The first-year head coach and his assistants have spent the last two months evaluating the players on the roster and developing the offensive and defensive playbooks.
But Gruden has yet to meet a number of his players. Some of them — including quarterback Robert Griffin III — have frequently trained on their own at Redskins Park this offseason. But even so, league rules have prevented Gruden and the players from talking football.
That will change this week to a large degree. (The Redskins and other NFL teams with new head coaches get a two-week head start on their counterparts.)
The next two weeks — which league rules classify as Phase 1 of the offseason program — will feature strength and conditioning work. Although the workouts are classified as voluntary, attendance is encouraged, and the Redskins expect good numbers. Gruden will get the opportunity to meet the bulk of his roster, and he and his coaches can begin holding meetings with players to discuss strategies and philosophies.
Two weeks from now, Phase 2 gets underway. During those three weeks, the team can begin holding on-field individual and team drills as long as the offense and defense operate separately — not against each other.
Then, in the four weeks following that, teams may hold 10 organized team activities (OTAs), practice sessions that feature non-contact seven-on-seven, nine-on-nine and 11-on-11 drills.
The on-field portions of the offseason program are what Gruden most eagerly looks forward to, because then he can start learning his players and adjusting the playbook.
“First of all, I’d like to just see Robert in action and [backup quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] and [wide receiver] Pierre [Garcon] and [tight end] Jordan Reed and our offensive line and come up with my own conclusion other than based on what I’ve seen on tape,” Gruden said two weeks ago at league meetings in Orlando, before the team added Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson through free agency. “I think these [offseason practices] are going to be very important to see where we’re at and where we need to improve and where we need to go.”
The team remains in draft evaluation mode, and the second phase of the program, as well as the voluntary minicamp slated for late this month, will help Washington’s decision-makers better gauge where they stand regarding some positions.
Offensive line depth ranks among the areas of concern. The Redskins used three draft picks in 2012 to select guards Josh LeRibeus (third round), Adam Gettis (fifth) and tackle Tom Compton (sixth). But none of those three have logged more than a few snaps in the last two seasons combined. The practice sessions over the course of the next month will help the Redskins decide if they need to make additional offensive line acquisitions in the NFL draft, which begins May 8.
The offseason work will also allow coaches to gauge the progress of safety Phillip Thomas, a fourth-round pick last year who missed all of his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury. Washington re-signed Brandon Meriweather and added free agent Ryan Clark this offseason. But with a strong showing in workouts, Thomas can help answer long-term questions about the position.
“We have confidence he’s going to get back but we haven’t seen enough,” Gruden said of Thomas, who last week received full clearance to return to action. “I haven’t seen him move around or run around. [Trainer] Larry [Hess] says he’s doing a fine job of rehabbing. We’re hoping he’ll be ready to go.”
But most importantly, the offseason program marks the real start to Griffin’s redemption campaign. After a record-setting rookie season in 2012, the former second overall pick struggled with consistency as he worked his way back from reconstructive knee surgery. His completion percentage dipped from 65.6 in 2012 to 60.1 last season, and a year after racking up 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, Griffin threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
“The truth is, what hurt him the most last year is going to help him the most this year, which is an offseason program,” General Manager Bruce Allen said. “I don’t know of a quarterback who has ever missed all of the offseason, OTAs, minicamps and training camp working with an offense and then started the first game. So, getting back to work and being able to fully participate in all of the practices is going to be the greatest help for him, and for us.”
Gruden’s top task involves getting Griffin back to his 2012 form. That involves honing technique and sharpening mental and physical skills. All of that prep work begins with this spring’s workouts, Gruden said.
“Robert, in his third year — we’re hoping we can make serious strides this year coming up. But we’ll see,” Gruden said. “It’s going to be a great process with the OTAs and training camp. We’ll see where we need to improve.”