While working with a traditional pocket passer in 2009, Kyle Shanahan put together an offense that helped the Houston Texans lead the NFL in passing yards. Teamed with a rookie dual-threat quarterback in 2012, Shanahan devised a college option-style approach for the Washington Redskins. Washington led the league in rushing, tied for first in yards per play and was third in passing efficiency.
Over the years, Shanahan, now the Cleveland Browns’ play-caller, has proven he’s good at adapting to the talent around him. When Washington and Cleveland meet Monday night in a preseason game at FedEx Field, dual-threat Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel will continue to compete with Brian Hoyer for the team’s starting job.
The Browns’ offense includes some of the zone-read elements that helped Robert Griffin III become the NFL’s 2012 offensive rookie of the year. Astute football fans also may notice variations of plays former Texans Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub ran while passing for 4,770 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career year under Shanahan. For Shanahan, it’s all about making the X’s and O’s work best for players.
“When you have success doing things different ways, it gives you more confidence to try different things,” Shanahan said in a phone interview last week. “Most coaches are a product of their environment, where they’ve been and what they’ve learned. You have some success, then that’s the way you’re used to doing stuff. But if you get different players … you can’t always do the same things.
“If you’re fortunate enough to have some experience as a coordinator, you know sometimes you have no choice but to figure out different stuff. To be able to do that, and have some success, gives you a little more confidence in that, ‘Hey, I know there’s more than one way to do it.’ No matter what situation is presented to you, it just gives you a little more confidence you can make it work. You just have to go back to the drawing board and find a way.”
Even before Washington selected Griffin in the 2012 NFL draft, Shanahan began an overhaul of the team’s offense to better fit Griffin’s skills. With Manziel and Griffin having similar strengths, it was a no-brainer for Shanahan to tweak Cleveland’s offense in anticipation of Manziel potentially starting.
“But every year is different. Every team is different,” Shanahan said. “In Washington, we had been together for a little bit there. We had the running game going. There were things that we already tried that we thought would work [in a new offense]. Every quarterback is different. You to have to figure out different ways to make it work.
“Yeah, there are some things that we had success with in Washington that we could have success with in Cleveland. But it definitely won’t be everything. Your challenge as a coach is to try to figure out what your players do best. And what you do also has a lot to do with your division and the defenses you go against six times in a season. A lot of things go into it.”
Shanahan will lead Cleveland’s offense in his first game against his former team since he was fired along with his father, former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, and most of the coaching staff on Dec. 30. For Kyle, returning to the place he coached for four seasons won’t be a big deal, he said.
“You really don’t even think much of it,” Shanahan said. “I might see a couple of coaches and players on the sidelines [before the game]. But more likely, we’ll talk after the game because I’m usually too busy before the game to come out [during pregame warmups].”
Returning to play the Denver Broncos, whom his father led to consecutive Super Bowl championships, with Washington last season “was a little bit of a big deal for me,” Shanahan added. “Growing up there and thinking more about my dad, yeah, that was bigger. But when it comes to myself, I’ve coached for three NFL teams. Everything changes. I just stick to what I’m doing right now and do my best at that. But you really don’t make too big a deal about that stuff, especially in a preseason game.”
Shanahan played a big role in Griffin’s success as a rookie and helping Washington win the 2012 NFC East title – its first division championship in 13 seasons. But he doesn’t look back.
“Everyone takes pride in what they do. And when you have some success, yeah, you’re proud of it. But you really can’t live in the past,” Shanahan said. “You put so much work into what you do … but it’s on to the next year.
“I get how this business works and I get how this world works. It’s what have you done for me lately. Everyone is trying accomplish one goal: to win a Super Bowl. I haven’t been close to that yet. That’s what I continue to try to do.”
Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.
The Redskins and Browns clash on Monday Night Football at 8 p.m.
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