Red­skins need to prove re­silience

Off­sea­son moves left team’s chem­istry in ques­tion­able state

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - College Football - BY JERRY BREWER The Washington Post Time: In­jury re­port: Red­skins Rams Wrath of Woody: TV: Los An­ge­les Rams 24, Washington 16 Ra­dio:

Trou­ble, again. The Washington Red­skins seem to en­joy early-sea­son plight. They lost their sea­son opener last week for the fifth straight year, and they haven’t had a good start since 2011, when they won their first two games and went into Oc­to­ber with a 3-1 record (and then lost 10 of 12).

Even though the past two sea­sons have ended with win­ning records, coach Jay Gru­den is linked to dan­ger, too. In 2015, Washington be­gan 2-4, trailed Tampa Bay 24-0 in the sev­enth game, but ral­lied for a vic­tory and even­tu­ally won the NFC East. A year ago, Gru­den’s squad was 0-2 and had to beat the New York Gi­ants on the road to save its sea­son.

So this lat­est flir­ta­tion with dan­ger is mild, at least now. But the threat of catas­tro­phe grows when you con­sider all the fac­tors. At 0-1, Washington trav­els to Los An­ge­les on Sun­day to face the Rams and new coach Sean McVay, who knows his for­mer team well. The Rams are com­ing off a 46-9 vic­tory over In­di­anapo­lis.

If Washington can’t han­dle the five-hour flight, the three­hour time change and a foe play­ing with re­newed zeal, what’s next on the sched­ule? Games against Su­per Bowl con­tenders Oak­land and Kansas City. Both are prime time af­fairs, for which Washington is known to re­serve its worst per­for­mances.

There’s no such thing as a must-win Week 2 game, but this is close. It’s usu­ally a bad idea to en­gage in pre­ma­ture sched­ule surf­ing and fore­cast a team’s record be­cause at­tri­tion rules the NFL. But the more you get to know this Washington team, the harder it is to imag­ine an­other re­cov­ery from Septem­ber shame. If it loses to the Rams, Washington will be as close to an in­evitable 0-4 start as it gets in this sport. And if that hap­pens, seek shel­ter for the re­main­der of the sea­son.

Dur­ing his three-plus sea­sons, Gru­den has had a knack for in­spir­ing re­silience in iffy sit­u­a­tions. It will be a greater chal­lenge this time. It’s not sim­ply that the com­pe­ti­tion seems bet­ter. The larger con­cern is that Washington, with a de­fense full of new starters and an of­fense strug­gling to ad­just af­ter los­ing some key veter­ans, isn’t as ex­pe­ri­enced at han­dling trauma.

The past two sea­sons were far from great, but the rea­son Washington had some suc­cess while re­build­ing was that it was blessed with a crew of fed-up veter­ans and aspir­ing young tal­ent. The com­bi­na­tion worked, some­how. The Red­skins had a large core of lead­ers who knew how to deal with the back­lash of los­ing while keep­ing an edge about im­prov­ing and chang­ing

RED­SKINS (0-1) AT RAMS (1-0)

Rams by 2½ 4:25 p.m. Fox 1 p.m., WXGI (950)

The Rams were the only NFL team to av­er­age un­der 300 yards of of­fense last sea­son. Based on last week’s vic­tory against Indy, that could change un­der new coach Sean McVay. The 46 points by the Rams were the third most in a head coach’s de­but since 1933.

— ques­tion­able: WR Josh Doct­son (ham­string); — ques­tion­able: CB Kayvon Web­ster (shoul­der).

“This isn’t what I had in mind when you said, ‘Come to the coast. We’ll hang out. Watch a ball­game. Have a lit­tle fun,’ ” Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den says af­ter the game to for­mer Red­skins of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor McVay. the team’s bad rep­u­ta­tion. The young play­ers fell in line with that ap­proach, and they also weren’t bur­dened by set­backs be­cause they were naïve and fo­cused on growth. As a re­sult, you saw a team that played through its faults.

The cur­rent group? It has much to prove in this area. It was nec­es­sary to lop some veter­ans off the top of the ros­ter, man­age the cap, stay young and im­prove the over­all tal­ent. If Washington re­mains com­mit­ted to the process, it should even­tu­ally re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of its off­sea­son tac­tics. But first, it must sur­vive the ad­just­ment.

The loss of some vet­eran lead­er­ship — ex­am­ples: Chris Baker, Pierre Gar­con and even DeAn­gelo Hall, whose im­pact is lim­ited while he’s on the phys­i­cally-un­able-to-per­form list — has a trickle-down ef­fect. Young play­ers who were free to just per­form now must be agen­daset­ting lead­ers (think Jor­dan Reed and Jami­son Crow­der). New play­ers such as D.J. Swearinger have strong voices, but lack the cred­i­bil­ity of hav­ing his­tory with the team. And then there are a lot of new po­ten­tial im­pact play­ers still try­ing to find their way: Ter­relle Pryor, Jonathan Allen, etc.

The team lacks the chem­istry and shared ex­pe­ri­ences to be pre­sumed the lat­est of Gru­den’s re­silient squads. But it needs to find a sprin­kle of that qual­ity as soon as pos­si­ble.

“Maybe you get beat, and peo­ple take it per­sonal like I hope they are,” Gru­den said. “I hope they do take it per­sonal, and they bounce back in a big way. It’s a sign of a men­tally tough foot­ball team. That’s what I want to see be­cause I didn’t pre­dict we’d go 16-0, but we do want to take care of home games, and we’re not happy we lost the first one. But we know we have 15 more to play, and it’s im­por­tant for us to han­dle the ebbs and flows of pro foot­ball.”

JAMES H. WAL­LACE/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

The pre­vi­ous Red­skins teams coached by Jay Gru­den showed a bounce-back abil­ity. Gru­den’s 2017 edi­tion will be tested for that qual­ity on Sun­day.

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