Yesterday,Rich Tandler touched on the big plays expected out of high priced free agent Pierre Garcon. The other notable receiver signee, Josh Morgan, is not 100, but has time to heal before camp. Same goes for 6-foot-3 Leonard Hankerson, who spent Thursday's OTA doing individual drills on the side as the team takes a cautious approach with the rising second-year target even though his injured hip has healed.Earlier this spring, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan rattled off the names of those three when asked about his top receivers. Obviously missing from that pass catching hierarchy, Santana Moss, who turned 33 on Friday. With football age not on his side and a 2.65 million cap number attached to him, that kind ofomission from the guy ultimately responsible for putting together the roster figures to make Moss'spot one to watch this summer.That is why it also worth noting what Shanahan said about Moss' slimmed down look this offseason.Its the best Ive seen him since Ive been here," Shanahan said following Thursday's OTA. "The first year that he came, he didnt practice. The second year we had the lockout and he got injured. But hes come in in excellent shape, and you can tell hes ready to play because of the type of shape hes come in. "Im just hoping he stays at that level that hes at right now.When I heard the quote live, it soundedalmost like the coach-speak equivalent of a bed of roses. When I went back and read the transcript, that last line's context adds a thorny element - and it was said on a day when Shanahan was hardly prickly. It also came on a day Moss was playfully heckled by defensive back coach Raheem Morris after the receiver skillfully beat Morris's secondary to the corner of the end zone and hauled in a pinpoint pass from Robert Griffin III.Garcon is transitioning into being a number one receiver (if such a thing exists in the modern NFL, but at least we can say with certainty he is being paid like one.). Both he and Morgan are new to the Redskins' system. Hankerson has started only two more NFL games than his new starting rookie quarterback.The experience Moss offers could indeed be his trump card. "We have a leader in Santana Moss," Garcon said. "You know, hes been here for a while."When it comes to Moss' future, it may simply be a numbers game, financially and roster-based. If Moss shows enough spring in his shifty step over the summer, he may eventually warrant a place at or near the top of Shanahan's depth chart. Then again, Shanahan has been grooming Hankerson and loves his new receiving toys. Well, you can see Pierre Garon, you know, hes a big time receiver," Shanahan said. "You can see his power, his strength, his quickness, his speed since hes been here. Its very, very obvious. "And Josh is very talented. He hasnt practiced full speed all the time, but he will be ready to go by the time we get to camp, once that ankle heals up and he has practiced enough to tell everybody on this football team that hes one heck of a receiver and hes going to help us this year.Plenty more weeks of reading the receiving depth chart tea leaves left to go.
As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith.
"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith.
While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology.
Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period.
"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."
Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday.
Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates.
"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."
The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.
"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."
Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong.
Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins.
The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)
Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays.
It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks.
The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions
— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap
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Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.
The heat is on Jay Gruden
Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.
“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.”
Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run.
That puts the pressure on Gruden.
This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now.
His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder.
It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years.
Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10.
Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January.
Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game.
To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it.
Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset.
This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve.
Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress.
And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator.
I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season.
Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria.
There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points.
From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that.
Tandler on Twitter
I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.
—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60
The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days.
In case you missed it
- The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor
- Will a 1,000-yard receiver make or break the 2018 Redskins?
- Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down