Washington Report: Getting It Going Under Gruden
Beautiful, cloudless skies greeted us in Richmond, Va., the second straight year Washington has moved its summer sessions 120 miles to the south of the team’s facility in Ashburn. This one has a much different feel, however, after the team’s disastrous 3-13 campaign led to the firing of Mike Shanahan, and the arrival of former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has head coach. To mark the occasion, big brother Jon Gruden was in attendance. The crowd was large and boisterous, although not to the level of our trip last year, as usual.
One vivid memory from watching practice
The loudest cheer, by far, came when quarterback Robert Griffin III slid on the damp turf after scrambling out of the pocket during a team drill. Griffin missed much of last year’s camp because of ACL surgery, and his durability has been an issue. However, the cheer was notable because what it represented: the high point of the day as far as Washington’s offense went. It’s going to take some time to get up to speed in Jay Gruden’s scheme.
How this team can go 12–4
It can’t—there isn’t enough talent, especially in the secondary—for that to happen. That does not mean, however, that Washington can’t be a contender in the underwhelming NFC East, where everybody has issues. A season like 2012, Griffin’s rookie campaign when the team finished 10-6, is certainly possible. The defense, which will have continuity with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and the steadying presence of veteran safety Ryan Clark, should be improved. Much will depend on how quickly Griffin regains his form and performs from the pocket, and how the rest of the unit acclimates to Gruden’s system. For the latter, that usually doesn’t happen until the second half off the season.
How this team can go 4–12
The learning curve on offense leads to disappointing losses in the first two games against perceived lightweights Houston and Jacksonville (after that it's a tough stretch: at Eagles, vs. Giants, vs. Seahawks, at Cardinals). But I don’t see that happening. There’s too much talent at the offensive skill positions and at linebacker to get that bad. The more likely scenario, as with just about every other team, is a rash of injuries leads down the path to loserdom. The wheels could come off if Griffin takes a beating and secondary leaders Clark (34) and DeAngelo Hall (30) succumb to age.
Now, from fantasyland …
1. Hard to tell how the touches will be disseminated in Gruden’s attack, but it looked like Andre Roberts has some nice camaraderie with Griffin. Both Roberts and DeSean Jackson will get looks on pre-packaged bubble screens; they look like they were lifted right out of the Eagles’ playbook.
2. With defenses having to worry so much about Washington’s speed at receiver (Jackson, Garcon and Roberts), look for TE Jordan Reed to find a lot of open room to operate. He should get plenty of touches.
3. Rookie RB Lache Seastrunk didn’t appear as fast as his Baylor game tape, so look for veteran Roy Helu Jr. to maintain an edge at third-down back until the games get started.
How I project the lineup, with competitive spots in bold:
|WR||DeSean Jackson||LDE||Jason Hatcher|
|LT||Trent Williams||NT||Barry Cofield|
|LG||Shawn Lauvao||RDE||Chris Baker/Jarvis Jenkins|
|C||Kory Lichtensteiger||OLB||Brian Orakpo|
|RG||Chris Chester/Spencer Long||ILB||Perry Riley Jr.|
|RT||Tyler Polumbus/Morgan Moses/Tom Compton||ILB||Keenan Robinson/Darryl Sharpton/Akeem Jordan|
|TE||Jordan Reed||OLB||Ryan Kerrigan|
|WR||Pierre Garcon||CB||DeAngelo Hall|
|3rdWR||Andre Roberts||CB||David Amerson|
|QB||Robert Griffin III||SS||Brandon Meriweather|
|RB||Alfred Morris||FS||Ryan Clark|
|FB||Darrel Young||3rdCB||Tracy Porter/Bashaud Breeland|
|K||Kai Forbath/Zach Hocker||P||Robert Malone|
Moses, a third-round pick, looks to be a ways off from competing for a starting spot … Robinson has the edge right now to replace London Fletcher, but Sharpton and Jordan are very game veterans. … The battle for third cornerback is a classic one between a cagey veteran and an aggressive youngster. Breeland has a little boom or bust to his game.
Best new player in camp
DeSean Jackson, wide receiver. It appears that Griffin will need a bit of time to adjust to the speed at which Jackson plays the game—a few balls were thrown behind him. There’s no doubt about how fast Jackson is, and Gruden will find ways to get him the ball.
Strong opinion that I may regret by November
Washington is going to be plagued by poor safety play. Again. Ryan Clark is still, even at 34, an underrated player. But he’s not playing next to Troy Polamalu anymore. It’s a little amazing to me that, four years after watching his terrible camp for the Patriots, Brandon Meriweather is even in the league anymore, let alone a starter. Clark is going to have to do more to make that combination work, and I’m just not that sure he is capable of it anymore.
Something I've never seen before
A male fan standing on the rope line during practice wearing a Brian Orakpo jersey while sporting an impressive mullet.
What I thought when I walked out of camp
Meh. Washington is the type of team that will either be very competitive in a weak division, or show it’s a year away with a new coach and offensive system. The division alone should keep them in it for much of the season. After that, it’s about luck, health and how quickly the players really click with the new offense and each other. But a lot needs to go right for Washington to be a threat to anyone outside NFC East.