Believe it or not, Redskins players will report to Richmond for training camp in 28 days.
To kick it off, we put Jay Gruden under the microscope.
Much of the attention of the offseason has centered on Robert Griffin III as he enters what appears to be a make-or-break season.
But what about Jay Gruden? Do we really know if he has what it takes to succeed as a head coach in the NFL?
The jury is still very much out. Gruden obviously came to Washington with an impressive resume, having won both as a player and coach in the Arena Football League, and then as a head coach in the United Football League. His success continued during three seasons as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. People within the league heralded him as a quarterback guru when Washington hired him as head coach in January 2014, and Gruden’s top task at the time was to fix Griffin, and help him get back to his 2012 form, and better.
Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and the team’s fans are still waiting for that to happen.
Gruden provided only brief glimpses of his abilities as an offensive mind and play-caller. The offense operated at its best in Week 2 against Jacksonville (a win) and Week 3 against Philadelphia (a loss). Those were the only times Washington topped the 30-point mark (41 points against Jacksonville, 34 versus Philly).
But otherwise, Gruden found his unit hampered by ineffective quarterback play, turnovers, poor execution in the red zone and on third downs. As a whole, Washington’s team (offense, defense and special teams) under-performed, with a lack of focus, plentiful self-inflicted wounds and poor discipline routinely on display.
Many times the coach seemed at a loss for answers.
Gruden this offseason went back to the drawing board, examining his philosophies and practices from top to bottom. He says he learned a lot in Year 1, and that his examination of that campaign yielded plenty of areas that required an overhaul in approach. Changes have followed.
Gruden lobbied for help in the front office, and Allen hired Scot McCloughan as general manager, giving the team its first proven team architect since the days of Charley Casserly.
Gruden changed strength coaches, firing Ray Wright and replacing him with Mike Clark in hopes that his players will become bigger, stronger, more explosive and more durable going forward.
Gruden changed defensive coordinators, parting ways with Jim Haslett and replacing him with Joe Barry, previously the linebackers coach at San Diego.
Gruden also brought in a new offensive line coach, replacing Chris Foerster with Bill Callahan, and hired a quarterbacks coach, Matt Cavanaugh, so he could focus more on the big picture, and so offensive coordinator Sean McVay could also more effectively focus on the operation of that unit rather than trying to juggle those duties with quarterback tutelage.
Gruden says that during offseason practices, he had a better plan and idea of how he wanted things to operate. He came away from June’s minicamp with the belief that the team has a stronger foundation this year than it did last summer.
When the Redskins kick off training camp, we’ll see if the improvements continue. Will practices hum along with a greater emphasis on instruction, preparation and greater sense of purpose? Will mental errors decrease? How will Gruden handle the quarterback situation, where Griffin looks to remain the starter as Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy jockey for position behind him?
Then, once the regular season begins, Gruden will try to display better decision-making skills, and a better feel for the game, his players, and his opponents.
Fans have raised the question of whether Gruden should be on the hot seat in only his second season. The many holes that remained on the roster after Year 1 – which McCloughan and Gruden aimed to address his offseason – and the process of filling them could buy the coach additional time.
Fortunately for Gruden, he and McCloughan share similar philosophies on how a roster should be constructed.
But the Redskins must display improvement in Gruden’s second season. In an ideal world, Griffin will rebound, the offense and defense will both make strides, as will the special teams units, the team picks up a few more wins, and Gruden & Co. emerge from this campaign with a true sense of encouragement.
However, if Griffin struggles, Gruden must hope that either Cousins or McCoy can play better, and that the team can still produce some positive results. But if neither excel, and the offense remains anemic, the special teams units woeful, and the defense toothless despite the hiring of a new coordinator, then Gruden certainly will have a lot of explaining to do. In that case, a third season would be no sure thing for the once-fast-rising star coach.