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:
- Who will start at strong safety?
- Who will return punts and kickoffs?
- Who will be the third down back?
- Which rookie will have the most impact?
- How will the carries be divvied up?
- What will the QB depth chart look like?
- Who will the third running back be?
- Which free agent will have the most impact?
- Which new assistant coach will have the biggest impact?
- What team is the biggest threat to win the NFC East?
- Will Jason Hatcher live up to his contract?
- Who will be the training camp phenom?
- What will the cornerback depth chart look like?
- Can McCloughan be the franchise savior?
- Was Scherff the right pick at No. 5?