After five months of offseason workouts, minicamps and training camp sessions, first-year Coach Jay Gruden conceded that the Redskins’ offense was still searching for an identity.
Ideally, the offense that closes Washington’s 2014 season will be more sure-footed and dynamic than the one on display in a rocky preseason during which quarterback Robert Griffin III failed to engineer a touchdown drive, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
Griffin’s final play of the preseason was an interception — hardly the note the third-year franchise quarterback with so much upside wanted to close on. But it underscored what’s undeniable.
While Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay develop Griffin into more of a pocket passer than perpetual running threat, the Redskins’ offense will lean heavily on the running game and its workhorse Alfred Morris, who gained 1,613 and 1,275 yards, respectively, the past two seasons.
“We need to be pretty good at everything,” Gruden said as the preseason wound to a close. “But obviously the strength of our football team at this moment would be, I would say, our running game.”
That said, Redskins President and General Manager Bruce Allen didn’t go on a free agent shopping spree in the NFL’s wide receiver market for nothing.
Washington’s offense may lack an identity just now, but it’s loaded with big-game personalities and playmakers.
DeSean Jackson is first among them, coming off a career year in Philadelphia in which he caught 82 passes and scored nine touchdowns while averaging more than 16 yards per catch. In a telling sign of respect for the three-time Pro Bowler whose release came as a shock, no one lobbied Jackson to sign with Washington more fervently than DeAngelo Hall, the cornerback tasked with defending him twice a season the past several years.
Jackson’s signing followed that of former Arizona Cardinals wideout Andre Roberts, 26, whose addition alone signified an upgrade of Griffin’s arsenal.
With the return of Pierre Garcon, last season’s league leader in receptions (a Redskins record 113), Griffin has perhaps an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. And if all three are covered, the quarterback can check down to 6-3, 237-pound tight end Jordan Reed, who lends a physical presence to a receiver corps that’s long on speed and short on height.
The question is: How quickly will Griffin gain the confidence to fully exploit his array of weapons?
The face of the franchise, who had two reconstructive surgeries on his right knee before his 23rd birthday, looked tentative in the preseason, particularly so against Baltimore’s imposing pass rush. It was as if Griffin didn’t trust what he saw, didn’t trust his protection or lacked faith that his receivers would be at their appointed spot at the proper time.
As a result, the quarterback known for his explosiveness appeared mired in quicksand — slow to identify his target and often tardy in releasing the ball, which led to several of the needless hits and sacks that ultimately will shorten his career and compromise the team.
Griffin called the starters’ preseason finale a “butt-kicking” and vowed to learn from it.
So must others; there was culpability all around. The offensive line isn’t as stout on the right side as it is on the left. More than one center exchange has gone awry. And Morris fumbled a routine handoff in preseason play.
But Griffin, named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year two seasons ago, is the fulcrum of Washington’s offense. As he has acknowledged: “The offense goes as I go, so personally I have to play better.”
Until then, there’s little doubt Morris will deliver the hard-earned yards behind fullback Darrel Young’s blocking.
Washington’s offense moved the ball well against Cleveland, outgaining the Browns 429 yards to 286. That’s scant consolation, however, when promising drives stall in the red zone, as those engineered by Washington’s starters did throughout the preseason.
Gruden has never wavered in his support for Griffin and insists the franchise quarterback will develop the trust required to play with confidence and speed.
As that process unfolds, Washington’s offense will likely be more one-dimensional than Gruden or McVay would like — not to mention Jackson, Garcon and Roberts.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a one-dimensional offense to succeed in the NFL, although Baltimore proved in the 2000 season a tough-nosed running back and ferocious defense can carry a team to a Super Bowl championship.
“For us to think we are going to be a straight drop-back passing team is a little naive,” Gruden said. “For us to think we are just going to hand it off every time is a little naive. I think our identity has to be diversity, and we have got to be able to be good at both.”