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Five issues, and what we learned about them from Jay Gruden’s first training camp press conference of 2019

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Linebacker, DBs, Silverback, QB competition and the health of Robert Davis are all questions that people wanted to know about prior to Jay’s press conference to open training camp

Training camp has started, which means that the head coach is available to answer questions, bringing clarity to issues that may have been subject to speculation for weeks or months.

I want to take a look at what Jay had to say on Wednesday afternoon to see what clarity he brought (or didn’t bring) to some questions that have been hovering around the Redskins.

Question 1: Trent Williams

Yes, Trent was a no-show for training camp.

No, Jay doesn’t know what Trent’s issues are. Yeah, look, I don’t believe it either, but part of the reason Jay is the mouthpiece of the organization is so he can plead ignorance through non-involvement and maintain deniability.

Asked if he knew what Trent’s issues were, this was Jay’s answer:

“I don’t know. That’s something I’m not in talks with.”

Yes, there is a company line; specifically, the organization expects Trent to report.

Bruce said it on Tuesday, and Jay said it on Wednesday.

Jay, when asked if he’d spoken to Trent directly:

I haven’t talked to him personally, yet. I’m really concentrating on guys that are here right now. We know how we feel about Trent, how important he is to this football team and we expect him here sooner [rather] than later.

Jay, when asked if he was personally hurt by Trent’s absence:

I love Trent, I love what he has done for this franchise and this team, but we expect him back soon.”

Jay, when asked a second time if he was personally hurt by Trent’s absence:

It is the first day of training camp and there are some things we just have to go through. It’s business at this point. Like I said, ‘I expect him to come back.’ Hope is not a word I am not going to use. I expect him to come back.

Question 2: Mason Foster

This was surprisingly short and sweet. Asked about the timing of Foster’s release:

“I think there is no real good timing to release a player like that. He was a good player for us, a great player for us, led the team in tackles, but we feel really good about the youth that we have at linebacker. Adding [Jon] Bostic helped out a lot, but we also have Shaun Dion [Hamilton], Josh Harvey-Clemons, Cole Holcomb, we thought he had excellent OTA session. Marquis Flowers showed great athletic ability and speed. We got BJ Blunt as a free agent we liked from McNeese State. So, we feel good about the linebacker depth we have right now.”

The linebacking group will likely consist of 4 or 5 players on the 53-man roster. Jay mentioned 6 players’ names. It’s pretty clear that Bostic, SDH and JHC, barring injury, are roster locks, with draft pick Cole Holcomb a probable 4th. There’s a fair chance that either Flowers or Blunt makes the 53 as a 5th linebacker and special teams player, and Blunt is also a practice squad candidate.

The Redskins have committed to youth, improved speed, and improved coverage skills at the ILB position, having cut the two guys (Mason Foster and Zach Brown) who were their starters Week 1 last year.

Question 3: Will Jay be moving a cornerback to the safety position?

I think we can all put this to rest now. Jay laughed this one off at the coach’s breakfast at the Spring Meeting, and now he’s dealt with it in a formal press conference:

“No, I think our safety spot is pretty good right now. I feel good about our safeties.

I think the corners, you know you really have three corners, you have nickels too. Most of the time you’re in 11 personnel anyway and have three corners on the field. We have those guys that’s competing, and that is going to be great competition. [We added] DRC [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] as a free agent. Fabian [Moreau] progress has been outstanding, getting [Quinton] Dunbar back healthy and Josh [Norman] obviously being here. [Greg] Stroman has done some great things. Obviously, Jimmy Moreland has shown great promise in camp. Deion [Harris] has done some good things at training camp working as a rookie free agent, North Dakota, South Dakota, one of the Dakotas, has done some great things. I coached his dad in the Arena League.

We have a good group of guys and the competition is going to be great there as well.”

I often pay attention to who Jay mentions off the top of his head, but since this press conference was taking place before any on-field practices, I’m giving less weight to the fact that he left some names unmentioned, most prominently (to me) was the omission of Adonis Alexander, though Jay brought up his name in answer to another question later in the press conference. Danny Johnson didn’t get his name called, and I have to think that — of all the guys who saw time in a regular season game for the ‘Skins last year that are currently on the 90-man roster — Danny Johnson would be among the two or three guys (Brian Quick comes to mind) most likely not to make the 53-man roster for Week 1 of 2019.

Last year the Redskins kept 6 CBs most of the season; I see 9 guys currently in competition for those 6 spots, but, listening to Jay, it doesn’t sound like any of them will be saving his job by changing position to safety.

The current safety list, by the way, isn’t really long:

  • Landon Collins
  • Montae Nicholson
  • Deshazor Everett
  • Troy Apke
  • Jeremy Reeves
  • JoJo McIntosh

I would expect the top four names on that list to be on the 53-man roster for Philly in Week 1, with either Reeves or McIntosh on the practice squad.

Question 4: Quarterbacks

There was surprisingly limited interest in the QB position in the press conference, with most reporters focused on health status updates, the Trent Williams holdout and the release of Mason Foster, but one or two people eventually remembered to ask about the potential quarterback competition.

In discussing a topic that might have, under different overall circumstances, been expected to dominate the press conference, Jay gave surprisingly little information, though he did toss out a couple of crumbs.

Asked if the three QBs, Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins and Colt McCoy would be splitting reps evenly through camp, Jay answered succinctly:

“Yes. It will be close.”

On the broader question of the competition between the rookie and the two veterans, Jay was only slightly more expansive:

[The opening game against Philadelphia] is not too far away but we have time though. We need to give these guys ample opportunity at every position: outside linebacker, inside linebacker, safety, corner, receivers, running backs, tight ends, linemen. We got to give these guys opportunities to make plays and see which one is the best. It might come down to the wire. It might come down to Saturday before the Philly game. Who knows, but I feel confident in every one of our quarterbacks. They have a skill set that is beneficial to help this team win games. It comes down to which one will give us the best chance to win week one against a division rival.”

Jay, as he loves to do, tried to anticipate the headlines by putting the QB competition on the same plane as other positional battle throughout the roster and on both sides of the ball.

What can we glean from his short comment above?

a. The Saturday before the Philly game

Jay sounds like a guy who is planning to push back against anyone who tries to pin him down to an early decision. He says specifically that “it might come down to the Saturday before the Philly game”. This is a guy who is staking out his territory early, and he has the sound of a man who is ready for 5 weeks of battle against anyone who wants to push him into making an early commitment. I can hear him now at the press conference after the 2nd preseason game against the Bengals protesting that he warned us all at the beginning of camp that this was a competition that wouldn’t be decided early.

b. No presumptive starter

Jay isn’t giving a leg up to any QB on the roster before its earned in camp. Jay had a very different, but equally unsettled, situation at quarterback when he arrived in 2014 and had to manage the RG3, Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy tripartite. I’m guessing that he’s spent much of the summer getting his strategy straight in his head and preparing what he plans to say and how he plans to manage the 2019 version of open competition.

c. “whoever gives us the best chance to win”

Is there a more overused coach speak phrase in football than the one with which Jay closed this comment? Jay says that — bottom line — the decision will come down to “which one will give us the best chance to win week one against a division rival”. That’s the well-worn phrase, but the addition of the the condition at the end (‘week one against a division rival’) seems significant to me. Jay needs to have a good season. To accomplish that, he can’t waste any opportunity to win any game, but especially a division game. This will be the decision of camp, and it will have reverberating effects for the team throughout the season, and it may define what happens to Jay Gruden in the years to come. The decision may well be integral to how we see Dwayne Haskins in years to come, and Case Keenum’s legacy as well.

All in all, I get the sense from this short glimpse Jay gave us, that he understands the crucial importance of his decision regarding the quarterback position, and that he’s letting us know early on that Jay will control this narrative to the extent he can, and that the outcome will be very short-term focused — a Week One win in Philly.


“I think that this is the greatest coaching job in pro sports and it is an honor to be the head coach of the Redskins and with that comes great expectations, and we haven’t lived up to them the past couple of years. Performance is king and our record these last two years we were 7-9. In the National Football League, you got to win to keep your job, and we have to get it turned around. [Owner, Dan M.] Mr. Synder and [Team President] Bruce [Allen] have given me a great opportunity to coach this franchise for five years, going on six, and I have every intention to believe, every reason to believe, we have a great football team and we are onto something special here.”


Reading the transcript of the press conference doesn’t do justice to the last question that Jay answered about the starting quarterback position. Asked what he looks for in a starting quarterback, Jay said:

“It’s always about consistency”

He stopped there. For a long beat or two. It seemed like that was all he was gonna say. Then he added:

making plays,

having a great command of the offense.

Then, Jay being Jay, he smiled and started to reel off a list:

Leadership. Accuracy. Decision making. Fundamentals in the pocket. Ball security. Accuracy.”

Then added a huge face-splitting grin.

But I think he betrayed the answer without thinking right up front.

“Consistency” is where it’s at for Jay.

He’s got an offensive system, and he needs a guy who can consistently understand the system, make the calls, make the reads, get the protections right, run the play, do what’s expected. Consistency trumps talent for Jay right now — at least in the short term.

In OTAs and minicamp, Jay, in commenting on Dwayne Haskins, talked a little bit about the ‘wow’ factor he has, but he contrasted it with Dwayne’s lack of consistency... his tendency to do things that leave you scratching your head and asking ‘why?’.

To me, that says that the rookie is starting camp in a handicapped position in terms of earning the Week 1 starting job. He has 14 college games on his resume. He’ll have 4 weeks of practice and probably 5 to 6 quarters of pre-season football to prove to Jay that he’s got the consistency Jay is looking for.

I think that’s a lot to ask of Jay and Dwayne. That’s a lot of trust to build.

We saw, last year, how challenging Jay’s offense could be for a smart, experienced guy like Alex Smith. My guess is that Jay starts the 2019 season with a veteran — Jay may want to go with Colt McCoy, but it’ll have to be Keenum — leaving Dwayne Haskins on the sidelines for at least the first month of the season, and maybe longer. We’ll see what happens.

Question 5: Robert Davis

This was a question of omission.

No one asked about the health of Robert Davis, who was injured in practice after last year’s first preseason game. The 2017 6th round draft pick, who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad, has a lot of people excited because of his measurables — 6’3”, 212 pounds, with 4.44 speed and a 41 inch vertical jump. But his injury last year was bad; he was diagnosed with a torn LCL, PCL and ACL, along with a broken tibia in his right leg. Holy shit!

At least one off-season report suggested that Davis was unlikely to be healthy for training camp. Following Gruden’s press conference, the question of Davis’ health was raised by some, and reporters could only answer that he hadn’t been listed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, so the young wide receiver must be cleared to practice.

This was a fairly significant oversight by journalists who were admittedly chasing a lot of story lines on Day 1. I would expect a lot of clarity on Robert Davis’ health and prospects for training camp and the preseason to emerge today.

Poll

Will Trent Williams be on the field for the Redskins in Week 1 versus the Eagles?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Yes
    (446 votes)
  • 25%
    No
    (152 votes)
598 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Did the Redskins do anything wrong by releasing Mason Foster on pretty much the same day that the Cowboys released Allen Hurns and the Packers released Mike Daniels?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yep, it was shitty timing
    (95 votes)
  • 84%
    Nope, it was just a routine business decision
    (508 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Despite Jay’s answers to reporters questions, should the Redskins be using training camp as an opportunity to move one of the many CBs to safety, similar to the way in which Quinton Dunbar moved from WR to CB?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Yes
    (215 votes)
  • 63%
    No
    (367 votes)
582 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who will start Week 1 in Philly?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Case Keenum
    (517 votes)
  • 7%
    Dwayne Haskins
    (46 votes)
  • 8%
    Colt McCoy
    (50 votes)
613 votes total Vote Now

Poll

ASSUMING HE’S HEALTHY ENOUGH TO PLAY, how many receptions will Robert Davis have in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    less than 16 (<1 per game)
    (281 votes)
  • 45%
    17 - 48 (1-3 per game)
    (268 votes)
  • 4%
    49-69
    (27 votes)
  • 1%
    70+
    (9 votes)
585 votes total Vote Now