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


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, 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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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should not expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that his the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side. But since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat the whole offense will be harder to defend

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

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

Tandler on Twitter

My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:


Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 


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