If this team keeps han­dling its busi­ness, the foun­da­tion is in place for some fun

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - jerry.brewer@wash­post.com For more by Jerry Brewer, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/brewer.

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.

Jerry Brewer

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