Jay Gruden’s new offense impressed


Runnning back Roy Helu, Jr. (29) hopes to play a factor in the Redskins’ ground game this season behind starter Alfred Morris. ( / )
Jason Reid
Columnist August 8

For team officials and fans, the debut of a coach is an inspiring event. The Washington Redskins often have experienced such excitement. Under owner Dan Snyder, Coach Jay Gruden became the eighth man to lead the team during a 23-6 victory over the New England Patriots on Thursday.

In a preseason opener at FedEx Field, Gruden, formerly the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator, directed an entire NFL team for the first time in his career. It figures to be a while before we know whether Gruden, also the Redskins’ play-caller, possesses the coaching chops to guide the long-struggling franchise to success. The roster he assembles may provide some clues.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

With training camp winding down, the coaching staff’s focus shifts from the playbook to the roster. Although Gruden is foremost a teacher, his priority now is to identify players to fill key roles. Among other things, the Redskins are searching for a third-down back, attempting to set the lineup in the secondary and seeking positive reinforcement on offense.

After his first preseason game, Gruden has a lot to consider. Let’s look at some of it.

(Partially) new offense

In NFL history, only eight players rushed for more yards in their first two seasons than the 2,888 running back Alfred Morris produced. Morris also scored 20 touchdowns and had an impressive 4.7-yard average. Gruden inherited a strong running game and left it intact. He determined the passing game needed work.

Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay installed quarterback-friendly plays that include more quick “reads” than the scheme Robert Griffin III directed the past two seasons. By getting the ball out quicker, the Redskins hope, Griffin should improve his efficiency, absorb fewer hits and reduce his turnovers (last fall, he had 12 interceptions).

In the first week of the preseason, it’s common for starters to play little. Griffin looked okay while the first-team offense ran only 10 plays.

He had only four attempts, completed two and finished with nine yards passing. Griffin displayed nice touch on a ball down the right sideline to Aldrick Robinson, who may have wound up with a touchdown if his left hand hadn’t landed out of bounds. But on another play, Griffin and Morris appeared to be reading from a different page of the playbook.

The third-year player, coming off a rough season on and off the field, must show continued growth in Gruden’s offense. On Thursday, Griffin took a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.

Mr. Third Down

It’s the worst-kept secret in training camp: Many in the organization hope Chris Thompson emerges as the change-of-pace back. The speedy second-year player is suited for a role in which players are primarily used as receivers out of the backfield. Thompson, however, is far from having the job locked up.

Being able to pick up the blitz is a prerequisite for the job, and Thompson has struggled in pass-protection drills. Generously listed at 5 feet 7, Thompson lacks the size to overpower linebackers and safeties.

Coaches have tried to help him refine his blocking technique. At times, Thompson has shown improvement. Against the Patriots’ second-string defense, Thompson didn’t have opportunities to block. On rushes, he only had a 1.3-yard average. Thompson caught two passes for 12 yards.

The coaching staff plans to take a long look at Thompson in the remaining preseason games. Rookie backs Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk are under the microscope, too.

Primarily playing against Patriots backups near the bottom of the depth chart, Redd and Seastrunk made several nifty plays. Veterans Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster also are in the mix.

Last stand?

As a rookie, safety Bacarri Rambo impressed coaches. He shot up the depth chart and started in Week 1. But poor tackling resulted in Rambo being benched early in the season. He’s still trying to recover from dropping out of the picture.

Coaches are candid about Rambo’s situation: Unless his tackling improves markedly, he’ll be looking for a new team soon. With that backdrop, Rambo started at one safety spot and didn’t embarrass himself or the team. That’s progress.

He came up in run support and grabbed running back Shane Vereen’s ankles as he sped at him around the left end. Last season, Rambo’s biggest problems occurred when he was isolated against receivers and running backs. After one game, he still has a lot to prove.

The takeway

In a meaningless game in which many Patriots starters sat out, the Redskins gained some needed confidence. The Gruden era is underway, and roster decisions made over the next few weeks could help determine how long it lasts.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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