Ron Rivera's first free agency class with the Redskins consisted of just over a dozen players, many of which share this one specific trait: versatility.
On the offensive side of the ball, Washington added running back J.D. McKissic, who can both run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. Additionally, the team added a pair of offensive lineman, Cornelius Lucas and Wes Schweitzer, who both have experience playing multiple positions along the line.
The trend of adding versatile players continued in the draft. The Redskins invested a third-round pick in RB/WR hybrid Antonio Gibson and followed that selection with fourth-round pick Saahdiq Charles, who played both tackle spots at LSU. The Redskins used another Day 3 pick on Keith Ismael, who played all three interior offensive line spots at San Diego State.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner was asked this week why the team emphasized versatility so much this offseason, and the 37-year-old's reply was simple.
"I think you want to be as unpredictable as possible," Turner told local media via Zoom this week. "You don’t want the defense to know what you’re going to do. I think you do that with balance and everything like that."
While that sounds ideal, being unpredictable is hard to do. The offensive coordinator explained that keeping opposing defenses on their toes requires a lot more than just mixing up pass plays with rushing ones.
"Balance is not just run and pass," he explained. "It’s getting all five – you have five eligible receivers on every play – getting all five of those guys. That to me is what true balance is, using all five of those guys in the run game or pass game. So, guys that are able to do different things, it gives you more options of how you can use them and more things that the defense has to defend."
Outside of wide receiver Terry McLaurin, plenty of Washington's offensive weapons remain unproven at the NFL level. However, there's still plenty of optimism in Redskins Park about the team's skill position depth.
The Redskins had a pair of rookie pass-catchers emerge towards the end of last season, Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon, and having another season alongside Dwayne Haskins should only help them. At running back, Adrian Peterson keeps chugging along, and if Derrius Guice can stay healthy, he has the chance to make a huge impact, too.
Washington's offseason additions of McKissic, Gibson, and fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden, who the offensive coordinator specifically praised, all give Turner plenty of flexibility to be creative with the unit.
"We have guys that we feel like can fit those molds as far as just creatively getting the ball, not just like running back and receiver and we’re going to give a lot of people a chance and see how it shakes out," Turner said.
Too often last season, Washington's offense was extremely predictable, especially once interim head coach Bill Callahan took over. Callahan insisted on running the ball early and often; the Redskins ran the ball 58% of the time on first down, the sixth-highest rate in the league, according to Sharp Football Stats.
Many of these runs were unsuccessful, leaving Washington in plenty of third-and-long situations. Those down-and-distance situations are immensely hard to convert, but even more difficult with a rookie quarterback, which the Redskins had with Haskins last season.
There's only room for improvement for the Redskins offense as Turner enters his first season as the team's offensive coordinator. The unit averaged just 16.6 points per game a season ago, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Washington averaged just 274 yards of total offense per contest in 2019, good for 31st in the league, with only the Jets trailing them.
This season marks the first true offensive coordinator gig that Turner has had; he was promoted to the role in Carolina last December, ironically after Rivera was fired. With the Panthers, Turner had the luxury of running back Christian McCaffrey -- arguably the most versatile offensive player in the NFL -- to his disposal, as well as guys who can play multiple roles like Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore.
While the Redskins may not have a player like McCaffrey, the offensive coordinator has a plan for how he envisions Washington's offense to succeed in 2020, and it all starts with having players who can do multiple things.
"Versatility is so important because it’s uncertainty for the other side of the ball," Turner said.
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