Analysis

Jay Gruden/Scot McCloughan Redskins displaying accountability

They knew it was harsh. The timing wasn't great for anyone involved, but the Washington Redskins' decision makers didn't want this issue to linger any longer. And so they made a choice that would reverberate throughout the building recently as much as their Week 2 win.

"The locker room is looking at this saying, 'There's no bull---- anymore,' " one team source said Wednesday. "The players who earn the jobs are going to be the ones playing in the games."

Oh, wait -- you thought we were talking about the quarterback position? No, no. At this point, that's merely fodder for those outside franchise walls. On the inside, the Redskins are talking about something else: the kicker.

The example might sound strange, but coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan both realize they must change the culture at Redskins Park with every decision they make. And players are noticing.

Accountability is alive again.

Kicker Kai Forbath missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 -- and the team cut him a day later. As Gruden explained, the Redskins weren't upset with the fourth-year pro for personal reasons. They merely wanted a stronger leg -- not only for field goals, but for kickoffs, too.

Here's why players cared: Some believe Adam Hayward, the team's captain on special teams who tore his ACL in the preseason, never would have suffered his injury if Forbath had a leg strong enough to force a touchback and limit an unnecessary return. That might be harsh. But inside a locker room, protection from avoidable injury is paramount.

One week after cutting Forbath, the Redskins were at it again. On Monday, the team announced the release of cornerback David Amerson, a second-round pick in 2013. Kyshoen Jarrett was playing better than Amerson, and so Jarrett got the job. He'll still compete for it with the newly signed Will Blackmon, but the point is, Amerson's draft pedigree held no weight.

Of course, no matter the accountability, Redskins players and fans will only care if the decisions are the right ones. That's where the recent success of the team, even during the Week 1 loss to Miami, weighs heavily. A combination of accountability and positive results (win or lose) can be the ultimate fast track to long-term success.

Take, for example, the offensive line. Throughout training camp, O-line coach Bill Callahan was a terror on his players, working with veterans after practice for an extra 10 minutes and younger players for 20 minutes beyond that. As center Kory Lichtensteiger put it during the offseason, "We'll definitely get better if we don't die first."

That's part of the accountability currently taking place. But there's a thin line between Vince Lombardi and Greg Schiano. Grind down your players without a taste of success, and you'll lose your locker room faster than a four-day turnaround for "Thursday Night Football".

The good news for the Redskins? Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been sacked just three times in two games, while Redskins running backs Alfred Morris and Matt Jones combined for 182 yard and two touchdowns in Sunday's win over the St. Louis Rams. An offensive line with some young players is getting the job done, while the one highly paid veteran (left tackle Trent Williams) made Rams pass rusher Robert Quinn largely invisible Sunday.

This is the same formula Callahan followed in Dallas. And from an overall personnel standpoint, it is also exactly the formula McCloughan followed during previous stops in San Francisco and Seattle. Yes, McCloughan is a scout by craft, earning a strong reputation as a talent evaluator, but a scout's most undervalued asset might be the recognition of roster synergy on a more macro level. In small ways, that concept is starting to spread.

With each passing week, sources say, McCloughan and Gruden are starting to get closer and more respectful of one another's ability. The conversations about the quarterback position, no doubt, helped expedite the process. But the decisions that are helping to shape the culture of the organization have been the main reason for that.

So what, exactly, does this mean to the 2015 season? Strangely, maybe not much.

As odd as it sounds, the optimism about the next 14 games isn't suddenly at some all-time high. In fact, plenty of people internally are skeptical about whether the Redskins have the talent to make a run beyond the regular season. Even if the NFC East provides an opening, the playoffs would be a whole different beast.

But the Redskins, for a pleasant change, might be a group of overachievers capable of figuring out ways to win while developing an understanding of the culture that it takes to succeed. Positive results these days should not be confused with outright wins. Heck, the Redskins are only 1-1 -- and easily could be 1-2 by the end of Thursday's road game against the New York Giants. So far, though, it's hard to find much to complain about.

That might feel like a strange consolation prize for an organization that's tired of constant losing. However, it is at least a sign of things to come, especially if owner Dan Snyder can understand exactly what is happening within his locker room in the meantime. Besides, if you remove all of the headlines involving the quarterback position (no doubt, that's not entirely easy to do), you'll nonetheless be reminded this was the team's most promising offseason in years -- and the current environment is a far cry from last year's locker-room daycare.

It isn't always easy to spot the small signs of hope, but if you look close enough, you'll understand why some believe the changes are occurring; why many are beginning to buy into the cultural brand that McCloughan and Co. are currently hawking.

Case in point: During the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game, something strange was happening on the sideline. DeAngelo Hall, Dashon Goldson and Trenton Robinson were still entirely engaged, cheering on teammates who were likely to be cut just a few days later. They were invested in each other, the synergy was alive -- and management was paying attention.

These are all little things, no doubt. Perhaps they are inconsequential. Perhaps they are so fragile that they could easily be muted if the football bounces the wrong way on one too many occasions.

Then again, it also might seem like a small decision to cut a kicker. In many places, such a roster transaction might barely be a headline. In the Redskins' training facility, it was a loud and strong news bulletin for everyone with a job: Make everyone better around you or prepare for your inevitable departure.

Yes, accountability might indeed be alive again in D.C.

And so, too, are touchbacks.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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