Not much had been said publicly about the Washington Redskins' offensive coaching changes ahead of the NFL Annual Meetings last week.
Head coach Jay Gruden touched on the subject at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 28, but only briefly. He called Kevin O'Connell a "very talented coach," who garnered interest as a coordinator elsewhere, prompting the Redskins to promote him from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in early January. O'Connell will replace Matt Cavanaugh, who will now serve as a senior offensive assistant to help Gruden with the "big picture of things," and in place of O'Connell will be former NFL quarterback Tim Rattay, who the Redskins hired from Louisiana Tech in early February.
Gruden spoke at length about these positions during a media session in Phoenix last Tuesday, giving extensive insight into how each coach will influence what the Redskins aim to accomplish offensively.
"You've got to take all of the ideas into account, look at them and then figure out what’s best for the quarterback number one, what’s best for the football team number two and what you think you can execute realistically in certain situations and then come up with a plan," Gruden said. "Having Kevin [O'Connell] help organize that will be great, and having [Matt] Cavanaugh still there with us also and coach [Tim] Rattay will really be honed in on the quarterback fundamental execution part of it. I think it’s a good way to go about it.”
O'Connell has spent nearly his entire NFL coaching career grooming quarterbacks, starting as the Cleveland Browns' quarterbacks coach in 2015, continuing as an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers and most recently serving as the quarterbacks coach in Washington the past two seasons. And before breaking into the coaching ranks, he was one of those signal callers, playing for six different NFL franchises from 2008 to 2012.
These roles included a specific set of responsibilities, such as honing in on the fundamentals of the position and recognizing various blitzes and coverages. Cycling through passing progressions and making the correct reads were also of the utmost importance.
As the offensive coordinator, O'Connell will now have "more freedom to do more X's and O's and more game planning," Gruden said. For the first time in his career, O'Connell will analyze the offense with a much broader perspective.
"During the week, instead of putting tape together for Case Keenum and Colt McCoy as far as what to see on first and second down, he’s looking at how to put in the plays for third down and schematically, the best ways to attack the defense," Gruden said. "It'll be great. He's very, very bright, knows what we’re looking for, the types of defenses we see week in and week out and the plays that we like that we think fit for the style of defense that we see -- protection wise, how to pick up certain blitzes -- so I think it’ll be a big-time help.”
Still, O'Connell's expertise working with quarterbacks will surely factor into his new role.
"Being a coordinator in my opinion, it’s about putting the people, your personnel, in situations where they can be successful," O'Connell told Redskins.com in mid-February. "Ninety percent of that in my opinion is the quarterback, and if the quarterback has success, the other ten guys around him if they’re doing their job will feel that success as well."
Cavanaugh certainly understands that philosophy having assumed offensive positions for several franchises during his 35-year coaching career -- the past two of which came as the offensive coordinator for the Redskins.
But in his newest capacity, optimizing the Redskins' offense will no longer be his sole focus. Gruden said Tuesday that Cavanaugh will have several roles within the offense and for the Redskins as a whole, ranging from aggregating film for meetings to helping with clock management and situational efficiency. Speaking at the High School Coaches Clinic on March 20, Cavanaugh said, "I've got a laundry list of things I want to help with on game day."
As for game preparation, Cavanaugh will remain a reliable source for ideas and perspectives, teaming up with O'Connell and Gruden to ensure the offensive transition is as smooth as possible.
"Making sure we’re well organized … and make sure everything is addressed the right way," Gruden said of Cavanaugh's new role. "And make sure we rep everything. A lot of times we talk about the volume that we have with a game plan, that certain things might not get repped because we assume, ‘Oh, we’ve been repping this since training camp. But the left guard we just got hasn’t repped it and the new receiver.' We just have to make sure that [Cavanaugh's] making sure we address everything, everything is covered, and then also help me in other areas as well.”