So the agenda for the next 20 days at the Redskins’ facility in Richmond will borrow a bit from the Cincinnati Bengals, where Gruden, 47, served as offensive coordinator. It will also borrow from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he served on the staff of his elder brother Jon’s Super Bowl champion squad. No doubt it will also reflect takeaways from past Redskins coaches and other NFL coaches.
But ultimately, it will bear Gruden’s imprint, the coach said Wednesday. And its hallmarks will be a quick tempo, high energy and an emphasis on fundamentals and repetition.
“You try to learn from history,” Gruden said after a closed conditioning session involving all but four of the 90 players who’ll vie for a place on the Redskins’ 53-man roster. “But ultimately, it’s your team and your stamp. And you have to do it your way and feel good about it and feel confident in your ability to lead and coach and not worry about the second-guessing. Because it’s going to come eventually: We’re going to get second-guessed.”
In many respects, there’s no place for Gruden to go but up in his NFL coaching debut. The Redskins finished 3-13 under Mike Shanahan last season, failing to win a single game in their division and eking out just one victory in 12 NFC matchups.
Though the defensive stats ranked in the bottom half of the league (17th in rushing yards allowed and 20th in passing yards allowed), it’s the Redskins’ offense, which acquitted itself reasonably well, that’s the focus of attention with roughly six weeks remaining before the Sept. 7 regular season opener at Houston.
The fulcrum of that offense is third-year quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is also the biggest question mark as training camp gets underway in earnest Thursday.
Griffin dazzled in his rookie season, and was named the NFL’s 2012 offensive rookie of the year after leading the Redskins to a 10-6 record and NFC East championship. But after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, his production and proficiency dropped on nearly every count — completion percentage and rushing average, among them — while his fumbles and interceptions increased.
Gruden’s success, in large part, will be measured by how well Griffin reclaims, and ideally builds on, the form and results of his rookie season.
Can he become a more efficient passer? If so, can he keep the team’s bulked up receiving corps happy? Finally free of a knee brace, can he be that same explosive runner? Will he do a better job avoiding the blitz?
The quarterback wasn’t made available to reporters Wednesday; he’ll speak on Thursday. But Gruden stayed busy fielding questions about his franchise player.
From a physical standpoint, Gruden said there were no lingering concerns about the quarterback. “He’s in great shape,” Gruden said. “He ran excellent today.”
But his maturation and “mental game” remain a work in progress, the coach said, adding that the same could be said about all starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
“He has to have the ability to make mistakes, learn from mistakes and take criticism,” said Gruden. “It makes you a better person and a stronger man. He has got all the talent in the world, there’s no question about that. We’ve just got to get it out of him each and every day.”
A standout quarterback at Louisville whose achievements in the Arena Football League failed to impress NFL front offices, Gruden sees the game with a quarterback’s eyes. And it was evident during offseason workouts that he and Griffin speak a similar language — a first step in building a bond that already appears more comfortable than the one Griffin had with Shanahan.
But Gruden deflected a suggestion that the coach and player have forged a happy relationship.
“Happiness comes with wins,” Gruden said. “Nobody’s going to be happy if we’re 2-14. So our whole goal is to make sure we make him as comfortable as possible with this system, and when he’s out there on Sunday that he’s comfortable and feels good about the direction we’re going offensively.
“If we can make him feel comfortable, put him in a comfort zone, a place where he can succeed, then I feel like we’ll have a much better chance with this franchise to be successful.”
On Thursday, that work resumes, and the painstaking work of culling a 90-man roster to 53 begins. If the collection of returning Redskins, incoming rookies and free agent acquisitions includes some players with chips on their shoulders, Gruden couldn’t be more pleased.
“Any time you lose the last one — whether you go 2-14 or 11-5 (as the Bengals did last season) — you should have a chip on your shoulder,” Gruden said.
“We don’t have anybody coming from [Super Bowl champion] Seattle, so everybody in this locker room should have a chip on their shoulder and should be eager to get back on the field and excited to play.”