The offense — and quarterback Robert Griffin III in particular — has not been sharp enough. Griffin has shown some growth in directing a traditional offense. But his transition to a full-time pocket passer is slow.
Washington’s defense also could pick up the pace. Management is banking largely on end Jason Hatcher, a high-priced offseason addition, to bolster a defense that was among the NFL’s worst. Before he can help, Hatcher, who spent most of camp rehabilitating from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, must practice regularly.
On special teams, the Redskins are taking a wait-and-see approach. At place kicker and punter, competition will continue throughout the preseason. The coverage units, horrific last fall, won’t be set until the 53-man roster is finalized.
Facing major questions, the Redskins are eager to find answers. Getting the offense straightened out would please Coach Jay Gruden. In his effort to improve in the pocket, Griffin pushed himself during 16 camp practices, but he appears to have a long way to go to excel in Gruden’s passing game, which features more quick reads than Washington’s formerly successful — but risky — college option-style offense.
On three- and five-step drops, Griffin often has been efficient. The Redskins are encouraged by Griffin’s accuracy while throwing on the move. He and his receivers mostly have been in sync on short and intermediate routes. Those are things on which coaches can build.
When receivers ran long-developing routes, however, Griffin struggled. He lacked consistency on plays that featured seven-step drops. That doesn’t mean Griffin won’t get it eventually. But he needs reps to work on his rough edges, which is why you practice.
“He wants every play to be successful,” Gruden said. “If somebody isn’t open, he wants to buy time and try to find somebody. Sometimes the right play is to throw it away.”
With so much invested in Griffin, the Redskins must be somewhat patient. Tell it to Griffin.
“It’s tough. I expect a lot out of myself,” Griffin said. “Jay expects a lot out of me. [Offensive coordinator] Sean [McVay] expects a lot out of me. This organization expects a lot out of me. My team expects a lot out of me. It’s something I’ll always have to deal with, [but] it’s not necessarily about patience. It’s just knowing that great things are coming.”
Before Griffin can be great, he must be consistent. Gruden and McVay have tried to help Griffin by filling the playbook with plays he executes well, and “there’s been a lot of good [from Griffin], but there’s been some bad,” Gruden acknowledged. “When you watch the tape every day, he throws the ball 45 times, and 35 of ’em are good decisions. Then there’s a couple of ’em we have to correct.”
From their first day in the NFL until their last, quarterbacks hone their skills. For an inexperienced pocket passer such as Griffin, it would be surprising if he didn’t have growing pains. Problem is, Griffin always will be viewed through the lens of the steep price Washington paid to get him. The Redskins gave up four high-round picks to draft Griffin. They expect him to achieve long-term success. No one needs to tell Gruden what’s at stake.
“He’s got to make the right decisions,” Gruden said. “He’s got the keys to the franchise in his hands.”
As important as Griffin is to the offense, Hatcher could be the key to a turnaround on defense. Although Hatcher is off to a slow start, the Redskins say they made the right decision in luring the 32-year-old pass rusher — he’s guaranteed $10.5 million this season — from the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys. Hatcher, coming off surgery June 20, still is awaiting clearance to participate in full-squad work.
Hatcher already has been ruled out of Monday’s preseason game against Cleveland. And considering management has handled Hatcher’s rehab carefully, it wouldn’t be surprising if he sat out the entire preseason. At least Hatcher has started to work with his teammates. That’s progress.
“Just the thought of having him back, the possibility of it, was exciting. To actually have him back is great,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “We’ve played well without him [in training camp and the preseason opener against the New England Patriots], but he’ll be one of the better players on our team. . . . He’ll make everyone’s job easier.”
It’s worth noting, though, that despite Hatcher’s team-high 11 sacks last season, the Cowboys’ defense ranked last in yards per game. Out of 32 teams, Dallas was 30th in passing defense. In the NFL, it takes more than one standout player to make a major impact on the whole group. Cofield knows that, but said Hatcher “has got a very unique skill set,” adding that an elite pass rusher is “something that we need and every team needs.”
The Redskins left Richmond on Tuesday still trying to address needs. Over the remainder of the preseason, they’ll learn a lot more about where they stand.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.