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Redskins can cure many woes with ‘bonus day’ of practice, Jay Gruden says

Jay Gruden hopes an extra day of practice next week will help new starting quarterback Colt McCoy connect better with the team's playmakers. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

None of the signs were pointing toward an NFC East championship for Jay Gruden on Friday. His franchise quarterback is out until at least next summer; his offensive line is in pieces, with his star left tackle taken to a hospital for chest X-rays Thursday; his top playmakers are hurt as the season’s final weeks near; and his defense had just been trampled for the fourth week in a row.

And yet the Washington Redskins' coach was promising that things would get better in the final five games.

Why? Time.

The Redskins don’t play again until Monday, Dec. 3, so they will have what Gruden called “a bonus day” of practice next week. Instead of the normal four days of on-field preparation for their game at the Philadelphia Eagles, they will have five. Gruden plans on using that extra day to run plays — lots and lots of plays.

Gruden believes strongly in the power of practice — the benefit of repetitions, or reps as coaches call them. “Repetition is king,” he said on a conference call with local media members Friday. “If you don’t get the reps, it’s going to set you back a little bit.”

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In recent days, there haven’t been many reps for key players. Alex Smith’s replacement at quarterback, Colt McCoy, has barely worked with the first-team offense in practice and had no reps in the three days between Smith’s injury and Thursday’s 31-23 loss at Dallas because the team only held walk-throughs. The difference, Gruden said, between walk-throughs, when an equipment man is sometimes serving as the third cornerback on the scout team, and an actual practice is immense.

“Colt, in fairness to him, hasn’t had any reps with the [starters] in going through the game plan, going through the plays of himself doing it,” Gruden said. “He’s watching Alex doing it the entire year; he’s watching [previous starter Kirk Cousins] do it the entire year before that. This process of being a starting quarterback is critical and necessary in a quarterback’s [readiness]. The reps will help considerably, too.”

Other players — such as wide receiver Jamison Crowder (who has been sidelined for seven weeks with an ankle injury) and running back Chris Thompson (who has missed six of the past seven games with cracked ribs) — haven’t been able to work with McCoy, either, keeping the team’s new starter from having any connection to the players with whom he needs to build a bond.

Gruden said he hopes Crowder and Thompson will be able to practice next week and play against the Eagles. He believes in those two as playmakers maybe more than any other on the team, and he thinks the offense will take off when both are healthy.

“I don’t think people understand how important Chris Thompson is to this offense,” Gruden said.

Gruden also is sure the extra practice next week will help the offensive line bond after it was pieced together three weeks ago following season-ending injuries to guards Brandon Scherff and Sean Lauvao, as well as the dislocated thumb suffered by left tackle Trent Williams that forced him out of three games before he returned against the Cowboys. Gruden said X-rays Thursday night showed Williams did not break a rib, as the team had feared. He seemed optimistic that Williams would be able to practice, which would give the linemen a few days to play together as a group.

“It will be good from a health standpoint,” Gruden said. “We’re just going to do our stuff — get Colt a lot of reps, get [newly signed backup Mark Sanchez] a few of those reps, but just go back to basic-type plays where Colt’s calling the plays and Mark gets in the huddle and calls some plays and gets some familiarity with the guys.”

Gruden even thinks the extra practice time will help his once-stout defense, which has suddenly become porous. After Thursday’s game, Washington safety D.J. Swearinger blasted the group, saying: “We missed a lot of tackles. We didn’t do what we needed to do as a defense as a whole.”

On Friday, Gruden seemed to agree with Swearinger but added that he couldn’t “put a finger on” why the defensive players have suddenly started missing tackles that they made earlier in the season. He pointed to injuries to defensive linemen Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen suffered in the Dallas game and lingering shoulder soreness that has bothered fellow lineman Daron Payne in recent weeks as reasons why the Redskins haven’t been as good at stopping the run.

Allen, who hurt his knee Thursday, is expected to be fine. Ioannidis, who has a calf injury, might be out longer. With the injured players getting rest over the weekend and the defense having time to work on its issues in practice next week, Gruden said he thinks the tackling will improve.

“[Thursday] and the game before, we have given up some uncharacteristic long runs, which we will get corrected; we have to, in order to have a chance to win our division because we know how important the last five games are,” Gruden said. “It always comes down to who can run the ball and who can stop the run.”

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