The Washington Redskins used their offseason practices to begin the transition from former coach Mike Shanahan’s offensive system to that of Shanahan’s successor, Jay Gruden. The early indications, according to Redskins players, are that the shift will be more about tinkering than overhauling.
“It’s not much of a difference from the offense last year, to tell you the truth,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said as he walked off the field at Redskins Park following one offseason practice. “It’s the same offensive coordinating guys from last year.”
Gruden promoted Shanahan’s tight ends coach, Sean McVay, to offensive coordinator and vowed to retain ingredients of Shanahan’s offensive system, particularly those involving the running game. Players say they indeed have found Gruden’s system to be similar.
“I think having two years’ experience running an offense, a pro-level offense, West Coast type, this is very similar,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said during offseason practices. “So it’s not been as tough as you might think. But all the concepts translate over. They might be called something different. But the reads are similar. It’s just about the philosophy of the coach. Jay has a little bit different philosophy. We’ll find out what that is on Sundays.”
When the Redskins drafted Griffin in 2012, Shanahan and his son, Kyle, who served as his father’s offensive coordinator, crafted an offensive system designed to take advantage of Griffin’s varied talents. They borrowed elements traditionally associated with the college game, such as the pistol offense and option plays, and combined them with longtime staples of Mike Shanahan-coached teams, including a West Coast passing scheme, a zone-blocking style by the offensive line and stretch running plays.
It all worked superbly in Griffin’s rookie season. He was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. An unheralded sixth-round draft choice, running back Alfred Morris, became a highly productive runner as a rookie and the Redskins won the NFC East title.
But things unraveled from there. The Shanahans’ use of Griffin as a frequent runner came under intense scrutiny, as did their relationship with him. Griffin failed to recapture his rookie-year magic last season as he worked his way back from offseason surgery to repair the injury to his right knee, suffered during the Redskins’ playoff loss to end his first season. The Redskins went 3-13 and Shanahan was fired, leading to the coaching search that resulted in the hiring of Gruden, who was serving as the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The designed running plays for Griffin are likely to be curtailed with Gruden in charge. People in and around the organization say they expect the new coaching staff to emphasize Griffin’s development as a pocket passer. The great majority of Griffin’s running plays, they say, should come when his pass protection breaks down or when no open receiver can be found. The running game will be left, for the most part, to Morris. When Griffin was asked during offseason practices which player he considers the team’s biggest threat on offense, he named Morris.
“Our running game has stayed pretty true to what it is and our passing game, we’ve had to learn some new things,” Griffin said. “Even if it might be the same concept, like I said, it might be called differently. I think everybody is doing a great job being on top of that, being in the right place.”
The Redskins have reworked their offensive line and added wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts as free agents. Those changes, plus the progress made by second-year tight end Jordan Reed, could make the biggest difference in their offense.
“I have high expectations,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of playmakers on this team all the way from . . . Santana Moss to Andre Roberts, [Jordan] Reed. It’s very exciting. Everybody is young, just having fun out here working together and enjoying. We’re out here working together like it’s training camp. That’s a good thing to have.”
Jackson and Garcon each had more than 1,300 receiving yards last season, with Jackson’s production coming for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s questionable whether they can duplicate those numbers while playing on the same team. But Jackson said during offseason practices that he expects the two to thrive in tandem and benefit one another.
“I respect Garcon,” Jackson said. “He’s a good player in this league, a great receiver. This is my first year really getting to know him and having that relationship with him. I think me and him will be able to be like that one-two punch in the NFL and have a great year. So whatever it is I can help him with, vice versa, whatever he can help me with, I look forward to that. It’s gonna be tough on defenses. People are going to have to account for him. They’re going to have to account for me. Not only that. We have other players involved in the offense, too, that people are going to have to account for.”