Gru­den: Sec­ond half ‘crit­i­cal’ for Red­skins

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

ASHBURN | Jay Gru­den couldn’t re­sist.

As soon as rookie wide re­ceiver Trey Quinn hauled in the pass, the Red­skins coach chimed in with his usual ban­ter. Thurs­day marked Quinn’s first prac­tice since he suf­fered a high an­kle sprain in Week 1 against the Ari­zona Car­di­nals.

“Look at 14,” Gru­den said. “Who the hell is that guy?”

Even with his of­fense dec­i­mated again by in­jury, Gru­den main­tains the same ir­rev­er­ent, devil-may-care man­ner that has marked his coach­ing ca­reer.

In his fifth sea­son at the helm, the Red­skins are off to their best start un­der Gru­den at 5-3.

But mid­way through the sea­son, Wash­ing­ton faces hurdles ahead as it clings to a one-game lead in the NFC East ahead of Sun­day’s game against the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers.

The big prob­lem: Starters Shawn Lau­vao, Bran­don Scherff and Paul Richard­son are out for the sea­son. And the Red­skins are still wait­ing for run­ning back Chris Thomp­son (rib), wide­out Jami­son Crow­der (an­kle), left tackle Trent Wil­liams (thumb) and Quin­ton Dun­bar (shin) to be ready for game ac­tion.

Oh, and the pass­ing game isn’t work­ing.

Gru­den isn’t pan­ick­ing. Still, the Red­skins haven’t made the play­offs since 2015. Gru­den said fin­ish­ing strong in the sec­ond half is “crit­i­cal.”

“We’re in a good spot — not in the best spot ever — but we’re

in a spot where we con­trol our des­tiny,” Gru­den told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “That’s [all] you can ask for. So we’ve got to make this thing about us and what we do to pre­pare and how we play mov­ing for­ward. I’m ex­cited.”

That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Gru­den knows full well the dif­fi­culty of com­pet­ing with an in­jury-rid­dled ros­ter. Last sea­son, the Red­skins went 3-5 in the sec­ond half to fin­ish 7-9 and out of the play­offs. Wash­ing­ton ended the sea­son with 23 play­ers on in­jured re­serve.

This sea­son, Gru­den’s made some ad­just­ments. On Wed­nes­day, he held a walk-through in­stead of a nor­mal prac­tice. Play­ers went through 85 pad-free rep­e­ti­tions in­stead of their usual 35 padded reps. The change comes as three newly-signed of­fen­sive line­men try to ab­sorb more plays and con­cepts.

Gru­den’s keep-it-loose coach­ing style can catch some by sur­prise. Cen­ter Chase Roul­lier, a 2017 sixth-round pick out of Wy­oming, was used to the more by-the­book, al­most mil­i­taris­tic-ap­proach of his col­lege coach, Craig Bohl.

Roul­lier said Gru­den is se­ri­ous about foot­ball — but he keeps it fun.

“He brings a lot of en­ergy ev­ery prac­tice, what­ever it is,” Roul­lier said. “We’re out there grind­ing and Jay will come up be­hind us and try some­thing a lit­tle goofy. It brings en­ergy to the team.”

Gru­den’s de­meanor can make him an easy tar­get for sports-talk ra­dio, but his play­ers say there’s a tough­ness be­hind the barbs and wise­cracks.

“Peo­ple think they know our head coach be­cause they’ve seen him walk­ing down the street a cou­ple times, but that’s not — this is a job, ev­ery­body treats it like it,” line­backer Ma­son Fos­ter said. “Jay takes it more se­ri­ously than any­body . ... This year, (train­ing camp) was def­i­nitely for real. It was full pads ev­ery day. Phys­i­cally tack­ling — that’s what he wants his team to be.”

This year, the Red­skins have forged an iden­tity in the first half of the sea­son not of­ten seen with Gru­den teams.

Known as an of­fen­sive in­no­va­tor, Gru­den this year seems to be chan­nel­ing the late Chuck Knox, the for­mer Los An­ge­les Rams coach known for his “run-first” phi­los­o­phy.

And don’t com­plain to Gru­den quar­ter­back Alex Smith, who’s in his first year with the Red­skins. Smith’s a win­ner, the coach said.

“Sure we’d love to have bet­ter stats on of­fense, but the bot­tom line is we are where we are,” Gru­den said. “A lot of the rea­son we’re in first place is be­cause of his play.”

The de­fense, too, has been promis­ing. De­spite blowouts to the New Or­leans Saints and the At­lanta Fal­cons, the Red­skins have al­lowed the ninth-fewest points per game (21.5).

There are en­cour­ag­ing signs for the Red­skins, though they are far from guar­an­teed to make the play­offs.

If they don’t, there will be ques­tions about what comes next. Gru­den is al­ready the longest tenured coach in the Dan Sny­der era. But the team has just one play­off ap­pear­ance in that span.

Gru­den said he un­der­stands the busi­ness.

“That con­ver­sa­tion has been go­ing on for five years,” he said. “It’s never both­ered me.”

“Ev­ery year there’s a sense of ur­gency,” he said. “If you don’t have a sense of ur­gency in this busi­ness, you don’t have a sense.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“We’re in a good spot — not the best spot ever — but we’re in a spot where we con­trol our des­tiny,” Wash­ing­ton Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.