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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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Forget about the RG3 trade and realize that good teams are making bold moves for QBs

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USA Today Sports

Forget about the RG3 trade and realize that good teams are making bold moves for QBs

Forget about RG3 for a second. 

For some NFL teams, trading up for a quarterback actually works out well. 

That will be on display Sunday when Patrick Mahomes starts the AFC Championship game for the Chiefs. Two seasons ago, Kansas City traded up to draft Mahomes even though Alex Smith was on the roster at the time. 

The Chiefs gave up a first-rounder and a third-rounder to go from the 27th pick to the 10th pick and take Mahomes, and he's been dynamite since taking over the starting spot this year. He threw for 50 touchdowns this season and seems very likely to win the NFL MVP Award. 

The Chiefs made an aggressive move to get a franchise quarterback and it worked. 

They’re not alone. 

The Eagles did the same thing in 2016. Philadelphia moved up from the eighth overall pick to the second overall pick to select Carson Wentz.

The trade required the Eagles giving up additional picks, including a first-rounder in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2018, but the move has been great for Philly. Even with injury troubles for Wentz, the Eagles are committed to their young franchise passer, so much that they will likely lose Super Bowl MVP backup QB Nick Foles this offseason. 

In Chicago, a 2017 trade to acquire Mitchell Trubisky has paid dividends.

The Bears gave up a lot to move up just one draft spot to be sure they could get Trubisky, and this year, the Bears won their first division title since 2010. As a passer, Trubisky is hardly a finished product, but he's given the Bears offense some playmaking ability at the most important position on the field. Chicago's team is driven by a great defense, but Trubisky has plenty of upside. The Bears are certainly happy with the trade. 

That's a long way of saying that not all NFL teams regret trading up in the draft for a quarterback. 

There have been other examples where the trade doesn't work, and probably the most notable is in Washington. 

For one season, Robert Griffin III looked like the future of the NFL: A strong-armed, lightning fast quarterback that could beat defenses multiple ways. Early on, the league didn't know how to stop Griffin. Eventually, teams figured out how to slow the read option and RG3's body took a lot of abuse. 

It's now a cautionary tale, especially because the 'Skins gave up a lot to get RG3, but it's also worth pointing out that 2012 was their best, and maybe only, chance at real playoff success in the last decade. Griffin was the engine.

What does all this mean for the 2019 NFL Draft?

With Alex Smith's significant leg injury, quarterback is again a position of need for Washington. The draft has one elite QB prospect in Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, and then a number of other passers with upside but question marks. Is Kyler Murray big enough to hold up? Has Daniel Jones shown enough? Is Drew Lock accurate enough? 

Moving up to get Haskins would be a bold move for Washington. The team has a number of holes and could use a strong draft to fill them. Going to get Haskins would sap the organization of their stable of picks. 

The flip side is nothing can change the tide of an organization like a really good QB. How different were the Colts this season with the return of Andrew Luck? Yes, it helped a lot that they invested on their offensive line and defense, but an elite arm throwing the ball changes everything for a football team. 

It might not be prudent for the Redskins to try and go get Haskins, but it might not be dumb either. It would be bold. 

In a league where aggressive moves are becoming the path to the playoffs, maybe Washington needs to try strong actions. 

Go back to the Bears. A year after giving up a lot to take Trubisky, the team then gave up another first-round pick to acquire Khalil Mack. Mack's been a star for Chicago, turning their defense from good to great. 

Bold moves can work. 

There is a big difference, however, between bold and reckless.

It's hardly a sure thing the Redskins will take a quarterback in the first round, and even less of a definite that the club would move up in the draft for a QB.

Still, framed by the incredible success of Mahomes in Kansas City, the Redskins cannot approach the 2019 offseason scared of making a move for a quarterback.

What the team cannot do — cannot — is make a move just to create buzz. This is not a deep draft class at QB, and paying up for any player other than Haskins seems like a short-sighted investment. 

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Redskins make new hire at special teams coordinator, and he comes from Tampa Bay

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Redskins make new hire at special teams coordinator, and he comes from Tampa Bay

The Redskins announced the hiring of Nate Kaczor as their new special teams coach on Saturday morning. Kaczor will take over the role vacated by Ben Kotwica, who left Washington to take the same role in Atlanta.

Kaczor spent the last three seasons with the Buccaneers as special teams coordinator, but that coaching staff got let go this offseason. Prior to his work in Tampa, Kaczor coached in similar roles for the Titans and the Jaguars. 

It's not particularly easy to rank special teams, but Kotwica's groups did some things very well, particularly in punt coverage. Football Outsiders ranked all 32 special teams groups across the league based on a formula that combines field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns; The Redskins ranked 8th and Tampa ranked 29th. 

On the flip side, the Redskins had some of the lowest kick and punt return yardage in the NFL last season. The Redskins gained just 110 yards on all of their punt returns for the year. 

Head coach Jay Gruden spoke about bringing in Kaczor.

"We are excited to have Nate join our staff. We have had the opportunity to face his special teams play during his time at Tampa Bay and respected competing against him," Gruden said via press release. "He is a competitor and we have noticed and admired the intensity his units have played with through the course of his time as a special teams coordinator and assistant coach in the NFL."

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