This offseason the Redskins made a move to strengthen their offensive line, though it had nothing to do with the draft or free agency. Washington poached Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan, offering big money for an assistant coach, and in turn, brought in an experienced and well-respected position coach that should have a big role in the 2015 offense.
Bringing in Callahan is not a typical assistant coach hire, however, as he has significant previous head coaching experience, including taking the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002. His experience as the boss, both in Oakland and at the University of Nebraska, means Callahan will be demanding, and the players are starting to notice.
"He's a super intense guy, super thorough," Redskins center Kory Lichtensteiger said after an offseason workout.
"There's a lot of little differences that we have to be very specific on each play. Getting our call right, getting the right IDs," Lichtensteiger explained.
Thorough and intense are not words many would use to describe the Redskins recent offensive line play. While former coach Mike Shanahan built a team adept at run blocking, the team's big guys were hardly as effective as pass blockers, causing Washington quarterbacks to take hits and sacks at unsustainable rates. And as Robert Griffin III's ability to run waned, the offensive line play truly began to suffer, including the run game.
"He’s a very demanding coach but it’s something that we need and his presence is being felt already in a positive way," head coach Jay Gruden said.
'Skins GM Scot McCloughan invested in the offensive line heavily at the draft, taking Brandon Scherff in the first round and Arie Kouandjio in the fourth. The team is clearly looking to improve in that area, and veteran guard Chris Chester was released this week. If nothing else, the personnel will be different.
Different players could help, but there have also been suggestions that the scheme may change to go with more power running. Not so, according to Lichtensteiger.
"We're going to stick with the wide zone as our bread and butter, but I think [Callahan is] going to introduce probably some gap stuff that will be a little different. I don't know how much we will rely on that. I think the wide zone is probably still what we're going to stick with most of all."
Interesting thoughts from the center, a smart player that the line relies on to make calls and protection adjustments. Callahan comes from Dallas, which had the best run game in the NFL last season, but also had an elite offensive line stocked full of first and second round picks and running back DeMarco Murray.
In Washington, Alfred Morris has shown Pro Bowl talent, though his numbers have declined each season since his 1,600 yard rookie year in 2012. That season, when Washington went on a seven game win streak to take the NFC East title, also was RG3's first season.
For Washington, it all comes back to RG3 and 2012. That season, Griffin was as dynamic a run threat as the NFL had ever seen at quarterback, and his legs opened up the offense for Morris and everyone else. The 2015 version of Griffin is a different player, and the offense needs to evolve similarly. Can Callahan help that evolution?
"He’s been awesome and we look forward to winning with him," Griffin said of Callahan.
If the Redskins are to win in 2015, and after winning just seven games in two seasons what constitutes "winning" is debatable, the offensive line must play at a higher level. Callahan will be a big part of that, should it happen.
It won't be for lack of effort. Callahan and his linemen stayed on the field for an extended period of time after OTAs last week; young players working on technique and veterans working on new terminology.
"He shows a great deal of confidence and a great wisdom amongst his players and expects a lot out of them, works the heck out of them," Gruden said. "That’s what I like about him. I like that he’s taken every ounce of energy they’ve got out there."
The schemes may still look similar, but Callahan and Gruden will expect different results this fall. It won't be for lack of effort or intensity.