- When the Redskins jettisoned fan favorite Scot “McLovin” McCloughan, a bit of a power vacuum was created. While Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen have always held all the strings, there was a real sense that McLovin’s input held the kind of gravity few non-Snyder and non-Allen individuals ever did before. Folks like me credited much of the Redskins success in that time period to McLovin, which prompted certain other folks to speculate this made Snyder and Allen unhappy. Regardless (irregardless, even) of this, when McLovin left the building, someone had to snap up some of that influence. I believe one of Dan Snyder’s smartest decisions was NOT to just hand Bruce Allen more power. The eventual promotion of Doug Williams was and is a great look for the organization, but the man I believe benefited most from McLovin’s departure was Jay Gruden. (I think Jay benefited from the players McLovin brought in for him to coach, and I don’t mean to insinuate Jay did any dancing when Scot was let go, despite reports otherwise. I am just suggesting his voice became much more powerful when McLovin left.) This set in motion what I believe has led us to what we will be calling The Year of Jay Gruden.
- Bruce Allen has a history of deferring to Grudens. I think as long as Jay was a rookie head coach, Allen and Snyder were firmly behind the wheel on most decisions. I don’t think they ignored Gruden necessarily, but I think there had been a longstanding tradition of Snyder and Allen running the show while the revolving door of coaches spun. When the decision to extend a coach for the first time ever under Snyder was made, it was a clear signal to me that Allen was easing back into his Gruden comfort zone. Of course, men like Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer weren’t first-timers, but none of them survived the Snyder Experience (Gibbs II was kind of its own beast to be fair, with the murder of Sean Taylor).
- The trade for Alex Smith is, to me, a quintessential “Gruden-stamped” move. Everyone involved deserves credit, so please don’t read this as me trying to say Jay Gruden is our acting GM. Think about names like Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson and even Jeff Garcia. Jon Gruden coveted veteran quarterbacks who had athleticism, grit and decision-making abilities. (Raise your hand if you remember hearing John Madden repeat over and over that Brad Johnson was an athlete because he played basketball at Florida State when you would roll him out and run him in the Madden game.) Alex Smith fits this narrative rather neatly. In addition to being a gritty and mobile player, Smith has that veteran calculator in his head that both Grudens value above all else. We have heard Jay call him the smartest player he has ever coached, and we should all know by now that both Jon and Jay Gruden require excessively high intellects to really execute their offensive schemes. This all stems from Jon’s FFCA (Fired Football Coaches Association) that he set up in a strip mall that became ground zero for what amounted to a doctorate program in football and football coaching. (Sean McVay got his PhD there.) Pairing a Gruden with a veteran like Alex Smith should scare defensive coordinators on the Redskins schedule, even though gamblers seem unmoved (+350 to make the playoffs??????).
- I understand that for it to be the Year of Gruden, things need to go differently for the Redskins from a health standpoint. Washington led the league in Adjusted Games Lost last season, so it would seem that we only have up to go in that department! The offensive line, in particular, should rebound in a major way from its injury-plagued season—and yes, I am still resting my argument here on the odds we shouldn’t be last in the league in that department again. The only way for veteran quarterbacks to be effective is to keep them upright. This goes for all quarterbacks of course, but older ones especially. We know that in today’s NFL, the rules favor offensive players. From limited wide receiver contact to unprecedented protection of the quarterback, referees are increasingly aiding the skyrocketing statistical production of offenses. When you give a coach like Jay Gruden the mind of an Alex Smith between the whistles, it stands to reason that Gruden is going to look smart way more often than he will look foolish (it is worth noting here that many of you will disagree with this, and I look forward to that discussion because it is one worth having).
- Some may read this and think I am celebrating the end of the Kirk Cousins Era and calling his departure the reason for The Year of Gruden. I’m not. You all know I liked Kirk a lot, but there is no substitute for experience when it comes to quarterbacking, and Alex Smith has more. We have all heard Jay express his discontent with the decision-making of Kirk at times, most notably with regard to his lack of airing it out. In Alex Smith, Jay Gruden has the league’s most accurate deep-ball thrower. I understand Tyreek Hill won’t be running go routes for the Redskins, but we have speed, and Smith is likely going to uncork the long ball with more regularity than Kirk did. I think that if this is true—and we shall see if it is—we will find out that Jay’s offense has a few wrinkles that we have yet to really see.
- I focus on the offense mostly because Jay Gruden is an offensive coach. Something that I think will greatly aid his ability to helm an incredibly productive and efficient offense should be our defensive line. When Jonathan Allen was healthy last season, our defensive front was solid. Adding his former Alabama teammate Da’Ron Payne to that defensive line, alongside guys like Ryan Kerrigan and even Preston Smith, should greatly enhance Washington’s ability to get off the field on defense. When back on offense, players like Jordan Reed, Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson are going to have to be both productive and healthy. There should be no dropoff for guys like Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder with Alex Smith taking over for Kirk Cousins, because they have proven their ability to find and operate in space and Alex Smith can throw it into those spaces with the best of them. Wrapping it up, the one player who could elevate Jay Gruden’s Q-rating more than Alex Smith is Derrius Guice. He is going to get LOTS of touches, and if he produces the way many think he can, Jay Gruden could very well contend for a Coach of the Year Award. Alright...I kind of walked myself into that ridiculous prediction, but how many people (outside of Washington, D.C.) were predicting Sean McVay would win Coach of the Year last season? A healthy offensive line, a dynamic young running back and a “dirty tough” quarterback with a razor-sharp intellect are the exact ingredients that could make this The Year of Jay Gruden.
This is how 2018 can be “The Year of Jay Gruden.”