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The 5 O’Clock Club: The land of misfit boys

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

As we pass Thanksgiving and move closer to the Christmas season, I’m reminded of the many traditions that I grew up with at holiday times.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the island of misfit toys, but it was introduced in the animated Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer movie that was made around the time I was born. Click here to learn about it for the first time or engage in a little nostalgia: The island of Misfit Toys

Finding a place to thrive

The New England Patriots under Bill Belichick have long had a reputation as a landing spot for problem children. In his no-nonsense (and winning) program, players who struggled with discipline, drugs, immaturity and a host of other problems often thrived.

It occurs to me that Washington is starting to become a similar, though markedly different, location, and that it is part of the winning formula that the team has enjoyed in the first half of the 2018 season.

Jay Gruden is possibly the anti-Belichick in many ways. By all accounts, Gruden’s relaxed, fun-loving sanguine nature extends to the football field. While this sort of personality runs counter to what most fans perceive as the NFL head coach image (would anyone call Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi ‘sanguine’?) it seems to work for Jay. Beat writers are very positive about Jay, and most of his former players seem to have good things to say as well.

It occurs to me, though, that Jay’s personal style is going to work better with some players than others, and that we may be seeing more and more of those players accumulate in D.C.

There are a few attributes that work with Jay that probably describe all good player everywhere: hard workers, intelligent, strong, fast. We certainly see that Jay loves players like Jon Allen and Daron Payne, and the respect seems to be repaid.

But drafted players don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to head coaches — and in some ways, it may also be that coaches don’t have a lot of control over who gets drafted. You play the hand you’re dealt, or, perhaps, cook the meal with the groceries you’re given.

In free agency, though, players and coaches have a lot more to say about who is on the team and who isn’t. I thought it might be fun to consider a few of the relationships that we’ve seen between Jay and some free agents in an effort to color in my theory that Washington is developing into a kind of island for misfit toys.

Desean Jackson

Jackson was a hated rival from the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a Cowboy-killer, a Giant-killer and a Redskin-killer. From ‘08 to ‘13, under, first, Andy Reid, and later, Chip Kelley, Desean Jackson was a small, lightning fast receiver who challenged NFC East defenses and put up yards and touchdowns with alarming regularity. The only time Jackson put up less than 900 yards in a season was when he missed 5 games due to injury in 2012, and he still managed to put up 700 yards in 11 games. The former 2nd round pick was everything the Eagles could have asked for when they drafted him in 2008.

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jackson seemed like the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s team; in 2013 he put up 1,332 yards and 9 touchdowns!

And suddenly he was gone. Cut. There was a newpaper article published almost simultaneous with his release that talked about gang ties and character concerns. Chip Kelly had dumped a player he didn’t like, and seemed intent on assassinating his career on the way out the door.

Desean landed with the Redskins and rookie head coach Jay Gruden. He thrived, putting up a pair of 1,000 yard seasons when healthy, and contributing strongly in 2015 when he missed almost half the season with multiple injuries. Sure, Desean was a huge talent that could’ve done well anywhere, but he seemed particularly happy and productive in DC with Jay Gruden.

Since leaving the Redskins to play in Tampa Bay, Desean has had mixed results. He posted 668 yards in 14 games last season, and often looked out of sync with Jameis Winston. He started off this season hot, with over 270 yards and three TDs in the first two weeks, but seemed to go cold again when the team switched from Fitzpatrick at QB to Winston, and as the mid-season trade deadline approached, there were unconfirmed reports that Jackson wanted to be traded. Commenters here and other places pondered whether a return to Washington and Jay Gruden might be in the cards. It wasn’t.

Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Still, I wonder why Jackson and Gruden seemed to fit so well together. Desean seems to have had a good relationship with Andy Reid as well. I suspect it has a lot to do with acceptance.

D.J. Swearinger

Swearinger arrived in Washington last season with a more checkered history than Desean Jackson. D.J. seemed to be more of a problem child and less of a star performer. He had been drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Texans. In his second season, though, the Texans had a coaching change. The new coach was Bill O’Brien. A former Patriots assistant coach, freshly arrived from the college ranks, O’Brien is a foul-mouthed, no-nonsense, old-fashioned football tough guy. My way or the highway.

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

D.J. was no fan of O’Brien’s way:

“I remember the day like yesterday,” Swearinger said. “We had a walkthough, a regular walk-through and O’Brien called the whole walk-through off and said he wanted to talk to me and all the defensive coaches. That was shocking to me, because I didn’t know what the deal was and he came to me basically telling me that he was going to bench me, that don’t work, cut me, that don’t work.

“I felt totally disrespected by the conversation, you know, he yelled at me in my face for about a minute in front of all the defensive coaches and I sort of lost a lot of respect for the DB coach at the time and O’Brien because of how that situation went.”

One year together was enough for O’Brien to know that he didn’t like Swearinger. In May 2015 the Texans released the safety, who was signed by Tampa Bay, coached at the time by Lovie Smith. D.J. felt as though his time in Tampa was poisoned by his former head coach.

“I think when I went to Tampa, they judged me,” Swearinger said. “I remember that first interview I had with Lovie Smith, he basically had a report from Houston — asking me about all types of things and I was like ‘Wow, they said all of this about me?’ And I was kind of shocked.”

Swearinger didn’t last the year with the Bucs. He was waived in November and signed with the Cardinals practice squad a week later, and got his chance to play when Tyrann Mathieu was injured.

Swearinger signed a one-year contract to stay with the Cardinals in 2016, then came to the Redskins via free agency in 2017.

Swearinger’s time in DC has been an unmitigated success. This ‘problem’ child, who had been signed to a practice squad not so many months earlier, was voted defensive captain to start the season for the Redskins. I find this amazing.

While D.J. struggled with execution at times last season, he never lacked for effort or swagger. In 2018 he has proved himself a key team leader and part of what makes the Redskins defense special. His mouth runs constantly, and earlier this month he was one of two players who spoke loudly about the home field experience as a Redskin playing at FedEx field.

“I played on four different teams, never seen it that bad with other teams’ jerseys in the stands, with the boos, whatever it may be,” Swearinger told 106.7 The Fan on Monday. “I’ve never been part of nothing like that.”

If any of Swearinger’s braggadocio bothers Gruden, it’s not apparent. Jay seems to treat it with a “boys will be boys” attitude, a grin, and a rueful shake of the head.

As a way of highlighting Gruden’s relaxed attitude toward the rambunctious behavior of his players, take a look at what Gruden said in a press conference recently when he was asked if he would discipline Zach Brown, who had apparently tweeted out complaints about how the coaching staff treated him in the wake of the loss to Atlanta.

Own coaches hating and blaming me for All loss smh naw B check the film b4 blaming someone else eye in the sky don’t lie.”

Gruden was specifically asked whether Brown will be disciplined.

“For his tweet?” Gruden said. “No, I’m not going to discipline anybody for a tweet. No, we’re OK. We need Zach Brown.”

It’s this statement, this attitude — No, I’m not going to discipline anybody for a tweetthat lies at the heart of why Jay Gruden has had success taking in players like Jackson and Swearinger — players who may challenge a coach’s authority, not though lack of respect, but by simply being a different kind of person than the coach wants and expects.

Adrian Peterson

Washed up.

Out of the league.

“He should just retire.”

Too old.

Done.

Adrian Peterson was done. He’d proved it by not being able to get on the field in New Orleans, and by failing to be consistently productive in Arizona — and failing in both places in the same season. Most people who saw Adrian Peterson play in 2017 were convinced that the future Hall of Famer should hang up his cleats to avoid any further embarrassment.

But Jay Gruden was open-minded, possibly because of Jay’s relationship with Trent Williams and Trent’s relationship with Adrian Peterson.

Jay watched Peterson work out and, just a few weeks prior to the start of this season, made the decision to put him on the roster and make him the lead back for the Washington Redskins. Jay’s trust in AD has extended to giving him the ball nearly 22 times per game in the Redskins’ wins this season.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jay’s personal confidence and open-mindedness allows him to take chances on players.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out.

Orlando Scandrick

The former Cowboy, Scandrick was brought to the Redskins this offseason to add a veteran presence to a very young group of cornerbacks. To convince Scandrick to join the team, he had been given a $1m signing bonus. To cut him before the end of preseason made this an expensive move, but it also signaled something else: the Redskins really didn’t want him in camp any longer.

Scandrick, after all, is not without talent, and we’ve seen how thin the Redskins depth chart is over the past few weeks with Dunbar injured. UDFA Danny Johnson and 7th round pick Greg Stroman were pressed into service against two powerful offensive teams in the past two weeks, and neither was really ready yet.

Orlando Scandrick, meanwhile, picked up another $1.2m to play cornerback for the Chiefs. The problem here seems to have been Scandrick’s fit with the team, not his play on the field.

Ty Nsekhe

There may be no greater example of a misfit who has found a home in Washington than Ty Nsekhe. Here is a precis of his career from Wikipedia:

Corpus Christi Sharks

In 2009, he signed with the Corpus Christi Sharks of the AF2.

Dallas Vigilantes

He signed with the Dallas Vigilantes of the Arena Football League.

Philadelphia Soul

On March 1, 2011, he was signed by the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League.

San Antonio Talons

On April 26, 2012, he signed with the San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League.

Indianapolis Colts

On August 1, 2012, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League after the team released OT Ben Ijalana. On September 1, 2012, he was released.

St. Louis Rams

On September 2, 2012, he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Rams. On September 27, 2012, he was released after team claimed Joseph Barksdale off waivers. On September 29, 2012, he was signed to the team’s practice squad. On August 31, 2013, he was released.

New Orleans Saints

On January 6, 2014, the New Orleans Saints signed Nsekhe to a reserve/futures contract The Saints released Nsekhe on August 25, 2014, then placed on the injured reserve list after clearing waivers. On September 9, 2014, the Saints waived Nsekhe from injured reserve list on a no-recall basis.

Montreal Alouettes

Nsekhe was signed to the Montreal Alouettes’ practice roster on October 4, 2014.

Washington Redskins

On February 10, 2015, Nsekhe signed with the Washington Redskins. He was waived by the Redskins on May 4.

Los Angeles KISS

On May 6, 2015, Nsekhe was assigned to the Los Angeles KISS.

Second stint with Redskins

On May 11, 2015, Nsekhe re-signed with the Washington Redskins.

I wrote an article about Ty Nsekhe around this time last year, and this is what I had to say about him then:

We don’t think about Nsekhe very much because he quietly does his job every time he’s called upon; and he gets called upon without warning when an ankle gets rolled up on or a knee starts to hurt. Nsekhe goes in the game — left tackle, right tackle — it doesn’t matter. He goes in and does his job for four plays or four weeks. The running game still works, and [the quarterback’s] jersey stays clean.

It’s strange to think that this pro football journeyman, who has bounced around arena football, Canadian football, practice squads and has been on the roster of at least 4 different NFL teams could be a guy that brings so much peace to Redskins fans when they hear his name called.

Trent Williams, the greatest Offensive Tackle in the known universe was injured on the play. Don’t worry, Ty Nsekhe is the backup.

Wow!

Jonathan Cooper

The latest apparently successful addition to Jay Gruden’s collection of misfit boys is the offensive guard, Jonathan Cooper, who was drafted 7th overall by the Cardinals in 2013.

He made a career-best 13 starts for the Dallas Cowboys last season. Due to injuries and perhaps missed opportunities, Cooper has not been able to stick with a team for an extended period of time. He has had stints with the Cardinals (2014-15), New England Patriots (2016), Cleveland Browns (2016), Dallas Cowboys (2017) and most recently before signing with Washington was in San Francisco with the 49ers. That merry-go-round could change in Washington if he continues to play well and give the offensive line a much-needed boost at a position the team has not really addressed over the past few seasons.

If Cooper plays well for the remainder of the season he could be in line to enter next years camp with an extended contract and a chance to anchor down the left guard spot. His strong play last week was a much needed positive result for a banged up offensive line and his efforts did not go unnoticed.

When asked about his future if his strong play continues Cooper replied.

“I have said before that I’m the last person who should be thinking that way,” Cooper said. “With the stuff, I have had to deal with [in the past], day to day I just try to do my best, I feel like doing that will align everything for me regarding the future.”

Less than a month ago, Cooper was on his sofa while the Redskins were losing to Atlanta; a week later he played an instrumental role in the win against the Buccaneers. And Cooper wasn’t just a ‘traffic cone’ either; he seemed to play well.

The Redskins have seemed lost for the past few seasons in their search for a competent left guard. Perhaps their search has ended by bringing another lost boy into the fold. Jay Gruden, our very own “King Moonracer” may have found another guy who just couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere else, and given him a home and a purpose in Washington.

Other potential ‘misfits” that have been given a home by Jay Gruden

  • Kapri Bibbs
  • Brian Quick
  • Michael Floyd
  • Tony Bergstrom
  • Vernon Davis
  • Colt McCoy
  • Alex Smith
  • Caleb Brantley
  • Mason Foster
  • Pernell McPhee
  • HaHa Clinton-Dix
  • Dustin Hopkins

Poll

Is Jonathan Cooper the answer at left guard?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    yes
    (201 votes)
  • 34%
    no
    (107 votes)
308 votes total Vote Now