NFC East: Washington Redskins

Cleaning out some thoughts on the Washington Redskins players' day off:
  • Griffin
    There's no drama. Certainly for the team, that's a good thing. Last summer it was mostly about Robert Griffin III's knee with an undercurrent of tension between head coach Mike Shanahan and Griffin. Now? It's Camp Love. A fresh start and approach after a 3-13 season has been welcomed by all. The energy in practice is different, in part because there's a more physical approach.
  • Teams that want to be more physical find players who are that way. It's one reason they drafted players such as linebacker Trent Murphy and corner Bashaud Breeland and brought in a safety such as Ryan Clark. But it can be hard to weed out who can play that way when you rarely hit in practice. In the old days, under Marty Schottenheimer, it wasn't tough to see. They were in full pads twice a day. Even I was exhausted at the end of camp.
  • You know it's a drama-free camp when perhaps your most popular story involves a fan getting players' signatures on his arm and turning them into tattoos. Last summer, that wouldn't have caused a stir. This summer? Story!
  • RG III looks so much better than he did while returning last summer from his knee injury. Of course, he should look better given the differences in the offseason. He's not Peyton Manning out there, but Griffin has thrown some excellent passes and made some good reads. There are times when he's forced to run and that's when it's often hard to tell why, without going back and seeing what happened. In the past, he often ran when he could have thrown. I will say, he's cut down on those runs as camp has progressed.
  • The real key in RG III's relationship with Gruden will be how each side handles adversity during the season. It will come; it always does. If Gruden has been consistent with him in his approach to that point, and continues that way, then it will be OK. Both sides will learn a lot at that point.
  • It'll be interesting to see how teams defend the Redskins and how much they blitz. The Redskins can make teams pay because of their talent in the passing game at receiver and tight end. Handle the blitz well early and watch teams back off. If not …
  • Safety Brandon Meriweather continues to decline any and all interview requests, instead pointing to Clark as his translator (spokesman would be a better word; the only player I've needed a translator for in the past was probably Rod Gardner with his thick country dialect).
  • But Meriweather is among those keeping second-year corner David Amerson in line. After one practice, Amerson headed to the Jugs machine to catch passes and then had to fulfill an interview request. Meriweather chastised him and prodded him to go sign some autographs. Amerson listened.
  • Still don't know what Clark has left as a player; tough to fully gauge his game until the preseason. So this position remains a question mark. Meriweather rags on Clark for how often he speaks to the media. If you're going to talk, you'd best still show you can play and that's the task ahead for Clark. At this point, it's too early to say and the key will be staying durable and getting through the season. At 34, that's always a key.
  • And while Keenan Robinson looks pretty good, we still don't know if he be effective against the run. Only one way to find out, but can't go overboard on him until he proves he can tackle and stop the run. Really, the same is true of Will Compton. I think the inside linebacker spot and who they keep will be interesting.
  • I like what I've seen thus far from Kory Lichtensteiger at center. His quickness here helps and his lack of size should not hurt him as much as it did at guard. There, he was responsible for many more one-on-one matchups. At center, he'll more often than not end up helping the guards and double teaming. And his quickness in the run game allows him to reach his intended spot quicker. He's held his own against Barry Cofield.
  • I still don't know when end Jason Hatcher will return and I think he's getting tired of being asked. It'll be six weeks Thursday since he underwent surgery -- at the time his recovery was said to be four-to-six weeks.
  • Still don't think receiver Leonard Hankerson will be ready at the start of the season. Nobody has said anything, but my hunch is that he'll end up on the physically unable to perform list. Not reporting that, but just a gut feel.

Redskins learn from RG III injury

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
It was the slogan. It was the documentary. It was a coach who figured they could ease him back in. It was a doctor calling him superhuman. It also was a group that overlooked the obvious: When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, especially for a young guy, there’s no substitute for repetitions. That’s where Bruce Allen, in essence, said the Washington Redskins organization erred last summer when it came to Robert Griffin III.

Allen told ESPN 950 radio Monday that having Griffin play after only a couple of weeks of practice was “disrespectful to football.”

That's easy to say now. Although his return was heavily debated, it wasn’t as if many in the organization were saying behind the scenes that Griffin should wait a few more weeks.

His knee was ready and cleared by Dr. James Andrews. His game? Another matter. Griffin did not look sharp in the throwing sessions the media could watch. But at the time, you figured it was natural rust and would be shed soon. Griffin, after all, was an athlete on a different level.

Ah, but playing quarterback is about more. It’s safe to say Griffin could have used a few more weeks of nurturing his game before returning. The problem at the time was this: The Redskins were entering the regular season, and he didn’t have time to continue rebuilding his game. Coaches often say young quarterbacks grow more in the offseason between their first and second seasons. Griffin didn’t have that. It took him a while to gain any sort of consistency and rhythm. A big play or game would be followed by erratic play; it never really changed.

There’s no doubt coach Mike Shanahan felt as if he had no choice but to insert Griffin. Allen never mentioned him, but Shanahan had the ultimate authority. There was so much hype surrounding Griffin's desire to return, which left the coach wondering how it would be perceived if he didn’t start him. Shanahan had the utmost confidence in Kirk Cousins -- but Cousins sprained his foot and missed two weeks, not returning until right before the opener.

Shanahan could have made a decision, just as he could have made one in the 2012 playoff loss and not used Griffin. A coach with two Super Bowl rings has that authority. Shanahan failed to make the decision; no one from the organization publicly disagreed with the move, either.

It’s funny, though, because life is different for Griffin with Jay Gruden. It’s almost as if the Redskins are trying the George Costanza approach: Whatever was done in the past, do the opposite. Gruden is more player-friendly and certainly more compatible with Griffin. They are trying to decrease the importance of his legs (the Shanahans incorporated them in part to ease the transition to the NFL), at least on designed runs; when he has run in camp, it’s been off scrambles. If any situations arise with Griffin when it comes to injuries, my guess is they will take a different approach there, too.

Gruden knows what went wrong here in the past. But it wasn’t just one or two people who learned a lesson when it came to handling Griffin’s injury. It was an organization. More than one person shared in this responsibility. If they learned from it, Griffin and the team can move forward with confidence.

RG III report: Strong finish

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
RICHMOND, Va. -- With the speed the Washington Redskins have at receiver, if defenses don’t get home on the blitz, the Redskins will be in position for some big plays on short passes. We saw that the other day when quarterback Robert Griffin III hit Andre Roberts on a short pass over the middle with two defenders blitzing on the left side.

Another reminder was provided Monday when Griffin connected with DeSean Jackson on a shallow route versus a blitz. The play would have resulted in a good chunk of yardage. It makes me wonder how often teams will blitz knowing the speed Washington has at receiver -- if they don’t get to Griffin.

The key for Griffin will be reading the blitz and being decisive with his throw. The Redskins’ defense has helped him by giving him multiple looks and using a variety of blitzes.

Another time, Jackson and Griffin hooked up on a route in which the quarterback pumped the ball on an outside route and then came back inside to Jackson. That pump bought Jackson enough time to separate in the slot -- he was a forgotten man because of the pump -- and also provided him room to run afterward.

Later, Griffin and Jackson connected again at the goal line. Jackson was covered by Richard Crawford, so Griffin was patient, let Jackson win the route and made the throw.

But Jackson might have been drilled on another pass these two combined on, a deep play-action throw. Griffin lofted a pass over the top of corner DeAngelo Hall to Jackson -- a good throw. Safety Ryan Clark was racing over and, had it been a game, it would have been interesting to see the potential collision. Jackson did spot him as soon as he caught the ball and avoided him. But Clark also pulled off.

For the most part, Griffin was sharp Monday. He did take off running once, when the defense was in man and the middle of the field opened. Griffin was unable to connect on his fade routes. Even when we’ve see him throw this pass in the past he was inconsistent. Monday, he threw one to rookie Ryan Grant, a guy he hasn’t thrown a whole lot with.

But after the first five days of camp, Griffin has ended on an upswing. Really, he’s had one bad day (during the first day rain). Since then, he’s been solid with an occasional tough throw. Last summer he was much more erratic.
Examining the Washington Redskins' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

Jay Gruden only had two quarterbacks in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati, but Griffin still needs to prove his durability. So nothing has changed since the original posting. If something happened to Griffin, they would still be in good shape with Cousins and McCoy. If they go with two then McCoy gets left off.

Running backs (4)

It's really hard to tell with running backs until the games begin. But, thus far, Chris Thompson has been more impressive than Lache Seastrunk -- though the latter has different speed and flashy moves. I do have a hard time seeing Seastrunk end up being cut so there's a good chance they keep five backs. If Seastrunk has a quiet preseason then they could stash him on the practice squad. Also, Thompson must prove his durability. In the end that will be the deciding factor. Thompson's ability to catch is better at this point, but his pass protection skills are questionable. Seastrunk has to grow here. By keeping four here, the Redskins can go with an extra player at another spot. This means Evan Royster is on the outs, but he doesn’t give the Redskins anything they don’t have in better players. He is insurance only.

Receivers (6)

I still don't think Leonard Hankerson will be ready to start the season on the active roster. I wonder about Robinson, but not the others. While some undrafted free agents have looked good in practice, I learned long ago not to go overboard until you see them in games. Robinson has had a quiet camp in too many regards.

Tight ends (3)

Rookie tight end Ted Bolser had a good day Saturday, or at least a good couple of plays. He looks better than in the spring, which is a good sign. He's still learning the details of blocking, etc., and it could be hard to keep four tight ends this year. Bolser is a good candidate for the practice squad.

Offensive line (10)

In reality, I could see them keeping only nine offensive linemen. At this point it's hard to know which one would be cut. They're not cutting the rookies of course. And LeRibeus looks much better than last summer (working at both guard spots). Compton is a little surprise, but they like him as well and he's looked solid for the most part. I also would be concerned if they needed a backup tackle; not sold that Moses would be ready.

Defensive line (6)

This one is fluid as well because it depends in part on Bowen’s health. I like Chris Neild and so do they, but can they keep him? Golston is more versatile and a key player on special teams, but he’s also 30 and they must get younger at some point. But he still helps in too many ways. Clifton Geathers and Neild will factor in here.

Linebackers (9)

I wasn't going to include Brandon Jenkins this week (easy to say, right?) because he did not take any step up from the spring. Just frustrated the coaches too much. For now I'm going with Jackson, but I don't think that's a lock by any means. Adrian Robinson is one to watch here. The tough call is inside. They really like Will Compton and I think he somehow finds his way onto the roster. But this needs to develop. I think there will be an interesting decision made inside.

Cornerbacks (5)
Chase Minnifield remains eligible for the practice squad and has looked solid in camp. Richard Crawford is coming off a knee injury and needs time to get his game back. The one benefit for Crawford is that he can play in the slot; they need depth at that spot. Breeland has worked there as well however.

Safeties (4)

I did not include Rambo on the original list, but did so now. Why? I haven't seen Trenton Robinson do anything and for now Rambo is working with the second defense. Therefore, I'm going with him for now. Akeem Davis still looks like a practice squader.

Specialists (3)

The Forbath selection is based on never having seen rookie Zach Hocker kick in an NFL game. That's what I said in the original post and nothing has changed. If Hocker is consistent this summer and shows a strong leg, then he can win the job. Thus far he's looked good.

Redskins Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
RICHMOND, VA. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Washington Redskins training camp:
  • The Redskins made their first cut of camp, releasing second-year linebacker Brandon Jenkins after a rugged start to camp. He had a particularly tough day, getting chewed out a couple times by his position coach Brian Baker for his pass rushes. Though Rob Jackson is a veteran it’s not a lock that he’ll automatically be the fourth outside linebacker. Adrian Robinson looked good Sunday, for example. “We like the play of the guys behind him,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of the release. “We thought the earlier we make that move to give Brandon a chance to go somewhere else would be beneficial to him.” The Redskins still have a roster spot available and will bring in some free agents Monday, including defensive end Everette Brown (as first reported by NBC-Channel 4).
  • Along with releasing Jenkins, the Redskins took offensive lineman Maurice Hurt off the physically unable to perform list. Hurt failed his physical and at the time Gruden said Hurt was out of shape, but said after further review “something wasn’t right and we wanted to make sure he was healthy.” But he declined to say what wasn’t right, but did say Hurt’s weight was fine. Hurt will have a tough time making the roster regardless.
  • Redskins owner Dan Snyder made his first appearance at training camp Sunday morning, a departure from last season when he was more present. Snyder used to be a staple at training camp practices. On a dreary day, the Redskins drew 6,668 fans in attendance on Military Appreciation Day.
  • Not sure what will get the players more jacked up: Going in full pads with more live hitting Monday morning or the fact that the walk-through that afternoon was cancelled. The Redskins never had live drills where there “might be some tackling involved,” Gruden said. As for giving the players the afternoon off, with an off day Tuesday, Gruden said, “I’m tired of looking at them and I want them out of the building for a few hours.”
  • Quarterback Robert Griffin III had one of his better throws in camp Sunday morning, tossing a deep out over corner E.J. Biggers to receiver Ryan Grant. Griffin got away with a couple passes that should have been intercepted, but were dropped. Griffin has cut down on the number of times he’s taken off from the pocket as camp has progressed (and it’s not always on him as to why he runs). He did take off one time and showed good speed getting around the edge, with linebacker Brian Orakpo in pursuit, but did not have room to do much other than get out of bounds. Also liked when Griffin whipped a pass underneath to tight end Jordan Reed, showing torque that he didn’t always display in 2013.

Meriweather's hits always a worry

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
RICHMOND, Va. -- They know he can’t hit a certain way. They also can’t promise that he won’t. And that’s going to be a season-long subplot for the Redskins and safety Brandon Meriweather.

Coach Jay Gruden half-joked Saturday that he was going to suspend Meriweather two practices for a hit. It’s another reminder to Meriweather to lower his target. The problem is, when instincts take over, it’s tough to know what’s going to happen. A hit deemed too violent might only be a few inches away from being a good one.

 Ryan Clark is right; football players, especially those on defense, must play with “reckless abandon.” But the bottom line is there are rules in place, and Meriweather flirts with danger in this area all the time.

“When you don’t play it full speed, when you don’t play it as physical as you could possibly play it, you leave yourself at a disadvantage,” Clark said.

When Meriweather returned after his one-game suspension last season, he did not draw another fine for any of his hits. At times he seemed to go lower; not all the time, however. But he’s going to have to do it the right way every game in order to stay on the field.

The issue here, too, is that the Redskins lack proven depth behind him. They liked how Phillip Thomas started to develop in camp last summer, but he suffered a Lisfranc injury in the first preseason game and needed surgery. Though he’s in camp and has been praised by the coaches, he’s never played in a real game. There’s no way to really know how he’d do if anything happened to Meriweather.

With Meriweather, the Redskins like to run certain blitzes from the corners knowing he has the speed to get to their vacant area. He plays with passion and brings energy and plays physical. Yes, he also takes chances and that’s gotten him in trouble with other teams.

What the Redskins need is for Meriweather to find stay aggressive, but also smart. Every hit he makes will be scrutinized. They say Meriweather has learned his lesson, yet it’s a topic that still comes up. There’s really no way to know if he has, but they do know this: The Redskins need him on the field.

RG III report: Learning on the go

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
RICHMOND, VA. -- His first two seasons overshadows this fact: Robert Griffin III is still a young quarterback. Which means there’s a constant learning curve for the third-year player.

 It happens every day in practice. On Friday, it poured throughout practice, and Griffin threw poorly missing targets with throws that weren't close. The entire offense was sloppy, but so was he. It rained again Sunday -- it had mostly stopped by the time practice began but the field was soggy. Griffin, aside from a couple throws, was better than he was two days ago and more accurate. A great day? No. A better day? Yes.

Another example: Griffin misread a blitz Saturday leading to a pick-six by corner DeAngelo Hall. Afterwards Griffin described what happened. After watching the film later that afternoon, he learned something else -- something coach Jay Gruden pointed out after reviewing the play as well. Griffin needed to hit tight end Jordan Reed, his primary target.

Instead, he looked off him too fast and went to his secondary target DeSean Jackson. But Hall, in a trap, stepped in front for the pick.

“Watching on film, Jordan was there and all I’ve got to do is throw to him and we move on to the next play,” Griffin said. “Those are the things you see when they bring those fire zone blitzes and buzzing guys out. Sometimes you can misplace the guy. I’ll never make that mistake again.

“It’s something you get used to seeing them bring a fire zone and rolling to a cover 2. You know they’ll probably miss Jordan underneath even though they’re buzzing out there and he’s breaking in. He’ll be open so that’s what you go to next time.”

  As for the wet conditions, Griffin should have been intercepted on two occasions early in practice -- by linebacker Keenan Robinson and corner David Amerson. Both dropped picks. But overall Griffin threw much more consistently than in the rain Friday. He said they did little things such as change their quarterback towels more often; he did not put his glove on until practice started to make sure it stayed dry as long as possible to keep its grip.

“It was beneficial to have another day like today,” Griffin said.

Early in camp Griffin took off running too many times on pass plays. It wasn’t always because of him, but he’s the one with the ball in his hands. It happened more frequently the first couple days and did so once in full-team work Sunday morning on a third-and-11.

“You go back and look at that and see what it was,” Griffin said. “See if it’s an opportunity to get the ball out or if I need to make a decision and run sooner. We’ve gotten better over the last three days in that aspect of everyone being on the same page knowing where guys need to be.”
These are a lot of the lessons Griffin could not learn last year without an offseason and with only a couple weeks of practice before the opener.

He’s started 28 regular-season games in his career, but he won’t turn 25 until the offseason.

“If you look at the quarterbacks in the league, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, they’re all still learning,” Griffin said. “That’s the beauty of the game. The more you play, the more you will learn. I’m only 24. They have some experiences I don’t, and I have some experiences they don’t. At the end of the day we’re all learning.”
RICHMOND, VA. -- Quarterback Robert Griffin III (and the offense) was down one day, up the next and mixed Saturday. He connected with DeSean Jackson on a deep ball, then had a miscommunication with Jackson that resulted in a pick-six for corner DeAngelo Hall. It also was Griffin's first interception of camp.

On the interception, the Redskins expected one defensive look but instead got more of a cover-2 shell. They corrected the issue afterward, but it led to a big play from Hall first when he was in the flat and close to Jackson and simply stepped in front. Next time, Jackson will not stop his route and instead will keep working inside. By stopping his route, it enabled Hall, on the outside, to quickly step in front. Griffin had a sloppy day Thursday, but had not thrown a pick. And Friday he avoided danger with accurate throws away from danger.

On the long one from Griffin to Jackson, Griffin ran a boot to the right and hit Jackson deep. Yes, Jackson beat undrafted rookie Courtney Bridget, so take that into consideration. But Jackson is getting deep on a lot of guys.

Meanwhile, much is being made of receiver Andre Roberts and Griffin’s chemistry. Thus far, it’s legit. Some of it is a function of the routes Roberts ends up running, but it’s more than just that. They connected a couple times again Saturday. On one, the defense sent two blitzers from the left side. With Roberts in the slot to the right, it was a good read by both he and Griffin. The quarterback quickly got Roberts the ball over the middle and, in a real game, he would have had room to run. I’m going to write more on Roberts in my camp report update at the end of the day. But this was a good job by both receiver and quarterback in terms of recognition and execution.

Redskins Camp Report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
RICHMOND, Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Washington Redskins training camp:

  • The Redskins’ offense, after a rugged day Thursday, rebounded with a much sharper performance. It featured a strong throwing day not only by starting quarterback Robert Griffin III, but backup Kirk Cousins as well. Cousins threw some excellent passes. Griffin threw more intermediate and short passes, but he was more on time with his delivery and accurate. He did a better job of giving receivers a chance to run after the catch. The protection held up better as well. “It wasn’t a very good practice [Thursday],” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The tempo wasn’t as clean and sharp as I would like it and had to challenge them. So they responded very well today.”
  • It was the Gruden Family Day at training camp Friday. Jon Gruden attended and spoke at a high school coaches clinic on the other side of the facility. And their father, Jim, also watched practice. There was the usual jokes about which brother was the better athlete (shocker: both claimed the title, though only one played Division I college football and he’s now coaching the Redskins). But it meant something for their father to be at the camp. “This was the first time he’s been on a plane in a long time,” Jay Gruden said. “He traveled a lot as a scout and a coach over the years and loves to play golf so to get him on a plane and off the course is a treat. ... When I played college football he was a scout and never missed one game. So, obviously, there’s a lot of family. We’re very close obviously and to get him up here is special.”
  • The first day of the place kicker competition was a draw. The Redskins worked on kickoffs (Zach Hocker’s were longer than Kai Forbath's) and field goals. Forbath made all four of his attempts -- two from 35 yards, as well as from 43 and 45 yards. All were down the middle, though the latter was too low and, with a hard rush, would have been in danger of being blocked. Hocker made his three attempts from 38, 40 and 45 yards. All were dead middle and at a good height.
  • Last summer, running back Chris Thompson didn’t show much of his speed during training camp. You knew he was fast, having showed his speed in college. But he was coming off knee surgery and rarely flashed in practice. He showed some bursts in the preseason, but not enough. However, it was evident in the spring he had improved. And, Friday, Thompson’s burst was more evident. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the hands, he’s got the quickness,” Gruden said. “He’s got everything you’re looking for. We’ve just got to make sure he stays healthy.”
  • After a less-than-full showing on a dreary first day of camp, the Redskins said they drew 8,600 for their second day. It was a perfect day, maybe the best over the next several as the forecast for Saturday and Sunday calls for temperatures between 93-95 degrees. It “drops” to 91 degrees on Monday. But this is one reason why Gruden moved practice to 8:35 a.m. so they could avoid the heat. The Redskins had moved their practices to the afternoon the past two camps under Mike Shanahan in part because he wanted them to walk through plays, go over them in meetings and then practice at full speed.

Redskins Camp Report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
RICHMOND, Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • Robert Griffin III did not have a strong day throwing the ball for a variety of reasons. This is a crucial season for Griffin, who now has a coach he feels comfortable with and more weapons at his disposal. So he must produce and show improvement. He knows it. Griffin did not have a great start to camp, though it wasn't as if his protection was all that great either. One thing when throwing to DeSean Jackson: You need time. He will get open, but at times Griffin will have to sit in the pocket for 3.5 seconds. “Robert was a little erratic,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “The balls were a little wet early on, the ball didn't come out of his hand right a couple of times. He'll be the first to tell you he needs to improve and I'll be the second to tell you he needs to improve. That's going to be the case every day.”
  • It wasn't just Griffin who struggled offensively. There were dropped passes. There were missed assignments (not atypical on a first day of course). The flip side, of course, is that the defense did a solid job. The question with the defense involves yards after contact, something they've done a poor job with in recent years. And with no live hitting it's hard to know if they've improved in that area. But their rush was solid, with pressure inside and occasionally off the edge.
  • Jackson's speed was evident, once again. Not that anyone had doubts about Jackson's speed, but you could see it in the spring and once more Thursday. He sped past the defense on a skinny post deep that resulted in an underthrown incompletion. The next time they tried to hook up, Griffin led him on a deep ball as he needed. It allowed Jackson to make a long run, creating a little more separation from the defensive back. Jackson dropped the ball however. If they can gain some consistency on the deep ball -- Griffin must get used to throwing to someone with Jackson's acceleration downfield -- they will become a dangerous weapon.
  • On Wednesday, Jay Gruden talked about having a schedule, but knowing he had to be flexible. He found out why a day later: Heavy rain caused a 30-minute delay to the start of practice in the morning and a thunderstorm forced them indoors in the afternoon. It rained throughout the morning, easing up in the second half of the workout. “We were fortunate to get every play in,” Gruden said. The players put a positive spin on the rain. “You have a practice like today where weather plays a huge factor and you have to block that out,” Griffin said. “We got better just having to go through a wet practice.”
  • One player who can't be overlooked with the attention so heavily on the receivers is tight end Jordan Reed. He did not do anything spectacular Thursday, but he did make a nice grab over the top of strong safety Phillip Thomas. It was a throw that required confidence and trust from Griffin because the coverage was sound. But Griffin clearly trusted Reed last season and still does. Reed catches anything near him so even if Griffin is a little off Reed has shown it doesn't always make a difference.
RICHMOND, Va. -- One word jumped out to Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden when discussing what Robert Griffin III needs most.

“Repetition,” Gruden said. “Reps, reps, reps.”

And then Gruden added:

“You can never have too many reps.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiThis offseason has provided Robert Griffin III the necessary reps he didn't get last year while recovering from injury.
Apparently not. Reps are exactly what Griffin needs after not getting many last summer, and certainly none before that point. For a young quarterback, and Griffin is only entering his third season, nothing is bigger than, well, reps.

Griffin spent all offseason working on his fundamentals and learning Gruden’s offense. But there’s more for him to do.

“The more you see that play against different defenses, the more you see the blitzes that he has to handle from a quarterback position, step it up in the pocket, his fundamentals, his footwork,” Gruden said. “It’s very difficult to miss an entire training camp and a preseason and come in Week 1 and say, ‘Here’s the ball. Go play’ It’s very difficult, so all quarterbacks need the reps. They desire the chance to compete not only on Sunday but every day during the week, and Robert is an ultimate competitor.”

Gruden made it clear, just in case it wasn’t, that Griffin is the best quarterback in camp -- by a good amount. Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy are the backups. Of course, the Redskins have made it a point to make life more comfortable for Griffin after a rugged 2013 season. Griffin was heavily involved in recruiting players from other teams; his happiness in public or private conversations was evident. He has a new lease with a new coach and no knee injury to worry about.

The coaches have been pleased with how Griffin has handled himself mentally, saying he’s doing a great job with the command of the game, his progressions, his audibles to runs. More is needed.

“He’s got a long way to go. He understands that,” Gruden said. “The preparation -- both physical and mental preparation -- he’s got a great understanding and a great feel for that already as a young guy and the maturation process that he has to have.

“The ability to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, take criticism -- it makes you a better person and a stronger man, and he’s realizing that, and he’s just going to continue to get better. He’s got all the talent in the world, there’s no question about it, so we’ve just got to get it out of him each and every day. He’s going to come to work and try to be a great player.”

Another obvious storyline is Gruden and Griffin’s relationship. Gruden did say “The big thing is not to make it so much about Robert, but make it about the Redskins.”

But Gruden also said when it comes to their situation that, “happiness comes with wins.” But Gruden understands a happy Griffin could be a highly productive one.

“Nobody’s going to be happy if we’re 2-14,” Gruden said. “Our whole goal is to make sure we make him as comfortable as possible with this system and that when he’s out there on Sundays, he’s comfortable and feels good about the direction we’re going offensively. And if we can make him feel comfortable and put him in a comfort zone and a place where he can succeed, then I feel like we’ll have a much better chance with this franchise to be successful.”

Quick Takes: Jay Gruden's presser

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23

Notes and observations from Jay Gruden's presser Wednesday:
  • Jay Gruden clearly had more of a game face on than previous pressers. Yes, you can tell that training camp is here. It's not like he was uptight (the way Joe Gibbs would get on Fridays during the season). And it's not as if his answers were short (Gruden speaks in paragraphs; that's good for a writer). But he was definitely locked in on what he wants to accomplish in camp.
  • He has a bit of crustiness to him, like when he said, "Nothing is worse than when you let someone go and they kick your ass later on."
  • A little crustiness is good, but it's also part of his personality. Gruden is a friendly guy and the players seem to like him. That's great if you win. But he's not just here to win friends. "My relationship with all the players, hopefully is a good one and a strong one," he said, "one that I'm the coach, they're the player. Moving forward, I've got their back and we are going to do everything we can to help them." The key part: He's the coach, they're the players. Otherwise, you end up allowing players to run the ship. And that's where a little crustiness can help him.
  • Gruden will rely on others, something we already knew. It's one reason why the Redskins wanted to keep Jim Haslett around, to provide guidance from experienced voices. But Gruden reiterated Wednesday that "every decision I make will have input." Whether this works or not, I don't know. But I think the result is a staff that feels more ownership; same with the players. Now they just have to prove they can win.
  • Gruden was asked if he looked at previous coaches who have struggled in Washington and what he could learn. The problem is, they all struggled for different reasons but in general it's been an organizational issue. Some lacked players; others lacked support; others lacked the ability to do the job. What Gruden needs to do is get quarterback Robert Griffin III to play at a certain level and make sure the defense improves.
  • Any time to reflect on his journey to reach this spot ended long ago and probably shortly after Gruden accepted the job -- he made it clear he likes to look forward. His feelings now? "Anticipation. You're excited about the season. You're nervous. you've got butterflies walking out there every day."
  • Do not expect any crazy drills during practices from Gruden. "I don't think there's any special drill I'm going to do that nobody's ever done before. I hope not. It'll be football." Translation: No slip-and-slides.
  • This is not related to Gruden, but: Maurice Hurt is in a battle to win a roster spot and he reports out of shape? What are the odds that he somehow wins that roster spot? I did not think he was going to make the roster before camp. His chances just went down. Seriously; how does this happen?
RICHMOND, Va. -- The Washington Redskins will open training camp with four players on the physically unable to perform list, including one prized free-agent signing. But only three will be on there because of existing injuries.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher (knee), defensive end Stephen Bowen (knee) and receiver Leonard Hankerson (knee) all will start camp on the PUP list. So, too, will offensive lineman Maurice Hurt, though coach Jay Gruden said he’s on there because he’s “out of shape.” That’s bad news for Hurt, who is in a fight just to earn a roster spot.

Gruden would not speculate as to when the others would return, but said Hatcher, a big free-agent signing to help the pass rush, likely would return before the others. Players can be activated off the PUP list at any time during camp. Hatcher underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee in June and was scheduled to miss four to six weeks. If it takes six weeks, that would mean he’d miss the first two weeks of camp.

Bowen is coming off microfracture surgery and Hankerson tore his ACL and LCL last season. Meanwhile, corner Richard Crawford (coming off ACL surgery) and corner Tracy Porter (shoulder surgery) will be available from the start of camp.

NFL coaches offer Jay Gruden advice

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
Early in the Washington Redskins' spring workouts, it became clear. Jay Gruden was being Jay Gruden on the field. He served as a defensive back on some plays, a safety on others and brought an energy that was his own. It was a good first step in being a head coach in the NFL: Be yourself. That's what most coaches always say and Gruden, with a brother who won a Super Bowl and a father who has been involved in the game for decades knows this.

Of course, it's about much more than pretending you're a defensive back: It's having core beliefs and staying true to them as well, whether it's in how you delegate or how you deal with player problems. In that regard, Gruden remains a work-in-progress.

Gruden's first camp begins Thursday, with players reporting Wednesday. There's still so much to learn about how he'll be as a coach -- and going through his first season will be revealing, whether good or bad.

"I don't know how I'm going to be," Gruden said earlier this offseason. "I'll be myself and go from there. The biggest thing is you want to give your players every avenue to be successful. If they need a kick in the rear you kick them in the rear. If they need a pat on the back, you pat them on the back and hopefully I'm a good judge of when to do both. We'll see."

Gruden also saw how Marvin Lewis handled his job in Cincinnati. Lewis has held the Bengals' job since 2003, despite a couple rough seasons. Perhaps it gives a clue as to how Gruden wants to be.

"Marvin is a father figure to those guys," Gruden said. "Treats them all with respect, didn't take a lot of stuff off the field or on the field, great with discipline but also maintained a loose ship. He had a consistent approach every day. He didn't treat A.J. Green differently than he did Dane Sanzenbacher. That's important."

Before Gruden gets started with camp, we deliver him some wisdom gathered earlier this offseason from a handful of other coaches on their advice for a first-time head coach:

Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis: "The first thing you learn so much of is that you have to deal with injuries. That's the thing more than anything else. Dealing with injuries is difficult. And those are the unforeseen things that happen all the time. You're not sure when it's going to happen and you're not sure who will be the next person. It's inevitable that you'll get a surprise on a Wednesday or Thursday that you didn't know about on Monday or Tuesday. You're going to have the left corner who now has this issue and the right guard has this issue and so forth. Why aren't I playing more? Why am I not doing this? You have more on your plate to deal with than you've ever had."

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassCoaches from around the league offer valuable advice to Washington's Jay Gruden as he preps for his first training camp as the head coach.
San Diego's Mike McCoy: "I'm still learning to this day on a number of things. Certain situations will come up and it's the first time for something and you learn something new every day. I was comfortable from Day 1 doing it. You have to understand you have to make that decision now. Sometimes the hardest part is how quickly do you make that decision or put your stamp on it whatever it is."

Kansas City's Andy Reid: "It was important that I'm asking players to let their personality show that I let mine show, that they know I'm all in and most of all that you'll give them an opportunity from a coaching standpoint to be the best they can possibly be. You have to present that to the guys and it has to be real. Players can read through it like that if you're putting on an act. I try to be myself and be honest. Sometimes that can be the hardest thing. You're dealing with young kids, but this is their livelihood. They're making a lot of money. In a lot of cases they're making more money than their parents ever dreamed of making. You have to be honest with them. That's very important."

Tennessee's Ken Whisenhunt: "There's a lot more going on than what you anticipate and what you're exposed to as a coordinator. You're only looking at one side of the ball. When you step into that role as a head coach now all of a sudden you have all three phases. You have a lot of different things going on. I wouldn't say I wasn't prepared for it, but the volume of things that come up as well as the things that are non-football, like what time do the buses leave to go to the airport for the road trip. It's fitting all those things into your schedule and making time to make sure you get them all done while you're still involved with football is an important piece of it. ...There's a lot of things on your plate. I was lucky because I had good coaches I could lean on. That's a big piece of it, too."

Baltimore's John Harbaugh: "The biggest thing is how big the job is. There's a lot going on all around you and it moves quickly. I didn't really understand that at first. You've got to live it, not just one year either. You learn every year. It's a complicated job."

Denver's John Fox: "The first thing is to be yourself. Most of us aren't smart enough to be anybody else. All these guys here work hard, it's not like you have to learn that. And you don't get to spend much time with football, you're managing people. I didn't want to be a head coach for a long time because of that. Then I decided it's something I wanted to try and I actually enjoy it, the managing of people -- whether it's your coaching staff, hiring your staff. That's a real important thing to begin with and then it's just managing. You have your own managing style but be yourself. That would be the first thing I'd tell guys."

Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin: "That was a long time ago, man. I'm trying to get better every year and for me it's all about that. I realize the variables change. I need to be what my guys need me to be as opposed to what they want me to be. That's always my focus."
On Tuesday, I wrote Part 1 of what to expect from DeSean Jackson, based on watching every catch he made in 2013, as well as other pass attempts his way and other plays in which he wasn't involved. Here are the rest of my observations:

    [+] EnlargeMichael Vick and DeSean Jackson
    AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherDeSean Jackson was just slightly more productive downfield with Michael Vick than with Nick Foles.
  1. Initially, I thought there was a big difference in big plays when Michael Vick threw him the ball compared to Nick Foles. Of his 25 catches from Vick, Jackson had 15 plays of 10 or more yards and nine of more than 20. Of his 57 catches from Foles and Matt Barkley, 34 resulted in 10 or more yards (two from Barkley) and 17 went 20 yards or more (all from Foles). In the end, 36 percent of his passes from Vick resulted in 20-plus gains compared to 29.6 from Foles. And the number of 10-plus plays is 60 percent from Vick and 59.6 from the others. Vick had a stronger arm, but Jackson still got the ball downfield with Foles.
  2. His presence clearly helps others. Against Oakland, the Eagles ran a bubble screen to LeSean McCoy to Jackson's side. Because Jackson was on that side, the corner on that side sank more while the safety was initially aligned deeper. Made for an easy catch-and-run for McCoy. Against Green Bay, Riley Cooper caught a touchdown pass on a deep post. But Jackson had run a similar route from the other side, occupying the safety and leaving Cooper one-on-one.
  3. Also in that Green Bay game, Jackson caught a 55-yard touchdown pass in which he was not the first option. But Foles did a nice job looking off the safety and working his way to Jackson.
  4. Be creative with how you use him. The Eagles did a good job of aligning him in various spots or creating movement for him on crosses by sending him in motion from out wide to inside the numbers, as they did against Arizona and corner Patrick Peterson. In that game, Jackson caught a wheel route out of the backfield for a 25-yard gain. Peterson was caught in traffic on the only ball Jackson caught against him. Peterson's patience at the line helped, as did his speed. But the creative use helped on this play; saw him run that route with success against Minnesota as well.
  5. In a 2012 game against Peterson, Jackson created separation where he looked like he would be running a go-route (no safety help), but came back and was open by five yards. Another time he caught a pass but it really stemmed from Vick throwing a bullet on time because Peterson was right there.
  6. Bigger corners can have trouble against him if they can't turn and run.
  7. In other games, some of Jackson's routes take time to develop. Against Minnesota he caught a 21-yard deep out in which Foles needed 3.4 seconds to throw. Another one, a deep crossing route, took 3.9 seconds. The Eagles' line held up well in these circumstances. If the Redskins' protection does not do the same, some of these routes will be useless.
  8. I liked how Jackson adapted when Vick or even Foles had to scramble. Works well with a mobile quarterback.
  9. A lot was made of Jackson's showing against New Orleans in the playoffs when he caught just three passes for 53 yards. Foles didn't see him get wide open on an inside release in man coverage; it would have been a huge gainer. Foles did work the safety well on another deep ball, keeping him away from Jackson and leading to a 40-yard pass interference penalty. So a mediocre numbers day could have been much better if the pass interference penalty counted in his yardage or if Foles had seen him break wide open. But the Saints also paid extra attention to him on other routes, leading to catches by tight end Zach Ertz.
  10. Of course, none of this takes into account any possible issues that might have arisen with him in the locker room. Jackson has his flaws. But the point is, Jackson is an excellent receiver who did good work in Philadelphia -- not just because of Chip Kelly's system, either.