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: