Highlights from breakfast with Redskins Coach Jay Gruden

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden discusses the coming year at the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL meetings. (Mike Jones/The Washington Post)

ORLANDO – Redskins Coach Jay Gruden sat down with members of the media during Wednesday morning’s NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL meetings.

Taking questions for an hour, the first-year head coach discussed everything from his adjustment process, his coaching staff, the quarterback position, offensive line shuffling, defensive tweaks, remaining needs and more.

There will be much more coming throughout the day. But here are the highlights.

● Gruden talked about the importance of retaining Brian Orakpo despite the fact that it took a lot of salary-cap space. “Pass rushers don’t grow on trees,” he said. He also said the options on the free agent market were rather thin. Gruden didn’t rule out the two sides working out a long-term deal. But he also said that he has no problem letting Orakpo play out his franchise tag to prove his worth before Washington commits big money to him. He actually sounded like he would prefer to do that. I had heard some rumblings that the opinions on Orakpo were a little mixed during his evaluations and deliberations about what to do about the outside linebacker. This gives the Redskins more time.

● Gruden did say that the addition of outside linebackers coach Brian Baker will definitely help Orakpo. The coach said more will be asked of Orakpo, but that it’s not realistic to expect him to be able to significantly elevate his game without giving him a technician type of coach – something Orakpo has never had. (Bobby Slowik, a former Division II wide receiver at Michigan Tech, previously did a lot of work in practices with the pass rushers while his dad worked with the inside linebackers. Mind-blowing, I know.)

● Speaking of coaches, Gruden said the hiring of special teams coach Ben Kotwica “one of my most important hires,” and also said the retention of Chris Foerster as offensive line coach ranked among his best moves as well. He also said the addition of Kirk Olivadotti, like Baker, will greatly benefit the linebackers.

● Gruden said that the Redskins are indeed moving Kory Lichtensteiger from left guard to center. That had been the plan last season before Josh LeRibeus came into the offseason workout program roughly 40 pounds overweight. It was the expected move when Washington released Will Montgomery earlier this month. Gruden said Foerster has a lot of confidence in Lichtensteiger’s abilities. Meanwhile, free agent addition Shawn Lauvao is penciled in at left guard and Chris Chester remains at right guard. For now, Tyler Polumbus remains the right tackle, and Gruden said he saw some solid play out of Polumbus, but that the team can always get better. I’d still look for the team to consider drafting a right tackle. Gruden didn’t mention LeRibeus, but it was rather clear coaches don’t have a lot of confidence in him.

● Gruden had high praise for Robert Griffin III’s hunger and drive. They haven’t been able to talk football yet, but he sees Griffin at the facility every day working on his own. He described Griffin as “a great kid. Young. Eager.” However, he doesn’t want Griffin to put too much on himiself too early. Gruden called Griffin “a perfectionist,” which is great. But he also said he doesn’t want him to “stress himself out,” and he wants him to enjoy the offseason while also working on his game. He said the grind will start soon enough.

● Gruden said improving Griffin’s fundamentals will be key. He mentioned footwork on drop backs and throws. But he also said that protection is also crucial. He said someone might criticize Griffin for not stepping up in the right spot, but at the same time, they might’ve “missed the guy hitting him in the ribs.” Gruden will stress quick releases as well. He said as a player, he took a lot of unnecessary hits because he held onto the ball too long. He himself had a devastating knee injury. But he said that wasn’t the result of holding the ball. “No, I got hurt because my right tackle got beat.”

Jay Gruden discussed a variety of issues involving his team. (Mike Jones/The Washington Post)
Jay Gruden discussed a variety of issues involving his team. (Mike Jones/The Washington Post)

● Gruden said Griffin has the physical and mental capability to do anything required of him. “There aren’t many things you can throw at him that he can’t do. My fear is I might have too many plays for him,” he said with a laugh.

● He did say, however, that if Griffin wasn’t as comfortable with the read option anymore, they wouldn’t run as much of it. He again brought up the importance of trust. This was his fourth media availability session since he got hired in January, and he has stressed it each time. He said it’s important for Griffin to trust that his head coach has his best interest at heart. He also said he has to find the plays Griffin is most comfortable with so the quarterback buys in, because that leads to better confidence, and better results.

● Gruden said whether or not Griffin wears a knee brace matters little. “His knee is strong,” Gruden said. Gruden wore his brace the first year after his surgery, but not the second year. He said if Griffin feels more free without it, then great.

● No teams have contacted the Redskins about trading for Kirk Cousins, Gruden said. He said “you need two great quarterbacks,” and described himself as “excited” to have Cousins backing up Griffin.

● Gruden sees Chris Thompson as a potential weapon because of his speed and playmaking ability. He liked him coming out of Florida State. He said Thompson has to stay healthy, though.

● Phillip Thomas could be a solution as the Redskins look to fix their safety position, Gruden said. But the coach admitted he still doesn’t know exactly what they have in the fourth-round pick. A lot of questions remain about Baccari Rambo as well, Gruden said. I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington drafts a safety. Signing veteran Ryan Clark remains a possibility as well.

● Gruden anticipates using defensive lineman Jason Hatcher in a variety of ways. He played right end for the bulk of his time in Dallas’ 3-4 scheme and defensive tackle on the Cowboys 4-3 front last season. But he will not be restricted to just one set position, and the Redskins aren’t married to one particular alignment, Gruden said. The plan is to use creativity and find ways to maximize the potential of Hatcher and his teammates.

● Gruden also said he expects DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson to start at the two cornerback positions with free agent Tracy Porter joining them against three-receiver formations. Porter will primarily cover the slot receiver.

Those were the highlights. Like I said, much more coming. It takes quite a while to transcribe an hour’s worth of tape.

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

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Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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