Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell stepped up to the podium Friday, just as he had done for the past five weeks, and there didn’t appear to be much of a difference in how the 34-year-old coach handled his weekly press conference.
He considered each question, delivered a thoughtful response that showed his deep knowledge of the offense and flashed the occasional smile. It was typical stuff reporters had grown accustomed to over the course of the season.
Still, this one felt different for O’Connell, and that's because it was. Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins will be his first time calling plays, and O’Connell wants to handle that in the same way he does with everything else: consistent, but with his own flare.
“Our formations are still the same,” O’Connell said. “There’s not a lot you can do differently…from a schematic standpoint. I definitely want to try and put our guys in position to have success. I want the guys to feel confident that the plays I’m calling are coming from a school of thought of doing that.”
Interim head coach Bill Callahan has been busy in his first week of taking over the head coaching duties. One of the first decisions was to make O’Connell the offensive play caller. O’Connell has been involved in the play calling throughout the year, but this will be the first time in his career that he will be the primary person in charge.
“We’ve got a lot of faith and confidence in Kevin,” Callahan said. “He’s a bright young coach, and he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He will do a great job. He’s well prepared.”
As a member of the staff since 2017, O’Connell has risen from starting out as a quarterbacks coach to the passing game coordinator in 2018 and the offensive coordinator this season. He’s contributed to how the offense is run in each of those roles, and he’s going to rely on his experience and preparation.
“I’ll rely on some of the assistant coaches who have certain roles in our preparation, but at the end of the day I feel pretty strongly about my experience level that I do have as well as my communication ability with not only the quarterback, but the rest of our offense and coaches.”
Callahan has said multiple times this week that he envisions the Redskins to be a running team, and O’Connell shares that belief. With running backs Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, O’Connell is confident that is an achievable goal.
“We’ve just got to go out and execute it,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell will also have quarterback Case Keenum as the starter for his first game, which is different from what the position has been over the past two weeks. Keenum won the job in training camp and started in the first four games before getting pulled against the New York Giants for rookie Dwayne Haskins. A week later, Colt McCoy started against the New England Patriots while Keenum, who was still dealing with a foot injury sustained against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 23, was inactive.
O’Connell said it’s been “a process” for Keenum to make a full recovery but is confident he'll be able to perform Sunday.
“The biggest thing is just putting together a plan where he can feel confident that he has the ability to go out, be consistent, lead this group and continue to put people in position to have some success and distribute the football and let our playmakers have a good day on Sunday,” O'Connell said.
O’Connell said it has been a challenge at times to find an offensive identity, but he and the rest of the offense have a plan to establish one against the Dolphins.
There have been plenty of changes to make sure Sunday’s game results in the first win of the season. O’Connell and the team is hopeful the adjustment of having him call plays will be a good one.
“All I really know is to be consistent and show up for work every day for the betterment of the 53 guys on our team and the 10 guys on our practice squad,” O’Connell said. “I think those guys look at me and want to see consistency in my approach every single day. There’s been a lot of change, but at the same time … my main goal is still being consistent, still having a lot of energy, still having a lot of positivity with that offense.”