This time last year, as the Washington Redskins conducted their offseason program, a hobbled Robert Griffin III did his best to knock off rust and acclimate himself to a bulky knee brace while his teammates practiced on a separate field.
But Thursday — with last year’s recovery from knee surgery and a trying 3-13 season behind him — Griffin had a pep in his step and a zip in his arm as the Redskins concluded their first week of organized team activities.
Gone is the knee brace. Gone is the hitch in Griffin’s step and the feelings of isolation.
With a new coach, new offense and retooled roster, Griffin relishes the chance to lay the groundwork for the coming season.
“As everyone knows, last year I was rehabbing and getting ready for the season, and now I get to go out there and be with the guys,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice — the final day of this week’s workouts, which featured 100 percent attendance. “That’s the most important part: to be with your teammates. That’s what I’ve had a chance to do. I thoroughly enjoy it, and hopefully they have, too.
“It’s obviously a new offense, and we’ve got different guys in the building,” he added. “But it’s going really, really well. I feel great.”
Coach Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Sean McVay have spent the better part of the last two months teaching the offense to Griffin and his teammates, while defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica have done the same for their units. They led them through a three-day minicamp in late April, and this week represented their first practices since.
This week’s practices also have served as Gruden’s first with the whole squad. April’s minicamp took place before the draft, and then in May, the coach and his staff led Washington’s draft picks, college free agents and a collection of tryout players through the three-day rookie camp.
Gruden admitted his transition from offensive coordinator (the title he held with the Cincinnati Bengals the past three years) to NFL head coach remains incomplete.
“It’s different,” Gruden said. “But, you know, I’m handling it pretty much the same. I’m letting Coach Haslett coach the defense, Coach Kotwica coach the special teams, and I’m really hands-on with the offense right now. Part of the reason I hired the guys that I hired is I could count on them to run their specific groups, and it’s been a very smooth process so far.
“I address the team — try to address the team every morning — and at practice I try to keep my eyes on the defense, what they’re doing. But right now I’m pretty hands-on with the offense and how we’re doing. So it’s been a good transition, smooth transition and the big thing you look for is effort and tempo, and I think so far our guys are buying in and they’re performing at a pretty high level.”
Gruden added, “We’re getting done everything we need to get done. We’re installing our system, the defense is installing their system and special teams is installing their system, and we’re going out and competing every day. Guys are doing a great job. They’re flying around to the ball. The tempo has been outstanding. Coaching has been outstanding. Everybody understands it’s a new season and that it’s their job to get out and perform.”
Griffin already has spent time this offseason working with returning pass-catchers such as wideout Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. He also has thrown to new additions DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts.
Asked about developing timing and chemistry with Jackson — the three-time Pro Bowl free agent addition, who will start opposite Garcon — Griffin was optimistic.
“I think it’s there. We’ve been throwing a lot,” Griffin said. “He’s been here the majority of the offseason program. . . . He’s a guy that’s so talented and has a really good catch radius. He can pretty much jell anywhere he goes, and we’re excited to have him.”
Jackson displayed his impressive speed early in Thursday’s practice but tweaked his left hamstring while running a deep route. He received treatment from the team’s athletic trainers and watched the second half of practice. Jackson said afterward he just experienced some tightness in the hamstring, and Gruden classified the injury as a minor pull.
On the other side of the ball, top pick Trent Murphy — the outside linebacker drafted in the second round out of Stanford — continued his NFL education and worked behind Pro Bowl bookends Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. At times, Murphy joined the pair on the field as Haslett’s unit worked on pass-rushing situations.
The team’s other seven draft picks all worked with the second and third units.
“They are going against some great players that they are not used to seeing,” the coach said. “Not only mentally are they probably shell-shocked a little bit but physically. [They think,] ‘Now I know what to do.’ And then all of a sudden, ‘Oh, there is Ryan Kerrigan. Great.’ So it’s a tough deal for them. But so far, you look for mental toughness in rookies. You look for how they can handle some kind of adversity, some kind of failure and how they rebound from a poor play to the next play. So far we have seen some good things from a lot of people.”
Another seven OTA sessions remain this summer. Offseason work will conclude with a mandatory minicamp in the middle of June. The players will retreat to their offseason homes for roughly a month and then report for training camp in late July.
Between now and then, the to-do list is simple, Griffin said.
“It’s on our shirts. ‘Win everything, win every day,’ ” he said. “That’s the to-do list. Seize every day, every opportunity that we’re in here, watching film, on the field. It’s real vague, but that’s how I approach everything.”
At the last line, Griffin laughed — something he didn’t do much of last season. His hope — as well as that of his teammates and coaches — is that the good times last beyond the feel-good offseason.