastrous four-win first season in Washington, Gruden told the assembled media at his end-of-year news conference, “Sometimes when you go about the same way you train, the same way you work, the same way you prepare, you’re going to get the same results.” And, indeed, significant and gutsy changes were made. Gruden hired a new defensive coordinator (Joe Barry), a new strength coach (Mike Clark) who revamped the players’ training program, brought in experienced position coaches (Perry Fewell, Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh) and, of course, spearheaded the most controversial/important decision of his brief tenure: he installed Kirk Cousins as the starting quarterback. Gruden also showed growth in the areas of in-game strategy, clock management and coach’s challenges. After his first season, people wondered if he had the chops to lead an NFL team. No one is wondering anymore.