Redskins have all the pieces, but more work is needed before they are a team

The Post Sports Live crew breaks down what to watch for when Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns visit Washington on Monday. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

On the heels of a 3-13 season rife with dysfunction, the Washington Redskins’ training camp that adjourned Tuesday could be declared a victory simply because of who took part and what stayed away.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III, fully recovered from the knee surgery that kept him from every meaningful practice and preseason game heading into the 2013 season, was a full and active participant. Though some rust and understandable unfamiliarity were evident at times in first-year Coach Jay Gruden’s offense, Griffin moved without limitation and led his troops with confidence from Day 1 to Day 20.

And controversy, notably, played no part in the proceedings.

From start to finish, the focus of camp was on football — blocking, tackling, passing, running and who could do it best — rather than on cabals and conspiracies that threatened to undermine coach-and-player relationships.

“There’s no hidden agendas, I don’t think,” Gruden said Tuesday. “Hopefully that remains consistent throughout the season, not just in training camp.”

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will handle Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel differently than when he coached the similarly-talented Robert Griffin III. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Though there were stretches in which backup quarterback Kirk Cousins was more efficient, particularly when Griffin threw against New England’s beefed-up secondary during the teams’ joint practices, Gruden was resolute that Griffin was the starter at the outset of camp. And he remained an unequivocal backer of the third-year quarterback throughout while being frank about aspects of his play that need improvement.

Chief among them: knowing when to throw the ball away or take a sack, if need be, rather than risk catastrophe by trying to conjure game-winning heroics.

Griffin, for his part, showed a willingness to adapt, making strides in his decision-making as a pocket passer under Gruden’s tutelage. And as camp neared its conclusion, he insisted “greater things are coming.”

The Redskins sorely need a productive coach-quarterback relationship, particularly in light of the toxic dynamic between Mike Shanahan, who was fired at season’s end, and Griffin. The foundation appeared to be laid during training camp.

Three weeks of two-a-day practices also gave Griffin a chance to work with the upgraded receiving corps. DeSean Jackson, the lightning-fast three-time Pro Bowler released by Philadelphia, established himself as a formidable deep threat, while free agent acquisition Andre Roberts impressed.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a former boss of Gruden’s, was given more freedom. And special teams coach Ben Kotwica injected pride in a unit that badly under-performed under Shanahan.

The upshot, according to veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall, is “a different vibe” throughout the team.

The Post Sports Live crew debates whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III or the Browns' Johnny Manziel will have more rushing yards this season. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

“Last year, coming off the NFC East title, RG coming from an injury — we didn’t know what to expect. But seeing him run around, seeing how healthy he is, seeing some of the plays so far. . . . With all the different weapons we have offensively, defensively and special teams-wise, it’s a different attitude,” Hall said. “We’re looking to go out there and make some noise.”

Gruden, 47, who had spent the past three seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, said on the eve of camp that he expected quickness and energy from players. With temperatures at 97 degrees when the 90-man roster got to work July 23, he got something less at the outset.

The defense developed more quickly than the offense, which is to be expected. With Redskins fans cheering from the end zones and a sideline of the team’s $11 million training complex in Richmond, the pace picked up as contact increased.

Just when the tedium was about to set in, the Patriots arrived for a three-day joint practice that proved a jarring wakeup call.

“When you bring in guys like Darrelle Revis and Tom Brady and you realize how good these other players are in the National Football League . . . they know that they’ve got to step their game up, both mentally and physically,” Gruden said. “So it was great for them to see how other pros work and prepare”

It may have been the most valuable three days of camp — a gut-check against any premature notion of bravado or self-satisfaction.

On Tuesday, the final day of camp, practice was closed to the fans who’d turned out weekdays and weekends alike, 164,789 strong, by team officials’ count. And the players went through nearly two hours of drills with professionalism and purpose.

It was only after the final horn that a roar went up from the field: “Freeeeee-dom!”

And with relief and a sense of a job well done, Redskins players and coaches headed for home.

“I feel like we built a lot of confidence as a team,” said left guard Trent Williams. “We built a lot of team camaraderie. So I feel like it was a success.

“Obviously, we’re real optimistic right now, but it’s like that every camp.

“We’re going to be a physical team. We’re going to run the ball, and we’ve got weapons on the outside so we’re going to take shots. Defense is going to make tackles, they’re going to compete at a high level, and they’re going to hustle. As a team, we have all the tools in the tool box to be a great team. We just have to put it together.”

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, she has also covered five Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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