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There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

There's one word to describe new offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in 2020

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."

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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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Dwayne Haskins' physical skills aren't the only thing that stands out to new OC Scott Turner

Dwayne Haskins' physical skills aren't the only thing that stands out to new OC Scott Turner

While their interactions are happening through a screen instead of face-to-face in a meeting room, new Redskins offensive coordinator Scott Turner can feel how Dwayne Haskins is soaking up the offense he'll be asked to run in 2020.

That, along with the quarterback's imposing size and natural arm strength, has Turner confident about what Haskins can do in his second season in the league.

Those aren't the only reasons why Turner is optimistic, though. Aside from Haskins' mental progress and obvious-to-everyone-on-the-planet physical traits, there's something far less pronounced about the 23-year-old's game that Turner really likes.

During a Zoom call with reporters earlier this week, the coach had a chance to identify that skill.

"You look at him stand in the pocket, he doesn’t need a lot of space to operate," Turner told the media. "That was one of the first things that I looked at when I got the job. Looking at Dwayne’s pass reps and how he operated in those tight pockets. His eyes stayed downfield. He was able to push the ball down the field in those 20, 30, 40-yard throws with velocity."

A lot of times with college passers, Turner explained, they have acres of grass between them and the closest pass rusher. With the way Haskins dominated at Ohio State, that was certainly true at times for him.

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However, while some of those signal callers have trouble adjusting to the increased traffic around them as a pro, Haskins actually handled it quite well. In fact, Turner's evaluation of the former first-rounder in that area was one of the more complimentary reviews the new regime has offered up about him in the last few months. 

"You are going to make money in this league by standing in there and making throws down the field when it is tough," Turner said. "He has shown enough of that. His eyes aren’t going to go down, and he is not going to look at the defensive line. He is going to hang in there and execute the throws down the field.”

With Haskins, his raw numbers as a rookie aren't the most promising. But the raw numbers also don't necessarily account for the coaching change he had to deal with, the weak group of targets he had to throw to and the slew of other issues that made his job difficult.

So, instead of projecting what he can be in the future for the Redskins based on those stats, it's important to look closer at some of the smaller tools he exhibited. That's what Turner's doing when it comes to the QB's presence in the pocket. And if Turner's that pleased with what he's seeing, that's very encouraging.

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Redskins OC Scott Turner and his QBs making the best of their virtual offseason

Redskins OC Scott Turner and his QBs making the best of their virtual offseason

Sitting and waiting to play with your new toy is no fun. 

That essentially is what it’s like for Redskins offensive coordinator, Scott Turner. The coronavirus lockdown has the newly name OC forced to meet with his players virtually.

In a pandemic-free world, with a new head coach named, the Redskins would have had a two-week jump start on the rest of the league to meet players and install their system. Turner says despite not seeing his players on the field, they are making use of the time given to them. 

“We’re putting a lot of work in, obviously abiding by the rules the NFL has set forth — four days a week, two hours a day,” Turner said. 
Same as all the others. The Redskins QB’s choose to start at 1pm each day. The reason? Alex Smith is in Hawaii. No one seems to complain – and if anything, the others wish that they, too, were in paradise for workouts.

As for putting his new offensive system in place, Turner says he is breaking up by installs. 

“We have gotten through, I think, so far six at this point,” Turner said. “They are separated by play type and then we will do a situational install.”

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Turner said everyone’s brain works differently so the staff tries to group things together as best they can. It’s slightly different for the quarterbacks, 

“The big thing there is just every play, explain to the them what the objective is on that play, what we are trying to accomplish and what the philosophy is,” Turner said. “That’s something that’s are trying to express to those guys.”

Running those meetings are Turner and Ken Zampese, Washington’s quarterbacks coach. Then there’s Luke Del Rio, the son of Jack, the defensive coordinator. He’s only 25, but is quickly emerging in his new role as offensive quality control coach, organizing notes and coming up with useful information for the quarterbacks.

While head coach Ron Rivera continues to stress competition, he has named Dwayne Haskins Jr as their guy. Kyle Allen is the backup quarterback.

And then there is Smith.

The 13-year veteran missed all last season after suffering one of the most gruesome injuries in NFL history in Week 11 of the 2018 season. He participates in all the meetings, but we wait to see if he can miraculously return to the field. 

An ESPN E:60 documentary featured Smith’s rehab process, giving the world an inside view into the destruction of his leg and the power of his mindset to try to overcome it. Rivera has recently said Smith will have to be able to “protect himself” in order to compete at camp in August.

At the end of the 2019 season, Smith adamantly told reporters he planned to return to the game: “Without a doubt”. 

It would be nothing short of a miracle, and proof of modern-day medical practices, if that becomes a reality. Some say he’ll never play again, while others say it wouldn’t surprise them given Smith’s determination.

In the meantime, Smith continues to be a leader in the virtual meeting room offering as much input as he can. Setting the example for Haskins on how to prepare as an NFL quarterback. Haskins openly admits how smart Smith is and how willing he is to learn from him. Haskins also sees Turner as a young coach he can relate to.

It’s a new offense for Smith and Haskins to learn. Allen is more familiar, having played in it for two years in Carolina. But in the virtual classroom, Turner says all are equal. 

“We’re kind of throwing a lot at them,” Turner said. “In the beginning of every meeting, we do some quizzes, tests. Just test their retention.” 

All are quizzed at the same and all taking their own notes. Allen has said he is more than willing to help others learn the system when he can.

So how will we know the effectiveness of these virtual meetings and who has a firm grasp of the offense? From player to coach, I am told there is only one way — when live practice takes place. Until then, Turner and his quarterbacks will Zoom away.

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