Here's five takeaways from Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's sitdown at the coaches breakfast while at the 2018 Owners Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
1. Alex Smith brings both leadership and ability with him to Washington. Gruden expects him to help move along the offense in 2018.Acquired via trade on the first day of the new league year, the Redskins got their quarterback for this season and the future in Alex Smith.
While Smith’s career trajectory started with slow progress, he blossomed during his five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. During that span, Smith won 50 regular season games, third most in the league behind only Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.
Smith’s ability to win football games was coupled with smart decision-making and the ability to move the ball. During the 2017 season, Smith completed 341-of-505 attempts for career highs in both passing yards (4,042) and passing touchdowns (26) while being intercepted only five times.
Those are the kind of numbers that makes Gruden excited to see the 14-year-old veteran under center for Washington.
“It’s his entire body of work,” Gruden said. “He’s very good with the intermediate ball. He’s good with the quick game. Obviously he gets the ball out of his hands with the screens and all that stuff. He can run the zone reads, the RPOs, very exciting. The intermediate passes, the deep ball, I mean, and then obviously the ability to ad lib and make plays that aren’t there are exciting – keep plays alive.
“So, really, you know, coaching him I think for the first time will be exciting because I don’t think there’s a limit right now on what he can do. He’s got all the things you want a quarterback to be able to do.”
Along with setting personal best in both passing yards and passing touchdowns last year, Smith also was the league’s best deep ball passer according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats.
With Smith’s accuracy on deep attempts, Gruden expects the offense to open up.
“I think over time he probably got a little bit better and maybe had a little bit better skill set of guys he could throw to, but the ability has always been there, but I think he’s maybe starting to gain a little bit more confidence in doing it and maybe taking a few more shots as a result of his success,” Gruden said. “But we’ll wait and see. I don’t have any doubt that Alex can throw the deep ball.”
2. The Redskins are adding a recovery center at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
While Gruden won’t use last season’s injuries as the excuse for a 7-9 record, the reality is that the Redskins were severely impacted by the injury bug.
More than 20 players ended the season on Injured Reserve including two starting offensive linemen, a Pro Bowl tight end and the team’s first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
During the offseason, the team discussed ways to help the players as they rehab and rest. The plan that came together was making additions to the team’s facilities with state-of-the-art equipment.
“Our trainer will be here shortly with the final projection and we’ll get it started I think starting Monday,” Gruden said. “He’s flying up to London – or he’s flying over there – to check out some recovery centers at some of the soccer facilities that they have over there. So we’re adding quite a few things that will hopefully help in the recovery process. Will it cure injuries? A guy getting rolled up on or a shoulder or an Achilles? No. But I think in order to help guys after games recover could be beneficial to everybody. It better be, because it’s quite expensive [laughter].”
Gruden said that player input also helped determined a decision on making additions.
“There’s a lot of these tanks and things that they’ve been using, some of them, on their own,” Gruden said. “Now, we’re just trying to have access so they can use them at the facility. Obviously our facility is not gigantic, we can’t add too many of them, but it’s a great start for them.”
3. The Redskins aren’t being frugal in free agency, they’re just being patient.
Gruden has been a head coach with the Redskins long enough now to know the popular refrains during the start of free agency in March. If the team isn’t pursuing and signing multiple free agents, it’s being financially timid. If the team is signing numerous players to big contracts, the team is being financially volatile. For the most part, it’s a lose-lose scenario.
The Redskins, of course, have been somewhere down the middle so far, paying for a new wide receiver in Paul Richardson Jr., re-signing its valuable inside linebacker Zach Brown and bringing in a veteran outside linebacker (Pernell McPhee) and cornerback (Orlando Scandrick).
“We’re trying to do what we think as an organization is going to make our team better next year,” Gruden said. “Sometimes you don’t have to go out and sign 35 or 40 guys like certain teams have done. I think we’re able to play a lot of guys last year, we have a lot of guys on our roster that I feel good about, a core group of guys on our team that I feel like can compete. Get those guys ready to go, continue in there developmental process, add some key components in the draft and college free agents. Sprinkle in a few free agents here, from now until training camp and I think we’re ready to compete.”
With the amount of injuries suffered last season, Gruden knows there are many variables when it comes to players still on the roster, which if they return healthy can be similar to free agent additions.
“Montae Nicholson’s a great example,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to get this guy going, we think he’s got a chance to be as good a safety as there is in pro football and pairing him up with D.J. is great. So do we go out and sign a key free agent at safety? And convince him what? That you’re going to be the third safety? That’s hard.”
Even if the team isn’t able to land Jonathan Hankins, who has visited with the Redskins and has yet to make a decision on where to play, Gruden feels comfortable with those returning on the line and adding elsewhere, such as the draft.
“Middle linebacker we’ve got Zach [Brown] and Mason [Foster] we feel good about. Outside backers we feel pretty good about. Getting Jonathan [Allen] back full-time is huge on the inside, and pair him up with Matt [Ioannidis] and the rest of the guys on the inside,” Gruden said. “So, there are some areas that we can add to our depth, and will, but we feel good about our team and where it is.”
4. The Redskins will be without three key pieces during offseason workouts, but they are on track to return healthy by training camp.When the Redskins’ offseason workout program transitions to on-field activities, the offense will look a little bit different than it will once the regular season opener rolls around.
Gruden confirmed that tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses and tight end Jordan Reed will not participate in OTAs.
“There is concern, when you have guys coming off of injuries,” Gruden said when asked specifically about Williams and Moses. “The big concern is that you want them healthy. Both good guys. They both work extremely hard and they’re both great players. So we got to get them right. I don’t want Trent to go through what he went through last year, he played through a lot of pain and very uncomfortable, and really showed what type of team player, what type of leader he is by trying to do that.
“Morgan did the same thing, both of his ankles were flared up on him pretty good and he came out of multiple games. But still tried to fight through it, and it’s not easy for these guys carrying that much weight that big when you have knees and ankles, but both of them fought through it and hopefully they’ll be back healthy soon.”
Gruden also said that the team has “taken the necessary steps” to get Reed ready for the upcoming season.
“I think he’s had some procedures done on his toes and now it’s just a matter of the rehab and he’s been working hard at it,” Gruden said. “He’s been working on his upper body while his toe are recovering, so hopefully we’ll see a 100 percent healthy Jordan by training camp.”
5. Gruden thinks there’s plenty of talent available at No. 13 in the draft for a top-end starter.Because this year’s NFL Draft has several quarterbacks that might be taken within the first 10, or even five picks, the Redskins will be in a position of great strength and opportunity when their selection at No. 13 comes along.
One thing is for sure: Gruden knows the team will be drafting a starter. The question is now a matter of which position that starter will play. As of now, both offense and defense are all in play for the Redskins, who will likely have a chance to take an extremely talented player at a variety of positions, including defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, running back and wide receiver.
“Targeting the right guy, the right fit is another story,” Gruden said. “So, we’ve got a lot of work to do on that.”
Names that have circulated recently include LSU running back Derrius Guice, as Gruden promised on Tuesday “there will be another running back in the building by the time we start training camp and probably after the draft, yes.”
“You’re going to get possibly the best corner, possibly the best nose tackle, defensive tackle, possibly the best inside backer, possibly the best receiver on the board,” Gruden said, “so there’s a lot of different ways we can go and it’s exciting to see how it all pans out, it always is. We’ll get a good player.”