Here’s five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden’s press sessions Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
1. Now that the exclusive franchise tag has been placed on Trent Williams, the Redskins and Cousins' camp have more than four months to try and hammer out a long-term deal.
Unlike last year’s franchise tag for Cousins, the Redskins on Tuesday elected to place the exclusive variety on the quarterback. That means that he can only sign a tender with Washington and can’t negotiate a potential new deal with other teams.
“We think he’s going to be our quarterback for a long time, and to have that opportunity to negotiate with him and get a long-term deal is what we want to do,” Gruden said to local reporters in Indianapolis. “Let’s move forward and tag him and try to get a deal done and go from there.”
The Redskins and Cousins’ representatives still have more than four months to come to an agreement on any sort of new contract. Both sides want the deal to happen, now it’s just a matter of coming to a middle ground.
“We can offer him the world, and if he doesn’t want to sign it, he doesn’t have to sign it,” Gruden said. “I think it’ll happen, I really do. We’ll wait and see. I’m going to coach the players that are here, and I fully anticipate Kirk being the quarterback.”
Having Cousins back under center for the 2017 season and beyond would be a massive boast to a team looking to build off back-to-back winning seasons.
“We know how important that position is in pro football, and to have a guy here that’s been developing in the system for the last two years, we take very seriously,” Gruden said. “We see his progress, we see the progress that he’s going to make and we’re excited about that. We’d love to have a long-term deal done obviously, and hopefully that will happen here in the near future, but we do like where he’s going with his game and we feel good about having him here as a Redskin for a long time.”
2. Gruden will spend this week focused on interviewing college players:While the Redskins’ scouts are in Indianapolis this week to do exactly what their job title implies, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden uses his time at the NFL Combine to analyze everything off the field.
“My ultimate goal coming out here is these interviews,” Gruden said. “We have 60 player interviews and it’s only 15 minutes and people say “ahh, that’s not a big deal, they’re all staged anyway,” and they’re really not.”
The Redskins already interviewed six players Tuesday night and plan to speak with more than 40 more players over the next two days. Gruden indicated that interviews are his favorite process in assessing players -- more than just seeing their physical skills – and it remains a good opportunity for him find out as much as he can about the person the team could be drafting.
“I try to see what motivates these cats and see how they handle adversity and situations, and a little bit of knowledge of football, their position,” Gruden said. “But it’s good to get to know the guys, their personal history and where they come from, and how they got to where they are. It’s a great honor to be in this situation and come here and interview with all these teams and compete against the best players in college football. Have an opportunity to play the best sport in the world.”
3. The Redskins on the mend are showing some progress as OTAs draw closer.
The Redskins have several players on the mend following season-ending injuries suffered last year including rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson, safety DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Junior Galette.
Doctson has recently posted a string of Snapchat videos showcasing his progress from Achilles injuries that limited the 2015 first-round pick to just two games.
“Josh is really working hard man, and that’s half the battle,” Gruden said. “We fully anticipate him being healthy. That’s obviously out of our control, but he is going to have a major impact on this offense once he gets healthy. And that’s the biggest thing for him is can you take the strides necessary to get healthy. Not overworking it but continue to push himself.”
While offseason workouts won’t begin for another few weeks, Doctson has been a common visitor to the Redskins’ weight room over the last two months.
“I think the progress is being made that we wanted to see really,” Gruden said. “Obviously there’s still a long way to go. But I just wanted to make sure he’s not in a boot in February still. I think now we’re seeing him do some things on Snapchat …it’s good to see him out there running doing some football drills.”
Galette, meanwhile, is back under contract for the 2017 season. It will be his third year in Washington, but he still has yet to hit the field in a regular season game.
The hope is that Galette, who collected 22 sacks in his last two healthy seasons, can add to a pass rush that already includes Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and Preston Smith.
Like Doctson, he’s been spotted putting in some serious work as he rehabs from a second torn Achilles suffered last July.
“Junior obviously has great energy and great confidence in his abilities,” Gruden said. “He just hasn't been able to display that these last couple of years with his injuries. He is kind of like the wildcard for us. I counted on Junior the last two years but unfortunately he popped his Achilles and it really hurt our feelings and it hurt his feelings. But we got him back here for another year and he is going to work. He is going to practice hard. He is going to play hard but we have to get him healthy. He is going to give us a big boost if he can play.”
As for Hall, he’s anxious to get back on the field for a 14th NFL season and prove that he isn’t an injury-prone player that some have labeled him over the last few seasons.
“He was really coming on as a safety,” Gruden said. “I’d like to see how he does with his injury behind him and see where he is mentally. He’s a great leader for us. Leadership is very important.”
4. Gruden is happy with his group of running backs, but knows there’s plenty of talent in the draft.The Redskins entered Week 17 against the Giants having the opportunity to make the playoff s with Rob Kelley as the team’s starting running back. That, according to Gruden, is the logic for why he still feels very good about Kelley as the team’s lead back right now.
Gruden clarified that he still has confidence in everyone else – Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Rob Kelley, who he won’t give up on this spring.
“He can either go in and tank or he can go in and compete and I fully anticipate him to come in and compete,” Gruden said of Jones. “Big, physical guy. Nobody’s given up on Matt Jones. He’s got a long life ahead of him in the NFL, see how it goes.”
While Gruden acknowledged his contentment with the running back unit as it stands now, he seemed to have a glimmer in his eye when thinking about the “special guys” in this year’s draft class. The Redskins don’t have a typical three-down back on the roster – Gruden admitted that wasn’t a huge concern with Thompson able to spell on third downs – but it’s something that can instantly make a team better.
“When you get a great one, it makes your team different,” Gruden said. “It takes your team from a pretender to a contender, and we’re all looking for that.”
5. As Su'a Cravens transitions to safety, Gruden is confident the team will find a role for him.The benefit of drafting Cravens, who learned the linebacker position as a rookie and will transition to safety this year, is his ability to play in a variety of roles.
Taking that kind of hybrid player in the second round last year was consistent with the way the league has been evolving over the last few years, placing more value on versatile players to match the trend of spread offenses.
“I think that’s why we drafted him because that’s where we knew football was going,” Gruden said. “A lot of spread offenses now a days so you have to have more athletic linebacker-safety type guys on your team that are more hybrid-type guys… we think Su’a can even branch off and be, play an inside linebacker in dime packages, play nickel in base and maybe play safety obviously in some nickel packages. There’s a lot of things he can do.”
With new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, Gruden believes the team will find a position for Cravens, but the plan is to start him at safety and work him into a mixture of sub packages.
“Su’a is going to work hard,” Gruden said. “I think what attracted him to us is his desire to work hard and become a great football player. Now it’s just a matter of finding the right position for him.”