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Redskins offseason Q&A: Which new assistant will make the biggest impact?

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Redskins offseason Q&A: Which new assistant will make the biggest impact?

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.

Which new assistant coach will have the most impact?

The Redskins not only brought in a bunch of free agents, they made some changes to their coaching staff, bringing in some high-profile names. On the offensive side, Bill Callahan is the new offensive line coach and Matt Cavanaugh steps into the vacant quarterbacks coach job. Defensively, the new coordinator is Joe Barry and Perry Fewell, a former Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator with the Giants, will coach the defensive backs. Which addition (s) to the coaching staff will have the most impact?

Tandler: The easy answer here is Callahan, a former NFL and college head coach who has done a great job building solid lines for the Jets and Cowboys. But he’s replacing Chris Foerster, who had a sterling reputation himself. I like Callahan but he doesn’t represent a major upgrade over what they had before.

In contrast, Cavanaugh is in a job that nobody held last year. Jay Gruden made the questionable decision to go without a QB coach last year, thinking that Robert Griffin III did not need another voice in his head in addition to those of the head coach and offensive coordinator Sean McVay. That sounded good in theory but in practice it was a disaster. Gruden and McVay were overwhelmed and Griffin, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy all had issues on the field.  

Now Cavanaugh brings his 30 years of NFL experience (13 as a player, 17 as a coach) into the quarterback meeting room. Griffin needs tutoring in the nuances of the game and Cavanaugh is just the guy to do that. In addition, he was a backup for most of his playing career so he understands where Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy are.

Cavanaugh would be a solid addition to the coaching staff no matter who he replaced. The fact that he is filling a void and that his addition corrects what was perhaps Gruden’s worst blunder as a rookie head coach will make his impact even greater.

El-Bashir: I can’t argue with Rich’s choice; I think the additions of Callahan and Cavanaugh were both smart. But I’m going with the two guys on the defensive side of the ball—Barry and Fewell.

By the end of the Jim Haslett era, it had become obvious that there was a disconnect somewhere. The players were no longer responding to him, and the results confirmed that. Ditto for Raheem Morris. Good coaches, both of them, but their message had grown stale and, thus, it was time for a change.

Enter Barry, who inherits a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed in 2014, and Fewell, who takes over a secondary that permitted a league-worst 35 passing touchdowns.

I won't guarantee that they’ll turn things around because we've gotten excited about assistants before only to see the same results. But I can tell you this: they’ve got energy, they’ve got more talent with which to work thanks to GM Scot McCloughan and, so far, they’ve got the players excited about what they’re teaching. That last thing is very important, particularly for linemen like veteran Jason Hatcher, who wasn't a fan of how he was used last season.

“I think we’re going to be real aggressive," Hatcher said earlier this offseason. "First of all, we’re going upfield. We ain’t going sideways no more. So we can make a play here and there. I’m excited about that.”

Fewell, like Barry, is an energetic and detail oriented teacher. And when you look at his resume, his experience jumps off the page. He's been an assistant in the NFL for 18 years—nine as a defensive backs coach and nine as a coordinator—for six different organizations. That’s a lot of knowledge for Barry, Gruden and the Redskins’ young corps of defensive backs to tap into.  

Previously on Redskins offseason Q&A:

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Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh takes you inside Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Panthers

With NFL RedZone, All-22 footage and GamePass, it’s literally never been easier to access information about your favorite teams and players. Still, nothing can quite beat the actual players and coaches, especially those who drew up those plays in the first place.

Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was happy to share some insight on the touchdown pass Alex Smith threw to Vernon Davis to kick off the scoring against the Panthers in Week 6. 

The Redskins took over possession after a Carolina turnover, and the offense was ready to strike quickly. Smith found Davis wide open in the end zone and connected with his longtime tight end to give the ‘Skins an early 7-0 lead.

Interestingly, as Cavanaugh points out, the play was designed to clear out space for the team’s top tight end, Jordan Reed. Instead, the Panthers safety rolled towards Reed, who is generally seen as the more likely receiving threat. You can see in the video of the play that Smith does look towards Reed first, and then noticed the rolling safety leaving Davis wide open down the seam.

Cavanaugh also emphasizes how vital it is for the offense to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“When we’re not on the field and the defense creates a turnover and all of a sudden we’re back out there, we gotta be ready to score, particularly when we get the ball in that great field position. It’s huge, it obviously set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”

A one play, 22-yard drive certainly does show off an offensive unit ready to score quickly and without the benefit of a long possession to get into rhythm.

Hopefully Cavanaugh doesn’t give away too many of his X’s and O’s secrets, but it’s always fascinating to experience a behind-the-scenes look at important plays. It’s even more fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns, and it’s the most fun when those plays are of Redskins touchdowns that come in Redskins victories.

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'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

'It's a house divided': The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is affecting these 'Skins' families

Zach Brown is a fearless player. Turns out, Zach Brown's dad is pretty fearless, too.

That first statement is one you can confirm by watching the Redskins linebacker play each time he takes the field, often times hurt.

The second statement, on the other hand, was confirmed earlier this week in an interview between Brown and JP Finlay about the Washington-Dallas rivalry.

"It got under our skin, knowing we got swept by them [last year]," the defender told Finlay after a weekday practice. "You just hate to go back home and hear them talk so much trash."

The leader of the brave "them" who actually taunt a 250-pound LB following a loss? Oh, just Brown's father, who's a diehard Cowboys supporter.

"My dad was giving it to me," he said while looking back on the 2017 season. "I said, 'Don't worry about it. Next year's gonna be a different movement.'"

"I'm gonna talk trash at the end of this season," Brown added. "It's a house divided."

Adrian Peterson knows what Brown's talking about. The Texas native even went as far as to break down exactly how his own house is divided.

According to him, 75-percent of his family are all about the Cowboys, 10-percent are looking for him to put up good numbers in a 'Boys victory and the final 15-percent have converted to the burgundy and gold.

Rookie corner Greg Stroman can relate as well. The Virginia kid who'll be making his debut in the series he's very familiar with said his grandma and her relatives fall on both sides of the matchup.

Stroman does have one advantage over Brown and Peterson, though. Unlike the two veterans, he was able to get his entire family's rooting interests in order for Sunday, at least.

"They all bought in now," he said.

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