Here’s five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden’s press sessions Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.*
1. Gruden is “optimistic” that quarterback Kirk Cousins will be on the Redskins somehow in 2016, but doesn’t know yet if that will be due to a long-term contract deal or the franchise tag.
“I feel pretty good about it one way or another,” Gruden told reporters just before he went up to the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium and conducted his press conference.
Gruden said Cousins – who turned in one of the best performances by a Redskins quarterback in 2015 – is deserving of a multi-year contract, but wants the team to do what’s best for its long-term interests, as well.
“We’d like to have Kirk back on our football team, no doubt. He made serious strides,” Gruden said. “Showed a lot of improvement throughout the season and we feel great about his upside and letting him be the starter from Day 1 in OTAs, training camp and then taking the job and running with it and seeing how much he improves.”
A full offseason of work as the starter for Cousins could mean big things for the Redskins’ offense in 2015.
“I think once he felt he put himself in that position you could see his confidence grow and his performance get better and better,” Gruden said. “Now with an offseason with the same program and same system and Sean [McVay] and coach [Matt] Cavanaugh he’ll get better and better, no question.”
2. Defensive end Jason Hatcher could be “leaning towards playing” in 2016.
Hatcher, 33, hinted at the possibility of retirement the day after the Redskins’ Wild Card round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in January.
At 6-foot-6, 299 pounds, the 10-year veteran out of Grambling State has logged some quality time throughout his career, collecting 250 tackles, 34.5 sacks, nine pass deflections, an interception and five forced fumbles and fumble recoveries apiece with the Dallas Cowboys (2006-13) and Redskins (2014-15).
Hatcher’s now had more than a month to consider his options, and Gruden said they crossed paths recently at a Northern Virginia restaurant. After having a small discussion, Gruden said he’s still not completely sure whether Hatcher will play or not in 2016, but he’d be more than happy to welcome back one of his unquestioned leaders if he decides to put on the pads again.
“He’s had a chance to sit back and think about it,” Gruden said. “And he’s still in the process of thinking about it. I think he’s learning towards playing, I would guess right now. But we’ll have to wait and see. He’s put a lot of good years in. Body was a little bit beat up last year at the end of the year, but I think he’s starting to recover, feel a lot better so I think his mind will change a little bit as he gets closer to time to kick off.”
3. Gruden expects his top two receivers, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon, to retain their roles with the team in 2016.
One player, when healthy, is the league’s top deep threat, able to blow the top off a defense at any time, any situation.
Check out the top images of DeSean Jackson from the 2015 season.
The other player is tough as nails across the middle, willing and able to sacrifice his body to gain every extra inch towards the first-down marker and end zone.
Having Jackson and Garçon as your No. 1 and 2 options is a luxury Gruden and the Redskins’ offense certainly enjoys utilizing each Sunday. But, like any talented football player, these two players certainly are paid well for their efforts and each offseason those who cover the team wonder out loud about the possibility of cutting one or the other to save cap room to perhaps sign another player or two in their place.
But both Jackson and Garçon are under contract for the 2016 season, and Gruden doesn’t see a scenario, barring injury, in which one or both are not with the team come Week 1.
“They’re on our roster, so we’re excited about it,” Gruden said. “Get DeSean in there full time healthy, which is great. There is no substitution for speed, and DeSean gives us that. And Pierre is one of the toughest receivers in the game, and they complement each other very well.”
Jackson battled through an injury-plagued 2015 season to come back strong the second half of the year. In nine total games, he caught 30 passes for 528 yards (17.6 yards per reception) with four touchdowns, including a long of 77 yards.
Garçon turned in a solid all-around year for Washington in 2015, playing in all 16 games for a third straight season and hauling in 72 receptions for 777 yards and six touchdowns.
“Throw Jordan Reed in the middle, and it’s a pretty good arsenal of weapons,” Gruden said.
4. On the other side of the ball, Gruden at this time does not believe inside linebacker Keenan Robinson will return to the team in 2016.
Robinson’s first four years in the NFL featured many ups and many downs.
Selected by the Redskins in the fourth round (119th overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft, Robinson showed great promise as a rookie, playing in 11 games before his season was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle.
He had worked his way back to tremendous shape by the next training camp, only to tear another pectoral muscle, once again ending his 2013 season before it ever began.
But Robinson returned with a vengeance in 2014. Tasked with replacing the great London Fletcher, who had retired after the 2013 season, Robinson led the Redskins with 108 total tackles, adding 1.5 sacks with one interception and a fumble recovery. But perhaps it was Robinson’s display of athleticism on the field in coverage that caught the most eyes, as he showed the ability to glide from sideline to sideline with ease.
He wouldn’t be so fortunate in 2015, however. He played in 12 games, starting eight, and although he did have 63 tackles, an interception of Tom Brady and a fumble recovery, Robinson suffered a shoulder injury Week 9, and, by the time he returned, he was relegated mostly to roles on special teams and as a backup after the emergence of Will Compton and Mason Foster at inside linebacker.
With is rookie deal officially complete with the start of the new league year March 9, Gruden said it’s likely Robinson will be suiting up with another team in 2016.
“Keenan finished off strong for us, was good in the locker room,” Gruden said. “But I think he’s going to hit free agency and probably land somewhere else.”
5. Gruden doesn’t want to say running back Alfred Morris, a free-agent-to-be, is a “longshot” to re-sign with the Redskins.
Morris has been Washington’s workhorse back since Week 1 of his rookie year in 2012, when the team selected him in the sixth round out of Florida Atlantic. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler – and probably should’ve added a third selection to his honors for a record-breaking rookie season – and is a model citizen on and off the field.
But the running back position is tricky in the NFL, and Morris has seen his productivity dip with each passing season: 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012; 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013; 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014; and 751 yards and one touchdown in 2015.
With Morris’ rookie deal up March 9, the consensus among team reporters has been that the Redskins likely won’t bring him back.
“I’m not going to say he’s a longshot,” Gruden said. “There’s not one negative thing I can say about Alfred Morris as a person and as a player. When you talk about running backs the most important things you talk about are ball security and durability. He’s been durable and he’s protected the football. He’s been very productive. And those are three things that are hard to say about any running back for the amount of time he’s played the position. We wish him well if we don’t get him done, but if we do get him done we’ll welcome him back with open arms.”