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Redskins offseason Q&A: Is Gruden the guy to turn things around?

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Redskins offseason Q&A: Is Gruden the guy to turn things around?

With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

Is Jay Gruden up to the task of turning things around?

When the Redskins hired Jay Gruden to be their head coach in January of 2014 he had very limited NFL coaching experience. He was just coming off of three years as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati but prior to that his resume had mostly Arena League and USFL experience on it along with a stint as a low-level offensive assistant on his brother Jon’s staff with the Bucs. The organization took a leap of faith when hiring him, believing that he would grow into the job. Was their faith justified? Is Gruden the right man to guide the Redskins back to respectability?

Tandler: Gruden had a laundry list of issues as a rookie head coach from his disastrous decision not to hire a quarterbacks coach to seemingly abandoning the run during long stretches of games to letting loose with a harsh public critique of his starting QB. Oh, and only four wins on the ledger didn’t help.

But through it all, his players stuck by him. They believed that he dealt with them honestly and fairly and they took on responsibility for the mounting losses. Holding on to the locker room on a 12-loss team isn’t a given and that Gruden managed to do that is a good sign going forward.

Gruden seems to have learned from his mistakes. He hired Matt Cavanaugh as the quarterbacks coach and offensive line coach Bill Callahan will coordinate the running game and perhaps keep him from getting too pass happy. His words about Robert Griffin III have been positive so far this season (although, to be sure, they haven’t experienced an embarrassing November home loss to a team like the one-win Bucs yet).

If he continues to learn from his mistakes and can avoid making too many new ones I think he can be a solid coach for this team. The fact that he now has an established personnel man picking his players in Scot McCloughan will help him out a great deal. I’m not sure if the Redskins will ever hoist a Lombardi Trophy with Gruden at the helm. Although someone else might have to bring them from good to great, getting good is the first step. I think that if he is given some time, Gruden will be able to do that.

El-Bashir: Late last season, I would have answered, ‘No.’ Gruden hadn’t managed to develop Griffin—at all. The coach-quarterback relationship didn’t seem all that healthy, either. And on top of that, the Redskins regressed after the bye, losing six of their final seven games. Four of those losses, by the way, were by 20 or more points.

But a day after wrapping up the season with a humbling 44-17 loss at home to the Cowboys, Gruden said something that caught my attention. “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,” he said. “We've had the same results here for too long.”

Sure, subpar quarterback play killed the Redskins in 2014. As did a poorly constructed defense. But Gruden recognized that the problems went much deeper than one or two positions. It went to the core of how things operate at Redskins Park. And, along with Scot McCloughan, he spent the first few weeks of the offseason making sweeping changes, from his staff of assistants to key players on defense, from the strength coach to the configuration of the weight room.

On the surface, the changes appear to positive ones. But they also do something else: They eliminate any excuses for Gruden. He’s now had Robert Griffin III under his tutelage for two years. He’s gotten rid of the assistants he inherited (Jim Haslett) and surrounded himself with his guys (Joe Barry). Four of the team’s first five draft picks this year play on offense, including the No. 5 overall selection, Brandon Scherff, who will start at right tackle.

I agree with Tandler that Gruden deserves more time to turn things around. But if the Redskins don’t show meaningful improvement in 2015, it will be interesting to see of McCloughan (who, by the way, didn’t hire Gruden) gives it to him.

Previously on Redskins offseason Q&A:

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10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No rookie draft pick excited the Redskins fan base like Derrius Guice since Robert Griffin III came to Washington back in 2012. That's a fact. 

Guice slipped during the draft to near the end of the second round, a position much too late for a player with his talent. Rumors emerged that he had character issues, but in the months since April's selection, they seem unfounded. In quick time, Guice has emerged as a Redskins fan favorite and has performed plenty of charitable acts.

So, moving past the erroneous off-field questions, it's time to manage expectations for what Guice can do on the field. 

DJ Swearinger recently said he expects Guice to make the Pro Bowl and rush for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie. (Listen here)

That's not unheard of, last year rookie Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rush yards. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott did the same thing. Rookie running backs can step in and produce right away in the NFL, unlike some positions that usually bring more of a learning curve. 

Can Guice do that?

The first and most important questions will be health and durability. Guice dealt with lingering knee injuries last year at LSU, and the Redskins will need him fully healthy. A 1,000-yard season is not unrealistic if Guice plays a full 16-game season. It would require rushing for about 65 yards-per-game. 

The bigger key is opportunities. 

How many carries will Guice log in 2018? Early on in the season, Guice might still be learning pass protection in the Redskins scheme, and Jay Gruden will not tolerate missed assignments that result in big hits on QB Alex Smith.

If Guice can lock in on blitz pickup, 200 carries seems reasonable. Remember that Chris Thompson will still be a featured part of the Redskins offense, and Rob Kelley will get chances too. 

Last season, Samaje Perine led all rushers with 175 carries. He didn't do much with the chances, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Kelley had 62 carries before injuries shut his season down after parts of seven games. 

Combine Perine and Kelley's carries, and then things start to get interesting. With 230 carries, at an average of 4 yards a pop, Guice starts to approach 1,000 yards.

One problem with extrapolating too much data from last season is the crazy amount of variables. Late in the year, with Perine largely ineffective and a very beat up offensive line, the Redskins simply couldn't produce on the ground. In their last five games of 2017, the Redskins never rushed for more than 100 yards. They averaged just 60 yards-per-game on the ground during that stretch, including a season low 31 rush yards against Arizona in December. 

The line can't be that beat up again, right?

Guice has to be able to deliver more than Perine, right?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then a 1,000-yard season seems possible for Guice in 2018. 

One misnomer from the Redskins 2017 campaign emerged that Washington simply did not run the ball well or enough. In fact, early in the year when the Redskins looked like a possible playoff team, they ran the ball quite well. In three of the first four games, Washington went over 100 yards on the ground, including 229 rush yards in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Guice might get to 1,000 yards in 2018. It's no sure thing, and there are plenty of variables, but it's possible. That hasn't happened in Washington since Alfred Morris, and would be a very welcome sight. 

The rookie runner has invigorated the Redskins faithful, and that's before he even steps on the field. If Guice can produce, the fans will go crazy.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Cousins and leadership, D-line potential

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, July 21, five days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

How the addition of Alexander affects the Redskins' DB depth chart—Adonis Alexander was brought into the NFL about a week and a half ago and in five days he’ll be on the practice field in Richmond. How much will missing OTAs and minicamp hurt him in comparison to, say, his former Hokie teammate Greg Stroman? I think that the plan is for this to be a “redshirt” year for Alexander to learn. But that was supposed to be the plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chase Roullier last year and both ended up playing key snaps. 

Can the Redskins defensive line live up to its potential? Many NFL fans don’t appreciate the value of having a good defensive line. Redskins fans are not in that group because they have seen what you get when you try to build a defensive line with over-the-hill veteran free agents, low draft picks, and undrafted players. Fans will value the talent, youth, and depth on the 2018 D-line.  

10 Questions in 10 days: LB depth chart—This is another area where the Redskins have not invested much in recent seasons. At least this year they stepped up and re-signed starters Mason Foster and Zach Brown. They are the present. Are Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons the future? 

The pass rush must continue to be a strength for the Redskins—With the picture at the cornerback position is somewhat murky right now, the pass rush will be critical, especially in the early going. The outside linebackers lost a key reserve, putting the burden on Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan to continue to get pressure on Ryan Anderson to take a leap forward in his second season. 

Tweet of the week

Well, this tweet did sort of stir things up as did some of the things that Cousins said in an article by Dan Pompei on the Bleacher Report. The thing about Twitter is that there is no room for nuance. I was labeled a Kirk “hater” by some. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. On multiple occasions, I urged the team to sign him long term and highlighted the positive aspects of his play. 

But this thing about not having a “platform” to lead always struck me as a cop-out. Cousins talked about it during some press conferences while he was here. The length of your contract should not prevent you from embracing a leadership role. You’re getting paid to lead, just do it. Few in leadership positions in business or in the military know where they will be a year from now. They embrace the role while they have it and Cousins should have done the same. 

The fact that I don’t like this one aspect of Cousins doesn’t mean that I don’t like him overall. He’s a good quarterback and I think he will have success with the Vikings. I think that the price got to be too much for the Redskins and the decision to move on to Alex Smith was sound or at least the best they could do after it became apparent that he was not going to sign here. But it’s not all one or the other. It is possible to see the positive and negative of Cousins. 

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

Timeline

Mike Sellers, whose seven receiving touchdowns in 2005 were the most by a Redskins running back since the merger, was born on this date in 1975.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 5
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 19
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 42

The Redskins last played a game 202 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 50 days. 

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