Redskins report for workouts, notice ‘new aura in the building’

Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams, Tony Pashos

Trent Williams said the Redskins welcome a fresh start, but can’t forget last season.

The Washington Redskins on Monday kicked off their offseason program with “near-perfect” attendance and a new sense of optimism as they move on from last season’s 3-13 campaign and welcome in the Jay Gruden era.

The first-year head coach addressed his players to start the day, and shared with them his philosophies and goals. Compared to the turmoil-filled ending to Mike Shanahan’s final season at the helm, players likened their start under Gruden to a breath of fresh air.

“I was really impressed with how down-to-earth [Gruden] is, how approachable he is,” said left tackle Trent Williams, one of the team’s captains. “He obviously has a great football mind and he made us guys feel comfortable. There’s a new aura in the building. Obviously, a lot of it comes with the coaching change and the new free agent pickups. I’m really excited.”

Following Gruden’s address, the players went through a series of conditioning and strength training drills, as well as some meetings with their position coaches and unit coordinators.

That’s all league rules permit during this first phase of workouts. But the players deemed them an important step toward rebounding from last season.

The workouts are voluntary, and some players did miss the first day. New addition DeSean Jackson and veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall (another one of the team’s captains) ranked among those absent as both had previously scheduled vacations. Jackson is expected to join his teammates later this week, and Hall tweeted that he received clearance from Gruden to take his children to Disney World, but that he will report for duty next Monday.

But Williams and co-captain/nose tackle Barry Cofield classified Monday’s action a step in the right direction. They, like many of their teammates, believe that any work gotten in this spring – whether conditioning and strength training these next two weeks, or the on-field work that will follow later this month – will expedite the rebuilding process, but only if that work ethic carries over into the season.

“I think you can build,” Cofield said when asked what the offseason workouts would accomplish. “I’m not necessarily sure you can win the Super Bowl now. I think you’ve got to be lucky and you’ve got to stay healthy and you’ve really got to execute on Sundays in the fall/winter. Realistically, you do it to build – especially with a new coach – and I think it’s to inject a new optimism into a franchise. Last year was as rough as we could’ve imagined, losing a coach we all enjoyed. This time of year, especially with the new staff, there will be some new terminology. Defensively, we have the same coordinator, but we’re doing a lot of new things, as I’ve mentioned. Offensively, obviously, they’ve got a new guy. You have quarterback and receivers working together, and guys moving around on the offensive line. …  I think this time is very important for building the foundation. But all this is for naught if we don’t execute this year.”

Like Williams, Cofield said Gruden brings a new energy to the franchise. Some of that has to do with the fact that he’s 14 years younger than Shanahan, the defensive lineman said. But Cofield noted that Gruden’s assistants – many on defense returned despite Shanahan’s firing – have a similar fresh vibe.

“Coach Gruden brings something a little different. Brings a different kind of energy, and with the staff, I feel like the whole staff they feel a little more comfortable – a little bit more free. But obviously, it’s early,” he said. “The way we finished up with coach Shanahan was obviously disappointing. It was a whole different atmosphere. Bringing in a new regime, where I think a lot of the assistant coaches and coordinators, they feel like they have a new lease on life and a chance to prove themselves. And the players all get a clean slate. The coach is going to give you a shot. And he has passed that onto us and that’s what you want to hear.”

Gruden will bring with him a new offense and way of doing things, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett returns, but with new wrinkles to his attack. Players had yet to delve extensively into their play books, but expressed optimism based on what they knew of the changes thus far.

After last year’s dismal end, which featured eight consecutive losses and a string of negative media reports believed to have originated from Shanahan’s camp, the Redskins players welcome that “clean slate.” Both Williams and Cofield expressed respect for Shanahan. But at the same time, they say the newness has infused the franchise with much-needed life.

Williams stressed that it’s important that he and his teammates not forget last season, however.

“I think we need to take a lot of stuff with us because you’ve got to know what falling down feels like. You’ve got to know what losing feels like to want to win,” he said. “A season like that, you can’t just forget that. It has to be a driving force to want to do things. It has to motivate you. We’re too talented to go 3-13 again. That was us. It’s nothing you can do about it now. But whatever the case may be, we were 3-13, we were a below-average team. We had the power to perform with anybody and we didn’t come together like we were supposed to and we didn’t win the games that we were supposed to. That needs to be in our back pocket at all times and be a driving force.”

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