The moves almost seemed to be a silent swipe at the style of former coach Jay Gruden, who was sometimes criticized for practicing light to keep his players fresh. By making the changes, Callahan was implying that all the team, then 0-5, needed to improve was to practice and study more.
Five games later, Washington has won just once — barely holding on to beat the then-winless Miami Dolphins — and was dominated by the lowly New York Jets in a 34-17 defeat Sunday that was finished in an almost-empty FedEx Field. And as he spoke at his Monday news conference, Callahan seemed confused as to why the team has not responded to his approach.
“The translation is what really gets to me,” Callahan said. “You’ve got to come to the game, and you’ve got to make plays. And when that doesn’t translate, yeah, there’s disappointment.”
When asked why he thinks this “translation” hasn’t been made, Callahan said, “I think there’s a lot of reasons — just consistency and performance.”
He said he has looked at the game film and sees a lot of little things, such as a dropped pass at a critical moment, a blown play or a missed blocking assignment. Together, these things add up.
“I think that there is definitely frustration on the players’ part because I feel bad for them,” Callahan said. “I feel bad for our fans. Our fans come to the game and they expect a quality product to be put on the field, and it wasn’t displayed yesterday. That’s what eats at me. That’s what bothers me, when I feel I let our fans down in that respect. It falls on my shoulders. I accept that.”
As he did after Sunday’s loss to the Jets, Callahan said he told the team Monday morning that he is going to remain positive and look for ways to end a 2-15 slide that dates back to quarterback Alex Smith’s career-threatening broken leg last Nov. 18. Later, at his news conference, he talked about the way this season has challenged him as a coach.
He said he has talked in the past to former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli about the way Marinelli handled the Lions’ winless season in 2008. He said Marinelli, now the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, told him that 0-16 season “strengthened his resolve regarding his standards, the way that he looks at the game, the way that he coached the game,” he said.
“You can see that manifest itself in the way that they play in Dallas over the years,” Callahan added.
Still, Callahan’s comments about lessons in practice not translating are similar to those made by Gruden early in the season, when he said he and his coaches weren’t reaching the players and looked to be searching for a reason.
At times, Callahan and other coaches have talked about this being a young team, especially on defense, and they have implied that those players need time to grow. Nowhere was that more evident than with quarterback Dwayne Haskins — the team’s top draft pick in the spring — who has struggled for long stretches when he has played.
Callahan said Haskins “had good decisions and good reads” at times Sunday against the Jets and “others not as good,” saying the quarterback is “still in the learning-process phase of progressions, reads, decisions.”
In the meantime, the team has continued to lose.
Nicholson ‘wanted to play’ Sunday, Callahan says
Callahan said the decision to play safety Montae Nicholson on Sunday was because Nicholson’s sprained ankle had improved enough for him to start, suggesting the team did not consider sitting Nicholson because of an incident Thursday in which Nicholson brought an unresponsive woman who later died of an apparent overdose to the hospital.
On Friday, Callahan referred to “the legal process” and said, “We’re letting that play out right now.”
He did not directly address the incident Monday, other than to say Nicholson had talked to people in the organization about the mental aspect of playing after an incident such as the one last week.
“It’s always a player’s decision whether they’re ready to play or not,” Callahan said. “He was physically ready to play and he wanted to play, so that was strictly his decision, and he had the freedom to make that decision.”