The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Albert Breer visits the Washington Redskins.
Where is NFL Media?
Two hours south of D.C. in Richmond, Virginia, at the three-year-old Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center. The state built the team the beautiful practice facility, complete with two natural-grass fields and most of the amenities they'd get at home, when the club agreed to keep its headquarters in Ashburn rather than move to Maryland or the District.
1) I kind of wish I was going to be here for a padded practice or two, because that's when the changes new GM Scot McCloughan has instituted will come to life. Whether you're looking at first-round pick Brandon Scherff (6-foot-5, 319 pounds), second-round pick Preston Smith (6-5, 271), third-rounder Matt Jones (6-2, 231), or free-agent pickups like Terrance Knighton (6-3, 331) or Stephen Paea (6-1, 300), all you need is a set of eyeballs to see the theme. McCloughan helped build rugged, bullying teams in San Francisco and Seattle, and it's really, really clear he has a similar plan for Washington. What's next now is to turn all that size into a team that stands up better physically. As a sidenote, it's also encouraging to see a franchise, which has historically been lured by the shiny toy on the market, make moves that discernably fit one another and ascribe to a singular philosophy.
2) Washington rewarded Ryan Kerrigan on Wednesday, signing the Pro Bowl outside linebacker to a five-year, $57.5 million extension that'll pay him more than $32 million over the next three years. From this corner, it's no mistake that this was the first major contract done by the new regime. Kerrigan's a very good player, coming off a 13.5-sack campaign, but he's an even better teammate, doing everything that's needed of him and coming in with a consistent, level demeanor. Rewarding him should send a message to the rest of the locker room on the types of people the Redskins are looking for. And, interestingly enough, a lot of the qualities that have earned Kerrigan praise also apply to Scherff, the first draft pick made by the revamped Redskins front office.
3) Robert Griffin looked sharp on Day 1 of training camp, welcome news for the coaching staff, which set steady improvement as the main goal for the young signal caller. Jay Gruden explained to me that he sees last year's ups and downs between him and Griffin like this: "That's what you gotta do, that's part of being a young coach and young quarterback. You gotta go through your ups and downs and learn from your mistakes, and move forward and get better as a group, and learn each other's strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we'll continue to do that. But the fact of the matter is he's still 25 years old, new to this system, new to this type of offense, and we gotta be a little bit patient with him and give him an opportunity to succeed. And hopefully he'll take this second season, show the gradual improvement that we want to see and be the quarterback we want." Griffin has shown better timing and rhythm, and is doing better staying within the offense in off-schedule situations. But it'll be hard to draw any conclusions until he gets in live action in the preseason. And as for that part? The Redskins' plan is to play Griffin a lot in the exhibition games, more than starting quarterbacks usually do.
Chris Culliver, CB: Culliver has an injury history and has had off-field problems, but he could wind up being a huge bargain for the team if he delivers on his considerable potential. Is handing him a $16 million guarantee a gamble? Sure. But this is one of those signings where a GM's connections (Culliver spent the last four seasons in San Francisco) can really pay off. Culliver will be important right off the bat, with fellow projected starting corner Bashaud Breelandsuspended in Week 1.
Matt Jones, RB: Scherff should be an immediate contributor, but it's not impossible that four years from now, we're looking at this big-bodied rusher as the steal of the Redskins' 2015 draft class. His running style is similar to Marshawn Lynch's, and he has all ability to be the kind of downhill tone-setter that Callahan's style of run game has typically favored. The key for Jones will be to remain healthy despite his downhill approach.
"He's young, and he's definitely raw. There are ways to help him. We can play great defense. Special teams, we gotta do a lot better. And we gotta run the ball. There's been teams that have won Super Bowls before without quarterbacks that throw for 400 or 500 yards a game. We can control the clock. I think we have an offensive line that can move people. We'll be able to run the ball a lot more effectively. And last year, unfortunately, we played from behind so much -- that's tough for any quarterback. When you're down 10 points in the fourth quarter, [guys tee] off with their favorite blitzes and their favorite coverages, mixing it up left and right. [When] you got the lead in the fourth quarter, you've got the element of the run in there, you've still got your play-actions and your bootlegs. It's a hell of a lot easier for a young quarterback. We can do a lot to help him within this team, with the running game and our defense, field position, maybe get some turnovers. Field position was terrible [last year]. We started at our own 20 damn near every time. There's a lot we can do to help a young quarterback."
» Look for Gruden to be a little more of a "walk-around" head coach this year, with young offensive coordinator Sean McVay getting a little more power and the experienced Callahan around to lean on in the run game. This kind of change helped Jason Garrett break through in Dallas, so there is reason to think it will give Gruden a boost in Year 2.
» From a scheme standpoint, the Redskins were very heavy on outside-zone runs last year, largely because that's the system Mike Shanahan drafted players to run. Look for Callahan to inject more downhill principles this year and for the running game to be more versatile in general.