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Need to Know: Gruden has a Redskins team he can trust as minicamp starts

Need to Know: Gruden has a Redskins team he can trust as minicamp starts

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 12, 44 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Gruden has a team he can trust going into minicamp

Jay Gruden no longer has to be a micromanager.

The coach is going into his fifth year as the Redskins’ head coach. Assuming he makes it to Week 1, he will have the longest run as head coach of the Redskins since Norv Turner coached the team from 1994 until he was fired with three games left in the 2000 season. 

One of the reasons for his staying power has been some of the veteran players he and the personnel department have brought in. Gruden has a core group of players that he believes he can rely on to take care of the details so that he can focus on the big picture. 

“The good thing is I don’t have to put my finger on everything that’s going on around here,” he said last week. I have great trust in the players that are down here, led by the veteran guys like [Ryan] Kerrigan and Ziggy Hood and the rest of the older-type guys. They do an excellent job down here, and [when] they’re out at practice, they’re in meetings.”

Gruden also mentioned QBs Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, OL Brandon Scherff, LB Mason Foster, and S D.J. Swearinger as players he relied on to help keep things running.

“It’s one thing as a coach you don’t want to have to worry about is just always micromanaging every detail about meetings and what’s going on in the locker room,” said Gruden. “We have a great group of guys that are tight-knit, and they work extremely hard.”

It’s no accident that Gruden has players that he can lean on. 

“It’s evolved, and it goes into your draft and who you’re getting as free agents and all that stuff,” he said when asked about how the team’s culture has changed. “Sometimes you have to deal with some issues from time to time, but it’s important for the veteran leaders to take them under their wing and try to bring them along the right path. And I feel like we have a good majority-rules-type thing that are all hard workers and good guys and good football players.”

When you hear that the Redskins are not interested in a particular free agent or potential trade target because “he doesn’t fit”, think of this. If a veteran player isn’t interested in being one of the guys who tend to the details or listen to the direction of the players who are, you have a problem. Some very talented players fit that description and you may end up worse off despite having obtained a good player. 

That sounds good but at some point, the approach has to show results. It’s great to have “character guys” but if you continue to hover around .500 every year and your peak season is a first-round playoff loss, you may have to rethink that. Not that you have to bring in players who are at high risk of suspensions, but perhaps a player who might require some micromanaging from the coaching staff might be able to help you out. 

This doesn’t mean that they should get rid of Hood and Swearinger and try to bring in some questionable characters. But a culture is only good if it is a winning culture. There are different ways to develop a winning culture and if one approach isn’t working you may have to go looking for another one. 

If you don’t, the head coach who replaces you sooner rather than later will. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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In response to Keith Olbermann’s tweet that said, “The beat an EXPANSION team.”

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 44
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 58
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 81

The Redskins last played a game 161 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 89 days. 

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Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are changing the Redskins defense

Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are changing the Redskins defense

The Redskins spent time, money and draft capital to improve their defensive front. Through three games of the 2018 season, those moves are paying off. 

Construction of a rebuilt defensive line truly began at the 2017 NFL Draft when Jonathan Allen slipped all the way to Washington with the 17th pick. He showed plenty of promise last season, but an injury cut his season short after five games. The Redskins barely recovered from his absence and the team's rush defense limped to finish last in the NFL. 

Washington continued to invest in the defensive front in 2018, drafting Daron Payne in the first round and Tim Settle in the fifth. The 'Skins also re-signed tackling machine linebacker Zach Brown during free agency. 

Add it all up, and the Redskins currently rank in the top 5 of the NFL in nearly every meaningful defensive category. Giving up fewer than 15 points-per-game, Washington is tied for second in the NFL with the vaunted Jacksonville defense. Prefer the yardage allowed metric to measure team defense? Washington (278 per-game) only ranks behind the Ravens (273 per-game). 

Any good defense has strong players lining up from the front to the back, but it always starts up front.

In Washington, that means Payne and Allen at the top of the list. 

"Those two guys are special guys and they need to be on the field," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday, after Payne and Allen combined for three sacks of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.

"We have some other guys that can play without a doubt, but those two guys are first-rounders and very talented, so the more they play, the better they get."

Add in Matt Ioannidis, who has three sacks in three games, and the Redskins have a stout, young defensive line. Almost more importantly, all three players are on rookie, team-friendly contracts. In fact, Pro Football Focus has Ioannidis ranked as the highest graded of the Redskins defensive linemen, probably because of crazy plays like this.

Washington will continue to push Payne and Allen into more situations and more snaps. In the Packers game, both of the former University of Alabama defensive tackles played more than they ever had before. 

"The first couple games we had a rotation going and trying to get their feet wet together, especially Daron, but I think he showed that he can handle the reps and we want to get him out there. We didn’t draft him in the first round to sit by me," Gruden said. "I was impressed with the way that he and Jonathan played, not only at the start of the game, but at the end of the game. They were flying to the football. They were making plays downfield, in the pocket, in the running game. Those two guys together, the vision that we had when we drafted them, getting Jonathan and Daron together came to fruition."

This week the Redskins get to rest and nurse some wounds, particularly along the offensive line. After their bye, however, both sides of the football will be tested. 

First comes a Monday night game in New Orleans with the explosive Saints offense. That will be the biggest test yet for the young D-line. The following week will bring a different, more physical test for Allen and company: Cam Newton and the Panthers.

Redskins fans should be excited about the young defensive front. The play has been very encouraging, and that's without much statistical production yet from outside pass rushing stalwarts Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan. 

If the defensive numbers look the same after games against Drew Brees and Newton, then the conversation is no longer about potential. It's about results. 

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With the game put in their hands, the Redskins defense got the job done again

With the game put in their hands, the Redskins defense got the job done again

The Redskins got going quickly on offense against the Packers on Sunday. They scored in four plays the first time they had the ball. After a three and out they drove to another touchdown. In the second quarter they embarked on the longest touchdown drive they have had since 1999, a 98-yard march. By the time halftime came they had scored 28 points. 

That’s great but that four touchdowns are not always enough to beat an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team. In 2016, the last season that Rodgers played all 16 games, Green Bay averaged 27 points per game. Basically, no lead is safe. 

But Jay Gruden played it very safe with the offensive play calling in the second half. Alex Smith, who was on fire in the first half, attempted only five passes in the last 30 minutes. They had 57 yards rushing in the second half, 32 of which came on the Redskins final possession when they drove for a field goal, their only points of the final two quarters. 

It was a similar performance to their season opener against the Cardinals when they were up 21-0 at halftime and then posted just a field goal in the second quarter. 

While the lack of offense in the second half of the Redskins’ two wins has been a talking point among fans and in the media, the key point is that both games turned out in the Redskins’ favor. They now have a defense that Gruden can trust to hold a lead. 

In Arizona, the Redskins defense gave up a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but the lead was never in danger. On Sunday, a fourth-down stop and a takeaway kept the Packers game from ever getting to be a one-score game. 

In the second halves of their three games, including the Week 2 loss to the Colts, the Redskins have given up an average of 147 yards and seven points. It’s a small sample size but so far, they are doing a good job of shutting the door. 

Another thing the Redskins have been doing well defensively is preventing big plays. The longest play against them was the 64-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Packers. Other than that, they have given up just four plays that gained over 20 yards and none longer than 27 yards. 

They are second in total defense. They are giving up a miniscule 4.3 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, a full two yards less than the league average. If you prefer to use the more traditional passer rating stat, opponents have compiled a 77.0, well below the league aggregate rating of 91.2. Again, it’s early but this is a good start. 

The Washington defense will need to keep it going the next two weeks. First up after the bye is Drew Brees of the Saints, who is healthy and completing over 80 percent of his passes. New Orleans also has running back Alvin Kamara, one of the best two-way threats in the game. After that is Cam Newton of the Panthers, who the Redskins never have beaten, and his dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey. 

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