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Reviewing Jay Gruden’s press conference comments about players as the Redskins’ OTAs wind down

What messages is Gruden sending?

Miami Dolphins v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Jay Gruden has improved his ‘coach speak’ during his tenure in Washington. When he took over in 2014, his comments were generally open, honest and transparent. Nowadays, he has learned the art of giving reporters quotes that they can use in stories without actually saying much at all, and almost never staking out an unequivocal position.

Shurmer creates a story in New York

The phrasing of coaches’ comments is important. We had a great example of that inside the NFC East on Tuesday, when Pat Shurmer set all the scribes to scribbling with his comments about the quarterback situation in New York.

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Here’s what Pat said:

“I think we’re going to play the very best player,” Shurmur said following Tuesday’s OTA practice, when asked directly if there is a quarterback competition on tap during training camp. “I know we’re dancing around the words there. Eli is getting ready to have a great year and Daniel is getting ready to play. We’ll see what happens with it.”

Shoot, that sounds like what coaches say all the time. Why was this special?

Because here’s what Pat Shurmer didn’t say:

Look, Eli Manning is the starting quarterback for the New York Giants, and if Daniel Jones wants to change that, he’s gonna have to come in here and earn it every day. The rookie, for now and for the foreseeable future, is the backup. I don’t expect him to be satisfied with that, and I expect him to work to change it, but this is Eli’s team.

Journalists jumped all over Shurmer’s comment:

My unhealthy fascination with Jay Gruden’s press conferences

Perhaps because I live so far away and have such limited opportunities to see & hear Redskins commentary — I mean, I don’t exactly get the local DC sports on the radio during my drive to work — I have an unhealthy fascination with press conferences, and Jay Gruden press conferences in particular.

I always watch the presser and read the transcripts, looking for clues to what Jay is thinking below his usual devil-may-care off-season manner.

Grading on a curve

Let me share a quick story with you as an aside. As many readers know, I teach English at a university here in Thailand. Because English is taught as a foreign language, the grading system here is... generous. What I mean by that is that the university doesn’t want to kill student GPAs if they struggle with English, so for a course (say, Freshman English 101), regardless of how many students there are, or how many teachers are involved in teaching the course, everyone studying the course is dumped into one big bucket and they are graded on a curve.

99.44% of all the students will get a grade above a D+. What I’m saying is that, for all practical purposes, the lowest grade given is a C, while the highest is an “A”.

So, if a kid gets a ‘C’ in one of my courses, it might sound like he did okay, and that a kid who got a ‘B’ did really well. In reality, my ‘C’ students are the worst — probably the bottom 25% of the class, while the ‘B’ students represent the middle of the pack.

If a student gets a “D”, it’s a sign that he or she probably didn’t submit a number of assignments or missed a key exam. To get an “F” pretty much requires that a student be implicated in a homicide on campus.

Jay’s unfailing off-season positivity

Jay Gruden’s use of coach speak involves the same sort of ‘graded on a curve’ use of language.

If Jay says a guy has been “good”, that’s usually a signal that he’s not impressing in camp. That’s a ‘C’, but it’s a ‘C’ on the curve.

Jay Gruden - 2018 Examples

Here’s what Jay sounds like when he’s communicating some enthusiasm. These quotes are from 2018:

“I think Zach Brown physically, when you look at him, he’s as gifted a linebacker as there is, really. He can run, he can hit, and all that stuff.”

“The most important thing in my mind was to get these guys in great physical shape and I think Chad Englehart and his staff did a great job.”

“Cam [Sims] has stood out at wide receiver. I think [Danny] Johnson stood out at corner.”

Kevin O’Connell’s been great. I wanted a guy that would help coach quarterbacks that had a little bit of a different background. Very smart, articulate, obviously. All his points are well-thought-out and make sense, which is important.”

Let’s look at some times when Jay sounded less enthusiastic last year:

Kevin Hogan

“He’s done good. I like Kevin Hogan. He’s a smart kid and he’s got some deceiving escape ability to him. It’s hard for those No. 3 guys to get the reps and for them to show what they really can do on a limited basis, but as far as being attentive and being a good quarterback in the meetings rooms and all that stuff, he’s been...good.”

Here, Gruden says Hogan has been “good” and then praises his ‘escape ability’ (as opposed to leadership, passing ability or command of the offense). He is reduced to praising Hogan’s attentiveness in meetings — a sure sign that the kid isn’t gonna make the roster.

Elijah Wellman

We’ll continue to look at Elijah [Wellman] and see how he does. It’s good for our defense also to see some reps with teams with a fullback, so we are giving them a good look at lead plays and power plays and all that stuff so they can prepare for it. It was also a chance for Elijah to make the team whether we need a fullback or not.”

When Gruden says things like “we’ll go from there” or “we’ll see how it goes”, “we’ll see how he does”, these are all bad signs. This is Jay, in his mind, avoiding any commitment whatsoever to a player. I think he actually likes Wellman, but just doesn’t see room on the roster for a fullback. Jay likes a fullback on the practice squad so that the ‘Skins defense can practice against him when they have an upcoming opponent that utilizes a fullback. It’s a job, I guess.

Jay Gruden - present day

Now that we’ve dialed in a little bit on how to interpret Jay’s offseason comments, let’s look at some of the things he’s been saying.

Ereck Flowers

Here’s what reports on Ereck Flowers have looked like from journalists covering OTAs and minicamp:

Ereck Flowers Getting Absolutely Destroyed at Redskins Camp Will Warm Giants Fans’ Hearts

Flowers getting destroyed in training camp is the least surprising news of the summer so far. He’s been one of the worst offensive linemen in the NFL during his career, and that shows no signs of changing course, as he’s apparently getting bullied by rookie Montez Sweat in Redskins camp.

Here’s what Jay Gruden said about Ereck Flowers in his latest press conference:

I think with the lack of tackles we had participating, we had to put him at tackle and he did a good job. We did start him at guard early and he did a good job, but I think once we get to training camp we’ll put him back at guard. We need to get him some work.

Getty Images

When I try to reconcile the head coach’s comments about Flowers with the media reports, the only thing that makes sense to me is the Jay Gruden “curve”. When I read that he did a ‘good’ job, I read that as faint praise. When I read that the coaches “need to get him some work”, then I wince, thinking of the $1.5m guarantee that the team gave Flowers when he signed his contract.

Dwayne Haskins

“It’s very important. He has to learn it. If he feels like he is a little bit unsure of anything he has to study it and continue to go over it in his mind and rehash it. He will have plenty of videos to watch and all that good stuff. Dwayne is going to work hard at it, that’s for sure. When he comes back to camp, hopefully it will be more natural to him, calling plays in the huddle. Like I said before, it is his first time he has had to do it. We threw a lot at him, formations, motions, protections, route concepts, run concepts, audible, two-minute, no huddle, all of that stuff. There is a lot to learn for the kid, but we want to get it all out there for him so he has an understanding of what it is going to be like come training camp. A long way to go, but I like where he is at.”

Honestly, Jay was saying last year that Alex Smith was the smartest guy he’d ever met, and that Alex was struggling to learn the entire new system in a short time. I think we could all see on the field during Alex’s 9 12 games that he rarely looked comfortable.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Rookie Minicamp Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now Jay has a 22-year-old rookie with one full season as a college starter who is learning how to call plays in the huddle, and you can spot the strain it is creating in Jay.

Every other sentence is about Haskins’ need to study, to learn, to ask questions, to look at film, to become natural. He’s got “a long way to go” as we reach the end of OTAs and minicamp, entering the break ahead of training camp. After seeing this press conference, I wouldn’t be betting money on Haskins to get the nod for Week One in Philly.

Samaje Perine

6 June:

I think Samaje [Perine] really has been the guy that has been most impressive. He’s been out here taking all the reps. He’s really improved in not only the running game, but also in the passing game.

11 June:

We still want to run the ball. Hand the ball to Adrian [Peterson], [Derrius] Guice and Samaje [Perine]. It’s about spreading the ball around and everybody taking advantage when their number is called.”

I confess to be a bit stumped about what Jay is thinking about Samaje Perine when looked at the context of their history together. Even applying the ‘curve’ to Jay’s comments, what he is saying about Perine is, on the face of it, very impressive.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Minicamp Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Initially, I was thinking that Jay might simply be pumping out the sunshine and lollipops about Samaje as part of an organizational effort to prop up any potential trade value that Perine might have, but I’m starting to wonder if, perhaps, the running back and his head coach may have had a heart-to-heart talk at the end of the ‘18 season, and if Jay might not have re-committed to giving the young man a chance to make the roster.

Perine may end up being one of the two or three most interesting players to watch during training camp.

The Defensive Line group

You can’t ask for a better group of men. It’s led by a great coach [Jim Tomsula] obviously. I think, not to take anything away from Jim Tomsula, but I think anybody in here could coach that group [laughter]. He’s a great coach, but these guys are great people, great players. They demand a lot out of one another. They demand a lot about their teammates, and that’s what you look for when you draft young players. You want them to come out here and dominate their craft. But also, set great examples and set the tone for the defense. DL [Daron] Payne and DL [Jonathan] Allen and DL [Matt] Ioannidis, they brought DL Caleb Brantley along and he’s done a great job. DL [Tim] Settle coming on last year, the way he’s come on. Those five guys have been outstanding.

There’s no real surprise that Jay is talking up some of his top draft picks and leaders on the defensive side of the ball. The only surprise here is that Jay clearly included Brantley in the list of five players.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Minicamp Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins generally carry 6 DL (5 minimum), so this gives us a pretty good idea about who Gruden sees as the core of the DL for the regular season roster. Every other DL on the roster is an undrafted free agent or street free agent signed this year or last. The only real question here is if the Redskins will carry a 6th guy on the depth chart, and who it’ll be if they do.

Jon Bostic

It wasn’t Jay who mentioned Bostic this week, but Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor. Asked to identify a guy who stood out on Special Teams, Kaczor was reluctant, but then qualified his remarks by limiting them to players who weren’t on the roster last season.

A new person that has been a really good professional and I don’t know how much special teams he will play, but he is certainly battling for a spot would be a guy like Jon Bostic who has not been around here, but he has been a real professional. He would be a guy and I’m sure when you talk to the defensive coaches or Jay or someone in personnel that Jon was brought in here to compete, so he would certainly be in that area. He is someone that’s new to all of you folks, but he’s doing a nice job. I can’t really single a bunch of people out, but Jon would just be one that is new that you guys probably don’t have a lot of data on right now that is doing a nice job and just being a good pro.”

When a coach says he doesn’t want to single a player out, then goes ahead and does it, that usually means something to me.

When it comes to figuring out if a potential ‘bubble’ player will make the roster, the opinion of the special teams coordinator is one I pay attention to.

With the injury to Reuben Foster earlier and the release of DeMarquis Gates on Tuesday, the Redskins linebacker depth doesn’t have a lot of names:

  • Mason Foster
  • Shaun Dion-Hamilton
  • Josh Harvey-Clemons
  • Cole Holcomb
  • Jon Bostic

The Redskins normally carry 5 guys in this part of the roster, so, barring unforeseen injury, I’m ready to wager the mortgage payment on the idea that Jon Bostic makes the 53-man roster and, between special teams and defense, sees significant snaps as a Redskin.


Which of these 5 players has the best chance to play offensive or defensive snaps against the Eagles in Week One?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Ereck Flowers
    (59 votes)
  • 15%
    Samaje Perine
    (218 votes)
  • 6%
    Dwayne Haskins
    (86 votes)
  • 26%
    Caleb Brantley
    (360 votes)
  • 47%
    Jon Bostic
    (653 votes)
1376 votes total Vote Now