What he did was meet individually with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy and ask each of them to evaluate themselves — list their strengths and weaknesses. Cavanaugh actually had them write all of this down.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Cousins said.
“Then,” he explained, “We go to work.”
And that’s what the signal-callers have done, up through Wednesday’s minicamp session, the last practice before training camp.
Cavanaugh said he believes in focusing on the fundamentals, so he has worked with Griffin and the other quarterbacks on being comfortable in the pocket, creating a consistent base with their legs, and so on.
That led to Tuesday, which Cavanaugh called Griffin’s best day of practice yet.
“And I told [Griffin] earlier, I told him ‘You screwed up,’ ” Cavanaugh said, “’Because now that you did it once, we are going to expect you to do it all the time.’”
Head coach Jay Gruden said Griffin has benefited from hearing Cavanaugh’s voice consistently. Last year, Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay were in charge of the quarterbacks, in addition to their other duties. The Patriots were the only other team not to have a full-time quarterbacks coach last season.
While he has helped the quarterbacks, Cavanaugh has been progressing too, he said.
This is far from his first time joining a new organization. He played for three teams and coached in Arizona, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Baltimore.
But each transition brings its own challenges. Some play calls and designs are still new to Cavanaugh here, the practice schedule is unlike what he was used to, and meetings are run differently than they were at his previous stops. So Cavanaugh has worked to learn from his students.
“I’ve been very attentive into what we are doing, and they have helped me as much as I have helped them,” he said.
Cavanaugh added that he is going to spend the next five weeks studying more so that he has everything mastered by training camp, just like the players.
On the field, Cavanaugh is quiet, often standing several yards behind the play. During an entire red-zone drill, he hardly moves, resting on his knees as Griffin throws a touchdown pass and remaining still when McCoy throws an interception.
The two quarterbacks not playing at any one moment stand by Cavanaugh and chat, the three of them taking turns explaining something to someone else.
“I look at myself as being on the same plane as them and we can all communicate just by talking to each other.”
Cavanaugh tries to be a relatively mellow coach, he said, because that was the type of coach he liked as a player.
Gruden and McVay continue coaching the quarterbacks as well. Tuesday, Gruden complimented Griffin on a third-down throw, and Wednesday, McVay chatted with the starting quarterback and gave him a fist bump after a touchdown toss.
Cavanaugh said the three have learned to work together with the quarterbacks. He explained that he is fine with Gruden or McVay stepping in to impart advice given their experience and their common goal.
Cousins said the current setup works well.
“At the end of the day, both [McVay and Cavanaugh] are going to be coaching the QBs and being very hands on,” he said. “But there are so many demands on Sean, so many other things he has to be focused on, so as a result you have to have another guy who can help you, and that’s where coach Cavanaugh becomes a big asset to us.”
Gruden said that he has seen all three quarterbacks improve their fundamentals and their understanding of his scheme under the new system of leadership.
As for who will get the backup spot, Gruden said Wednesday that he will wait to see how Cousins and McCoy play in preseason games before finalizing the depth chart.
“Both of them … have had a taste of the starting quarterback job in the NFL and they both want it back real bad,” Gruden said. “They’re doing an excellent job at competing every day.
“It’s killing them on the inside, I know it.”
Cavanaugh said he may have input on the depth chart down the road, but he is not thinking at all about the order now.
“I’m just coaching the position,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to think about how each guy can get better.”
Once again, that is someone’s sole mission.
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