Coaches barked orders while enthusiastic players raced around during Washington Redskins minicamp Wednesday at Redskins Park. For an organization coming off another disastrous season, it was an encouraging scene. Of course, we’ve seen similar ones.
Generally, a team’s attitude improves following regime change. If new leadership doesn’t inspire optimism, what will? The Redskins have traveled this road repeatedly. Veteran players are “all in” on new Coach Jay Gruden — “Guys definitely like what he’s doing,” top cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. But one also sensed excitement when former coaches Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan took control.
We all know how their stints turned out.
Although good vibes and “atta-boys” in offseason practice are nice, none of that reveals how the Redskins will fare in the regular season. The Redskins face many questions on offense and defense, and now there’s reason for concern about defensive lineman Jason Hatcher.
Hatcher, their highest-profile free agent acquisition on defense, could be sidelined six weeks after being scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday. Hatcher might miss the start of training camp (the team reports to Richmond on July 23).
For the Redskins, Hatcher’s knee problem provided a reminder that, despite some positive developments, there are many unforeseen hurdles ahead. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is accustomed to adjusting.
Among the holdovers from Shanahan’s staff, Haslett has been part of three sub-.500 teams in four seasons with the Redskins, including last fall’s 3-13 club. The losing, however, hasn’t altered Haslett’s outlook: He believes the Redskins will become perennial winners again. On Wednesday, Haslett was as locked-in at practice as he was before the 2010 season, his first with the franchise.
Haslett is overseeing a defense that could have four players at least 30 years of age in the line rotation, three of whom will be coming off surgery, and appears to have big holes in the secondary. That established, Haslett likes the Redskins’ defensive roster, which was evident from the friendly way he interacted with his assistants and players on Wednesday.
The Redskins haven’t accomplished anything yet, “but the understanding is to get better, so when we get to training camp we can go from there . . . and we are getting better,” Haslett said. “You always have a lot of work to do. In the National Football League, the work’s never done.
“You get bumps on the way. In this league, something bad happens during the season; always does. It’s how you react to it, how you handle it and how you change as a coach [that helps determine the outcome of a season]. It’s about how you adapt to things.”
After the horrendous play of their safeties last season, the Redskins should have made more moves at the position. In terms of trying to improve leadership in the locker room, though, bringing back Ryan Clark made sense.
Steady with Washington in 2004 and 2005, Clark signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency in 2006. He spent eight seasons with them, winning two Super Bowls.
Entering his 13th season, Clark, who turns 35 in October, brings seen-it-all wisdom that could definitely help second-year players Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas. You know when Clark is on the field because he’s a talker, but in a good way.
If a receiver tips his route with a certain move or someone in the secondary is out of position, Clark notices it almost as fast as defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. On the sideline, Clark often offers helpful suggestions to the young guys. Can Clark still play? The Steelers didn’t think so. Even if Clark has little left, he has been a good role model for Rambo and Thomas, who missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury. There’s value in that.
The offense also has had some feel-good moments. After outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan torched right tackle Tyler Polumbus on Tuesday — the Redskins must get rookie tackle Morgan Moses ready to play quickly — quarterback Robert Griffin III’s group was mostly in sync Wednesday. After Griffin’s nightmarish 2013 season, he feels liberated with his knee brace and Shanahan both gone.
No one was more eager for a fresh start than Griffin. These days, Griffin is pleased about, well, everything. Now, it’s important for players to remain focused until training camp so that they “don’t waste what we did this offseason,” Griffin said.
Many of Griffin’s decisions Wednesday prompted offensive coordinator Sean McVay to clap and nod in approval. Granted, it’s easier for a quarterback to look sharp if the defense isn’t permitted to hit him. Still, “you’re seeing a lot of progression from a physical and mental standpoint,” McVay said. “He’s done an excellent job of being able to translate his knowledge from the meeting room to the field.”
All of the good stuff so far pleases Gruden, who also would be the first to point out no team earns a playoff berth based on offseason practice. “Overall, I feel like the team is coming along,” Gruden said.
At this stage of the offseason, that’s the right place to be.
For more columns by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.