Redskins mailbag: Jay Gruden’s staff, to-do list and more . . .

Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen

Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen have a lot of work left to do. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins have their head coach in place, but a lot of questions remain as they try to fill out his coaching staff and reshape this roster to Jay Gruden’s liking.

In today’s mailbag, we tackle questions about Gruden’s assistants, more on Daniel Snyder’s involvement, and the types of players that the Redskins could begin looking at.

In your opinion, can Haslett succeed without Shanahan tying his hands? Is the hand-tying overrated?

 — Randy Strickland Jr.

I think it’s possible for Jim Haslett to have a successful defense, but I think he could have under Mike Shanahan as well. He deserves some credit for this past season’s improvements, where after getting off to a woeful start, the defense improved to 18th overall in yards allowed. Points allowed (29.9/game last season) have been a problem for a while, now, however.  That has to be fixed. Shanahan did handcuff Haslett in some areas, but a lot of the problems on defense have been talent-related. If you go through his lineups, how many of those players would have started for other teams? The front seven hasn’t been terrible. But on the back end, the Redskins have lacked stability since before Haslett got here. LaRon Landry, Kareem Moore, Chris Horton, O.J. Atogwe, Madieu Williams, Jordan Pugh,  Brandon Meriweather, DeJon Gomes, Bacarri Rambo (and Phillip Thomas and Tanard Jackson in the preseason) have lined up at safety for Haslett in the past four years. The Redskins also have gone through some cornerbacks. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have been here the longest under Haslett, but we’ve seen Carlos Rogers, Kevin Barnes, Byron Westbrook, Phillip Buchanon and Cedric Griffin all come and go. The second-round pick spent on David Amerson was the highest pick on a defensive back in these past four years. The Redskins this offseason need to make serious investments in their secondary if Haslett is to have a chance to succeed. In years past, they would’ve liked to have added Cortland Finnegan, Aqib Talib and Antoine Winfield, among others. But the salary-cap penalties prevented them from being able to meet those players’ asking prices. You know the saying, “You get what you pay for?” You could argue that outside of Ryan Kerrigan (first-round pick), Jarvis Jenkins (second-rounder), and free agents Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Wilson, Washington has taken the clearance-rack approach to their shopping needs on defense the past four years. The Redskins faced little to no competition in their pursuits of many of those names above. What could Haslett do with improved talent? Redskins players insist that Haslett is a good coach, and I do know that there were teams interested in his services had he been let go along with Shanahan, so he has respect around the league. Some feel like he could be more aggressive with some of his calls, pointing to the seven-game win streak in 2012, when the defense was at its best and players were permitted to really pin back their ears and get after it. Gruden has a strong relationship with Haslett and believes that he can turn this unit around. We’ll see what kind of commitment Gruden and Bruce Allen make to Haslett when free agency and the draft rolls around.

When are the Redskins going to get a defense? The entire defense needs to be overhauled. They do not have anyone on that team that other teams are afraid to throw or run against. The last true safety (hard-hitting/strong/run stopper) the Redskins had was Sean Taylor. No corners at all. Linebackers are weak. No front line. Dan needs to step out of the way. Trying to be another Jerry Jones. Let the coaches coach.

— Earl T. Scott

I don’t think anyone has ever accused Snyder of having anything to do with the defense. And in the past four years, he has taken a step back. Outside of the Donovan McNabb and Robert Griffin III moves (the last of which everyone from Snyder, to Allen, to Shanahan all were on board with), I’m not aware of any key instances where Snyder has involved himself. He even sat back when Shanahan chose to switch to the 3-4 even though a huge investment had been made in Albert Haynesworth, who had no desire to play in that system. This has been Shanahan’s show. You’re right, however, that talent is an issue (see the above response). It doesn’t really matter who your defensive coordinator is, if you’re not going to make legitimate investments on that side of the ball, success will not come.

Do you think it’s the coach that’s causing the Redskins’ lows, or do you think it’s that trickle-down effect from the higher-ups? If it’s the higher-ups, then it makes no sense to care what coach they put there. Do you agree, or no?

— Devon Clarke

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the implosion that we’ve witnessed in the past year. Some of it has been Shanahan’s fault, some you could pin on Snyder, and some of it was out of everyone’s control. What do you think would have happened had Griffin not gotten hurt in that Baltimore game? Some think his knee might’ve actually been worse off than was believed even at that point. The Redskins very well could have won that Seattle game, and who knows what would’ve happened after that. But Griffin would’ve had a full offseason to build on Year 1, and he and Shanahan’s relationship and mutual distrust wouldn’t have been an issue. Did Snyder favor Griffin above all players, and did that really hinder Shanahan’s ability to do his job? There could be some truth to it, but I think down the stretch of the season, when his camp began to leak story after story, Shanahan was using that as a crutch. Shanahan mishandled the situation in a number of areas. Now he is gone. Allen is now running the show, and we’ll see if he finally is the man that can get the job done. He has picked Gruden, a bright, young offensive coach, whose first task will be to fix Griffin. Meanwhile, Allen needs to upgrade this roster so the protection issues are resolved, add more playmakers so Griffin has more weapons at his disposal, load up the defense with talent so that unit can help support the offense, and bring in a quality special teams coach to repair that disaster of a unit. It’s hard to say where the optimism level should be at this point. It very much is a wait-and-see approach right now.

Will A.J. Smith be a part of the Allen brain trust?

— Ryan Cox

Yes, A.J. Smith – the former general manager of the San Diego Chargers and close friend of Bruce Allen’s – does remain on staff as a senior executive. It’s not entirely clear what exactly he does, but some of his duties include helping evaluate talent and determining the direction that the franchise should go as Allen and Gruden try to get this thing turned around.

Does Gruden have 100 percent autonomy to hire his own staff? We know Zorn didn’t, and Shanahan did, but is there any word out of Redskins Park that Gruden has to retain Haslett or any of the other assistants? Also, didn’t Morris fire Gruden in Tampa? That doesn’t sound like a positive carryover to me?

— Rich in Tampa

The Redskins have at least given the impression that Gruden does have full say over his staff. One person I talked to expressed belief that keeping Haslett, Sean McVay and Raheem Morris had a lot to do with the Redskins’ desire to make this situation more desirable for Gruden. Gruden himself danced when I asked him specifically if the fact that Haslett, McVay and Morris being retained made the job more attractive, however. Gruden dismissed running backs coach Bobby Turner and special teams assistant Richard Hightower, as people within the organization said was expected when Shanahan was fired. Gruden also parted ways with assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan, whom many expected to remain. So, the coach does appear to have control over his staff. Morris did let Gruden go when he took over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Gruden was an offensive assistant at that time. McVay also was an offensive assistant that Morris let go, but sometimes those decisions aren’t entirely the coach’s decision. McVay and Morris have remained close friends despite that. It doesn’t sound as if Gruden and Morris are as close as say, McVay and Haslett to Gruden. But Gruden does respect Morris and his knowledge, and he is popular with Redskins players, so keeping him on makes sense from that regard. It’ll be interesting to see who they bring in for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and linebackers coach. Haslett didn’t have say over his own defensive staff. But his relationship with Gruden would suggest that he might have more input this time around.

Which current linemen on the team would be in the most trouble if Gruden pushes more power running?

— Adam Gendell

A smaller lineman like Kory Lichtensteiger could have trouble if the Redskins shift away from the zone-blocking scheme. He, at 6-2, 284,  probably will have to put on some more weight, and possibly shift to center. This is certainly a possibility for him. Had Josh LeRibeus not come into the offseason workouts and training camp overweight, the plan was for Lichtensteiger to compete for the starting job at left guard with LeRibeus and with Will Montgomery for the starting center job. Chris Chester is bigger at 6-3, 309, but could be in trouble because he struggled from a performance standpoint this past season. As an offensive coordinator, Gruden has used bigger guards. Guards that have started for Gruden in Cincinnati are Clint Boling (6-5, 311),  Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 335) and Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315). Ssome of their backups: Mike Pollak (6-3, 300) and Tanner Hawkinson (6-5, 300). It’ll be interesting to see how LeRibeus (6-2, 315) and Adam Gettis (6-2, 292) fare in this transition.

Here we go again, and my question is why? The new coach hasn’t even had time to sit in his office, and here comes the Post’s sportwriters with tons of negative print to get the soap opera atmosphere back in swing. And please, please explain to me how Griffin forgot so much between 2012 and 2013. Could it be more of he just hadn’t rehabbed back to his speed and quickness therefore was not able to avoid tacklers as he had in 2012? Please, can’t you guys find one or two positive things to write about. Oh yes, about the team’s downhill sliding; it started before Snyder. I will say this though, Snyder should go back and take a page or two from Jack Kent Cook’s book on how to be a successful NFL owner.

 — Rufus Abanathey

I’m not so sure you’ve actually been reading The Post in the last week. Not sure what negative, soap opera atmosphere you’re talking about. As beat writers, Mark Maske and I only report on what happens. Can’t make this stuff up. We report on positives, and report on negatives. Our columnists share their opinions on matters, but in the past week, no one has bashed the Redskins for the hiring of Gruden. And, there hasn’t been any drama since Gruden was hired last Thursday. On Griffin, he didn’t forget how to play the position. But defenses did gain a better understanding on how to defend him in Year 2. The other factor is he was coming off of major knee surgery. He had only limited reps in training camp and the preseason, and none in the offseason. It takes a while to work your way back into the groove, particularly for a young quarterback. Griffin needs to work on reading coverage, and quick decision-making, but he remains a talented athlete. Even if he went from running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash to a 4.5-second 40, that’s still plenty fast. Many quarterbacks can’t run a 4.7-second 40-yard dash. He showed escapability, but he didn’t always trust what he saw as defenses worked to confuse him.

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

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The Early Lead: NFL tries to sell Thursday games | Broncos’ Harris out? | More

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