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Five Takeaways: Matt Cavanaugh 2017 OTAs, Day 9

Posted Jun 7, 2017

Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels provides five takeaways from Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who spoke with the media on June 7, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.

Redskins.com's Jake Kring-Schreifels provides five takeaways from Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who spoke with the media on June 7, 2017, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.


1. Running the offense will be a group effort this year.

Former offensive coordinator Sean McVay called plays for the Redskins during the last two years, a task that head coach Jay Gruden will now take back in 2017. So where does that leave new coordinator Matt Cavanaugh? “So far, it’s been helping,” he said to the media on Wednesday following OTAs.

Cavanaugh’s wealth of experience will help when it comes to in-game adjustments and providing insight to quarterback Kirk Cousins, extending their relationship from the past two seasons. But he’s not worried about teaching a whole new offense to players and coaches.

“Between Jay, myself, all the other offensive coaches, we’ve all got input into what goes into the game plan,” Cavanaugh said. “When I was in Baltimore, we used to have a saying, ‘Anybody can call the game.’ That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the point there is if everybody understands the game plan so well, what plays are in, why they’re in, what looks we want to run them again, you really could have anybody call the game. And I’m not discounting Jay’s expertise in that field, but we’re going to help game plan not only during the week but with in-game adjustments, things that myself or other coaches see, give him information and let him make the calls.”

2. There is a lot of confidence in the running backs group.

Despite Robert Kelley going undrafted and being almost an afterthought during OTAs last year, the Redskins will lean on him this year to take a big step as the lead running back, a role he carved out midway through 2016.

That being said, the team still has a few strong options behind him that have the same body type and intensity to their approach. With Chris Thompson, Mack Brown, Keith Marshall and rookie Samaje Perine all competing at OTAs over the past few weeks, Cavanaugh is confident in the group he has to work with.

“We just feel like we’ve got depth at that position now with a lot of similar-type players: stocky, quick-footed, strong, smart guys that can sub in for each other,” he said.

That might make it hard to determine the amount of playing time each of them gets. Some decisions will be made based on the situation, down or distance. But Cavanaugh said he is also happy to keep a back in for consecutive series depending on his success, explaining this by borrowing some baseball phrases.

“I wouldn’t put a pitch count on any of them,” Cavanaugh said.  “But obviously if a guy’s got a hot hand and he’s feeling good and he’s not gassed, we’ll keep him on the field. Ideally, maybe have some third-down reps too. Historically here, Chris [Thompson] has been our third-down back, but there’s no reason why can’t play him on first and second down. But just rotating the backs, keeping them fresh, we’ve got confidence in all of them.”

3. Finding depth is Cavanaugh's main goal for the offensive line.

By now it’s been well-established that the Redskins have assembled an extremely strong and intelligent unit of offensive linemen, a group that has played together for at least two consecutive years now.

Cavanaugh said he looks at them as “one being,” because they communicate and operate so effectively together and work hard to keep establishing that trust.

“They’re a huge part of what we do, if not the most important part,” Cavanaugh said. “We all put our focus on the skill positions, watching the quarterback throw, [watching] guys catch, guys run, but none of that happens if you’re not a cohesive unit up front. They’ve displayed now for the two years that I’ve been here – two-plus – they get that and they know that everything goes through them and they take a lot of pride in that.”

Because of this, Cavanaugh’s primary focus has been analyzing backups and seeing who might be a valuable addition to the roster come September. He's been looking for the early indications of their skills and ability to handle the offense after a couple weeks of learning.

“We’re working on depth at the offensive line, because inevitably you’re going to have to substitute somebody in at some point,” he said. “But we’re very confident in their abilities and in their leadership.”

4. There are multiple ways to improve in the red zone.

One of the sticking points and reasons the Redskins struggled offensively despite all of the yardage records they posted last year was poor play in the red zone. Cousins and company had trouble finding a rhythm and exploiting defenses in the same way they had in 2015.

Cavanaugh chalks that up to not executing – in play calls, in passes, in catches and in runs. He dispelled the notion that big receivers will inherently solve all of these issues in 2017.

“But that will be a part of it,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re going to have more size on the perimeter. But we’ve got some talented people. We’ve spent a lot of time this offseason studying everybody in the league and some of their red zone concepts. Many we already have in our playbook, a couple that we’ve added. So now we’ve got to go out and execute over the next three months and get ready for the season to start and hopefully we have that consistency with a good mix of run and pass down there and just make more plays, quite honestly.”

5. Being on the same page with new receivers will take some time.

Cavanaugh has some experience working with new receivers as a former quarterback himself and knows that patience is required for a quarterback and wide receiver to have a strong connection. Cousins is still adjusting to Terrelle Pryor Sr.’s speed and height and learning what Josh Doctson can bring to the table.

“We let two receivers go that were very productive for us last year, over the last couple of years, but we feel confident with the people that we brought in and we’ve already got in-house some really good receivers,” Cavanaugh said.

Gruden mentioned last week that he likes the depth he has at receiver and Cavanaugh agreed, believing that Cousins, with some individual work, will soon have a better understanding about each receiver’s skills, strengths and speeds up through training camp.

“I think he’s starting to understand what abilities each receiver has, where a ball needs to be placed for them to be able to make a play on it, what kind of tempo he runs with, what kind of second gear he’s got, if he throws the ball out in front of a receiver,” Cavanaugh said. “I think all of those things just take time. But I’m not going to discount at all the fact that we’ve got already in-house some really good receivers.”

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