Make or Break for RG3—Again
Site: Bon Secours Training Center in historical downtown Richmond, Va., two hours South of Fed Ex Field. Sprawling grass fields with not even a square-foot of shade.
What I Saw: An afternoon practice, Friday, July 31. Baking hot at 91 degrees. Klemko, inexplicably, wore jeans. Again.
Three things you need to know about Washington:
1. The next month is about getting Robert Griffin III to be more of a conventional quarterback, so it isn’t all about being mobile. Coach Jay Gruden wants Griffin to stop winning games with his legs, and start winning games with his arm and his head. “We have to help keep the weight of the world off his shoulders,” Gruden told The MMQB. “He’s only 24, just turned 25. He’s been through so much. He just has to play quarterback for us and forget all the outside stuff.” To alleviate some burden, Gruden appointed Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach (something the team did not have last year). Cavanaugh will focus on Griffin’s presence in the pocket while Gruden will sprinkle more play-action into the offense.
2. To become less-quarterback reliant, Washington shored up its offensive line. Something needed to be done to a unit that allowed 36 sacks last season. Enter veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan, architect of the Cowboy’s dominant run game in 2014. He has an exciting player to build around in 2015 first-round pick Brandon Scherff, the stud tackle from Iowa.
3. Washington also fortified its defense. Jim Haslett, the defensive coordinator for the last five seasons, is out. Joe Barry is in. You might remember Barry for his two-year stint as the Lions defensive coordinator. He’ll install a one-gap 3-4 scheme that should generate more pressure up front. New general manager Scot McCloughan prioritized on defensive linemen in free agency, adding Ricky Jean Francois, Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. And then came perhaps the biggest addition: Junior Galette. The controversial linebacker — a costly cut for the Saints earlier this week —attended his first practice on Friday (more on that in a bit).
What will determine success or failure for Washington: RG3. As stale as this storyline has become for a franchise which has been a bottom-feeder in the NFC East for the last two seasons, it's hard to overstate how true this is. As Griffin goes, so does Washington.
Player I saw and really liked: Alfred Morris. Maybe its because I know he’ll have such an important role in the offense, but I found myself watching Morris a lot in 11-on-11 drills. He plugged away in Washington’s power scheme. Of course, it was a no-pads session so if a running back didn’t look good that would be a problem. But with an added emphasis on the run game, I expect a productive year for Morris.
Five dot-dot-dot observations about Washington: Tough day for Bashaud Breeland, the second-year cornerback. After receiving a one-game suspension for a marijuana citation, Breeland took a nasty fall during one-on-one passing drills and was carted off. The apparent right leg injury looked serious. Breeland is one of the team’s better corners... Washington is lining up Scherff at right tackle, and he had some great battles with Ryan Kerrigan in one-on-one drills.....DeSean Jackson was fielding punts, as was fourth-round draft pick Jamison Crowder from Duke....It's so fun to watch Gruden at practice. He is incredibly animated and involved, even jumping in a few drills himself.... Neither Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy stood out, though Cousins did have a nice deep ball to Crowder toward the end of practice.
The one name on the roster I’d forgotten about. Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton. After being so important to Denver’s defense, the self-professed “best nose tackle in the league” brought his 354-pound self to Washington on a one-year, $4 million deal. Knighton told me he’s excited to adopt a leadership role on this team, and was already a fan favorite as he walked off the practice field after day two. “We love you Pot Roast!” a group of women squealed as he walked to a local ESPN radio interview. He flashed them a smile. We’ll see if Knighton can maintain his upbeat persona as his switch from a perennial contender to an NFC bottom feeder sets in as the season marches on.
The thing I’ll remember about Richmond. Junior Galette’s debut. I did a double-take when players walked on to the field and there was Galette strolling side-by-side with Kerrigan. They were engaged in a pretty chummy conversation. Who would have thunk that these two would be teammates, and that Kerrigan would be the one with a fat contract and Galette on a veteran’s minimum deal?
Although Galette did not fully practice, his presence loomed. A cadre of reporters tracked his every move; the linebacker spent most of the two-and-a-half hour afternoon session doing sprints and footwork drills with position coaches and chatting with his new teammates on the sideline. Galette should fit into Barry’s scheme quite nicely, so his future in Washington, I think, depends solely on this: getting along with his teammates and staying out of trouble.
Gut feeling about this team as I left town. I have optimism that Griffin — if he stays healthy — will fare better than he did in the last two seasons. I really do. However I don’t think that’s enough to keep up with the Joneses (Philadelphia and Dallas) in a competitive NFC East. At best this feels like a 6-10 team, but even with a favorable schedule (Washington hosts the Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers, Saints and Bills) that seems high. My gut tells me that next offseason will be especially fascinating in Washington.