If this team keeps handling its business, the foundation is in place for some fun
So three offensive linemen did this fun and silly thing Friday at Redskins Park. Trent Williams, Morgan Moses and Ty Nsekhe wore white dress shirts, size 4X, under their pads during practice. They put on black ties, too, and proclaimed it Business Friday.
“It’s a . . . nice touch,” Coach Jay Gruden said reluctantly.
“We’re just messing around,” Williams said. “But we’re about business.”
This is one way to know Washington is feeling its 1-0 vibe. The mood is clear: fun, silly but still professional. For the first time in Gruden’s five seasons, the team enters Week 2 playing from ahead. It’s a . . . nice change, even though it means very little. It will mean even less if the team neutralizes its 24-6 road victory over Arizona by losing its home opener to Indianapolis on Sunday. Victory can improve a football team’s comfort level, but it never diminishes the urgency of the next week. We have seen Washington’s potential, and whoa, it is greater than imagined. Sunday is a first test of consistency.
If the players pass, it would give a little more credibility to the notion that they are ready to make significant progress. But mostly, Washington would get to feast on another transitioning opponent with a new head coach and only a beginner’s understanding of what it hopes to be.
On the other hand, Washington seems to be getting somewhere, at last. While it’s easy to credit some high-impact new acquisitions for this, you shouldn’t dismiss the growth of the team around them. Business Friday was a goofy act by three members of a 53-man squad, but it also illustrated how comfortable the players are with one another. Scan the roster, and you see a decent core that has played at least two seasons for Gruden and improved steadily. You see a growing list of players during Gruden’s tenure who have received contract extensions or are in line for long-term commitments (Brandon Scherff and Jamison Crowder next?) that the
franchise surely will make.
You love the new. Of course, you love the new. Alex Smith acts, looks and plays like a quarterback who could represent D.C. well for a good while. Adrian Peterson resembles Adrian Freakin’ Peterson, for now. Rookie nose tackle Daron Payne seems capable of shoving planets aside. If the Washington Redskins seem different and fresh and more promising, it must be because of their significant 2018 acquisitions, right? Yes. And no. It’s a game-changer that a team burdened by quarterback uncertainty now has a good player under contract for the next five years. It’s incredible to watch a future Hall of Fame running back come off the street and resuscitate a rushing attack that felt doomed after rookie Derrius Guice tore up his knee. And it’s refreshing to watch Payne help harden a defense that had been too soft for too long.
But the real difference is the environment in which these new difference-makers have entered. The real difference is that, unlike other times when Washington has acquired good players, plugged them into a deficient roster and left them struggling to carry a team with massive needs, the franchise seems to have added impact players to a team with the continuity and talent to make the most of the upgrades.
For all that’s new, the bulk of this team has been in the same system for a while. Eight of 11 offensive starters were on the roster last season. On defense, only Payne is a new addition. Danny Johnson, a rookie cornerback who has taken over as the primary kickoff returner, is the lone change among the key special teamers. The NFL is a league of impermanence and turnover, but continuity has its place. It’s probably healthy for an organization to change about one-third of its team every season, but if building properly, there shouldn’t be that much volatility at the top of the roster. If you combine continuity with desirable talent, this is the most stable team Gruden has coached, even though he has a new quarterback. He hopes it will help Smith fit in and not feel the pressure to carry the team.
“I think guys have a comfort level in the system,” Gruden said of the cohesion. “They can anticipate some of the calls. They know what we like. They also are able to branch off and do some new things. They’re all fairly smart guys. Overall, I think when you’re here and you’re the same team for three, four, five years, it means, one, you’re pretty smart. You’re pretty good. You work pretty hard, and good things will happen to those guys. I just think the continuity of the guys who’ve been here, the veteran guys, they’re here for a reason because they’re good players, good people and work extremely hard.”
This is far from a great team, and a single road victory over Arizona can’t change that, no matter how dominant the players looked. But there is hope. There is a counter to the concern that the team grew stagnant during three years of mediocrity. Nothing is solid right now because the season is young, and the first two weeks represent a tender portion of the schedule. But the simple act of taking care of business matters as much as winning the marquee games. And in the big picture of this building effort, Washington can now look at teams just starting the process and recognize how far it has come.
“It’s kind of like you’ve been looking at this picture for years and years, watching them add and replace pieces, work and work, and you’re wondering what this thing is going to look like,” said Williams, who is in his ninth season in Washington. “All of a sudden, you look at it, and it’s art.”
Washington must experience hardship and adjust effectively before it can make any grand declarations. But right now, you can see a winning mentality starting to develop.
“You get to the point where you don’t really have to be hard on each other anymore,” Williams said. “Everybody knows what we have to do. If you make a mistake, you don’t really need any input. You know you made a mistake as soon as you make it. This game is so fast, and you’re asked to know and do so much at any given time that mistakes happen. Nobody makes them on purpose. We don’t have to jump down each other’s throats. I know that, if he didn’t do something right one time, for sure, the next time it’s going to be right. And vice versa. And that’s how you have to be as a professional.”
Add trust to a list of positive team traits that includes ability and personality. For a change, Washington may have a squad that you want to stay together.