Following a disappointing 4-12 finish last season, the Redskins looked to completely rebuild their struggling franchise. Three straight years without a playoff appearance have disheartened the Washington faithful, and head coach Jay Gruden has looked to build the Redskins back to their former glory. With OTAs underway and a lot of fresh faces around Redskins’ camp, here’s three observations from the early days of Washington practice.
1. New Scherff in Town
With such a poor finish at the end of last season, the Redskins nabbed the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and used that pick to select Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. All indications from Washington OTAs suggest that Scherff is as advertised: an absolute beast.
Check out this video of Scherff hang cleaning 443 pounds in the Iowa weight room during the offseason. Clearly, strength will not be an issue for Washington’s newest offensive lineman. Numerous Redskins officials have voiced their opinions on Scherff along with quarterback Robert Griffin III, who lauded praise on his newest protector.
In a recent interview, Griffin discussed Scherff saying, “I believe in him…He’s going to bring that tenacity and that finishing mindset. He’s not going to be discouraged, no matter what happens.” Even the legendary offensive lineman dubbed “The Hogs” voiced their support of the newest Redskins lineman. Brandon Scherff has clearly made his mark early in his Washington career.
2. Quarterback Stability
Last season was a nightmare for Redskins fans at the quarterback position, with Washington rotating between three guys: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy. Heading into this season, Jay Gruden has made it clear that Griffin will be his starter Week 1. Heading into his second straight healthy offseason and his second year in Gruden’s offense, Redskins fans are hopeful that RG3 can make a serious leap in quality after his disappointing play last season.
While the starting job is certainly Griffin’s to lose, RG3 will have to play well to keep his job with the Redskins, and I expect the Washington coaching staff to give him a few weeks leash before benching him for a veteran like McCoy should things go south. I fully expect Griffin to have a bounce back season and play up to his potential in Washington, but Gruden will seek stability at the quarterback position this season, and that will come from the best man for the job.
3. Improved Defense
After struggles on the defensive end last season and the offseason departure of Brian Orakpo, the Redskins looked to retool their defense this spring, bringing in some fresh faces to help bolster one of the least effective units in the NFL last season. One of the most impressive, though unexpected additions to the Redskins’ defense is linebacker Preston Smith. At 6’5” with 34 inch arms, Smith has the height and length to occupy the pass rushing outside linebacker spot in the Redskins’ 3-4 where Orakpo has played the past few years.
In addition to rushing the passer, the Washington coaching staff hopes that Smith can improve his lateral movement, and occasionally cover a linebacker or running back on the edge. While the learning curve will be steep for Smith, a second-round pick out of Mississippi State, he has certainly demonstrated the physical tools to help contribute to the Redskins’ defense this season. Coaches have been very impressed by his instincts, especially in the passing game, where he has regularly made life difficult for the Redskins’ quarterbacks during OTAs. Look for Smith to compete for a starting role in the new look Washington defense.