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Inside the mind of Redskins offensive coordinator Scott Turner

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Back in January, the Redskins fanbase was divided on many things; one of those things was the question of whether Ron Rivera should retain Kevin O’Connell as the Redskins offensive coordinator. O’Connell was young and energetic, and Redskins fans had seen a lot of talented former coordinators of the same ilk leave the organization to have success elsewhere — guys like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Matt LeFleur. ‘Skins fans were loathe to see yet another up and coming Redskins coach leave the building.

In the end, both Rivera and O’Connell said that a mutual parting was agreed upon, and Redskins nation was introduced to a different young, up and coming offensive coordinator, but one not altogether unfamiliar to the franchise. Scott Turner, son of former Redskins head coach Norv Turner, is the very definition of a young and inexperienced offensive coordinator, having run the Carolina offense only for the last quarter of the 2019 season, but growing up, as he did, the son of an NFL offensive coach, he arrives with a lot of knowledge and experience.

9 January 2020: Scott Turner is the new Redskins OC and most of the Panthers offensive staff is coming with him

Turner expressed a lot of excitement to be “coming home” when he talked to reporters in his introductory media session a few months ago, reminding them that this is where he lived for a long time while his dad was the coach in DC; that he had gone to high school in the area. Fans, in return, are excited to find out if the Redskins can reverse the flow of coaching talent and bring it into Redskins Park, drawing talent to the franchise instead of watching it leave.

16 January 2020: Redskins Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner Conference Call

On Wednesday, Scott Turner had a lengthy Q&A session with local media via Zoom where he answered a bunch of questions about himself and his offensive plans for the Redskins.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner Spoke to the Media

"Dwayne’s doing a great job. You can tell he’s putting the work in away from the meeting time, and he’s working at it and doing as much as he can." Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner spoke to the media about the development of the Dwayne Haskins and how the virtual offseason program is going.

Posted by Washington Redskins on Wednesday, May 27, 2020

5 May 2020: What can we expect from Scott Turner’s offense?

While Turner was asked about specific position groups and specific players, he was also asked about his approach to teaching his offensive philosophies right now.

We have a really good group of coaches on this staff and I am familiar with the majority of them in Carolina. What they are first is teachers. They all know this offense like the back of their hand. I try to delegate to them and let them spend the time with their guys to teach them.

I have been in and out of those meetings. We meet with the quarterbacks as one because Alex [Smith] is in Hawaii. I spend all the time in there. With the quarterbacks, the big thing there is just every play — explain to them what the objective is on that play, what we are trying to accomplish and what the philosophy is. That is something that we are trying to express to those guys.

Turner made some interesting points when he talked about the quarterback’s role in the offense, and got into the issues of identifying favorable matchups and progressing through reads. is man [coverage] and you’ve got a one-on-one matchup, and you like the matchup, then get to the top of your drop, hitch and throw; take it and count on your guy to win. [Y]ou have to win on the outside with those matchups.

But to me, you’re not waiting to read through a progression, you’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got our guy against their guy and we’re going to take him.’ So that is kind of the point I was making there, and goes to speak towards some of the philosophy....

I think it does help Dwayne because he can get back quick in the drop and identify a matchup and then put the ball where he wants to. I think it makes it easy for all quarterbacks to recognize, ‘Hey, I might have a progression over here, but I have a matchup backside and I’m just going to take that.’ We don’t have that option on every play, but we try to do it quite a bit.

Related: Inside the mind of Redskins Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor

Scott Turner was asked to talk about what the draft meant to the receiver group he has to work with.

[We made sure to] bring in quality football players to create competition.

Looking at some of the additions that we made, yeah, they might not be flashy names, but that’s not necessarily always the best route to go either. We brought in guys that are great competition, and the beauty of this is we don’t have to play anybody till September 13th, for real, so, we don’t have to set our lineup today, and in any one of our positions, [we’ll] let those guys practice, we’ll evaluate. We’ll evaluate and play the best players — play the guys that give us the best chance to win.

You talk about our draft, I mean obviously with [Antonio Gandy-Golden] I’m excited about Antonio. The guy made all the plays. I know Liberty, but Liberty is still a pretty good level of football. They played against some top-level opponents, and those were some of his best games. Constant production.

The guy plays fast, contested catches, all those things that you want to see. Now, he’s got to do it. He’s got to show it. Again, like I said, it starts in practice. Going forward, he’s going to have an opportunity to earn a spot to contribute.

But even with Gibson, you can label him as a running back, you can call him whatever you want, but he played 80 percent of his snaps as receiver in Memphis. He’s...a guy that can give you some versatility offensively.

And then he discussed the new running backs the team added since January.

You know, it’s kind of the same thing I said with the receivers. We want to add quality guys and create competition.

It’s no secret that we took over a team that hasn’t been in the best place, right? It’s not like I’m saying anything anybody doesn’t know — 3-13 last year. We’ve got a long way to go to get better, and I think the way to do that is to create competition on your roster.

So we wanted to add Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic, and then in the draft, you know like I said, Gibson is kind of a tweener type player.

What we didn’t want to do is handcuff ourselves to where, ‘hey this is the guy and we’ve got to play him.’

Right now, we have options and we’ve got guys that are competing, and whoever ends up winning the competition is going to be better for it because they’ve got guys pushing them.

CLICK HERE to watch the entire Scott Turner Q&A session

Turner was asked if the offense would target any specific players in terms of getting the ball in their hands.

I think that is yet to be seen, [although] obviously there are a couple candidates.

Steven Sims — you saw what he did at the end of the year,

Antonio Gibson — [I already] talked about drafting him.

J.D. McKissic is a guy who was a slot receiver at Arkansas State who played at Seattle and for the Lions and now is a running back but has done a couple different things.

Those are three guys that really come to mind.

Obviously we’re going to try to get the ball in Terry’s hands but that is in more of a traditional receiver and throwing the ball type of sense. But we have guys that we feel like can fit those molds as far as just creatively getting the ball, not just like running back and receiver.

We’re going to give a lot of people a chance and see how it shakes out.

Every time I hear Scott Turner talk about the offensive plan, I am struck by his desire to run something that is not “traditional”. He seems to disdain the idea of throwing the ball to the receivers and handing the ball to the running backs. Instead, he seems focused on fielding a set of skill-position offensive players with a combination of running and receiving skills that will allow him to use formations, motions and movement to create mismatch opportunities on every play. His ability (or lack of ability) to do this effectively seems to me to be the key to whatever offensive success the Redskins will enjoy this season.

Related: A closer look at the Redskins’ position coaches: Offense

He was aked to specifically comment on Adrian Peterson and whether he fits the type of offensive system that Turner had been describing.

I’ve got a ton of respect for Adrian. I spent three years with him in Minnesota. In 2015, he led the league in rushing. I wasn’t calling the plays, I was the quarterback coach, but that’s the offense that we’re going to run to an extent. It always changes with your personnel.

With Adrian and his skillset, when he’s rolling, there’s a role for that type of back. I understand what you’re saying with the pass game stuff and he’s capable of catching check downs and those types of things. He’s great when you have him in there for play-action passes, when you’re trying to throw the ball down the field. I’m not concerned with that.

If someone’s not good at something, regardless of who it is, they don’t have to do it — with the exception of offensive lineman, they’ve got to block. But, as far as skill players, you can ask them to do the things that they’re good at.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the questions that Turner handled focused on his young quarterback, Dwayne Haskins. He had a lot to say.

Haskins, the student

Obviously we can’t see him doing it on the field with the virtual meetings, but we’re putting a lot of work in, obviously abiding by the rules that the NFL has set forth – four days a week, two hours a day. We’re kind of throwing a lot at them.

In the beginning of every meeting, we do some quizzes, tests just [to] test their retention. When we’re talking to him, he is speaking the language. It’s pretty easy to tell if they get it or not. Dwayne’s doing a great job.

Haskins, the athlete

You can tell he’s putting the work in away from the meeting time, and he’s working at it and doing as much as he can. The physical side of it —I know he’s doing a lot of it on his own. You guys, I’m sure, have all the seen the pictures. It looks like he’s in great shape.

The time he’s putting in with the receivers, Terry and [WR] Kelvin [Harmon] — they all have been throwing together for some time now — that’s all positive.

Preparing Haskins for the season

Obviously as a coach, and with me coming in new and putting in this new offense, I’d love to have more time with him, but it is what it is. I think that we’re doing a great job with making the most of the situation.

A lot of play in this league is confidence. Obviously, you have to have this skillset that we all believe Dwayne does, but it takes a while for guys to truly believe that they can do this and that they can play in this league. It is highly competitive, and it humbles everyone.

Watching him and spending the time with him, getting to know him as I have over these past few months, you want to build on those things.

If we’re watching film, we can ask him a question about, ‘Hey, what is this coverage?’ and he will give you the correct answer. Well, why is that? When you can have that dialogue and they can give you the correct answer and are repeating the things that you talked about in earlier sessions, that is when you know it is really starting to click.

What Haskins showed in 2019

You look at him stand in the pocket; he doesn’t need a lot of space to operate. That is one thing that you worry about with players in college football. A lot of times in college football if you look at quarterbacks in the pocket, a lot of times there is no one around them. That is just not how we play the game.

That was one of the first things that I looked at when I got the job — looking at Dwayne’s pass reps and how he operated in those tight pockets. His eyes stayed down field. He was able to push the ball down the field in those 20, 30, 40-yard throws with velocity, not needing a lot of space to generate with his body.

He is a big guy and he is hard to bring down. I saw that firsthand in Carolina when the Redskins came down and beat us. He got out of a couple plays and extended plays that way just because of how physical he is. Those are the things that really stand out. You are going to make money in this league by standing in there and making throws down the field when it is tough. He has shown enough of that. His eyes aren’t going to go down, and he is not going to look at the defensive line. He is going to hang in there and execute the throws down the field.

I really enjoyed this final set of comments in particular, as it highlighted something about our quarterback that is often overlooked or under-valued; specifically, that Dwayne has the ability to stand in a collapsing pocket and make throws because he is strong. Too often, we judge players on their 40 times or based on the arm strength they display on an empty field with a receiver streaking down the sideline in compression shorts and shirt. Some guys play faster than their 40 time (and some slower), and some quarterbacks can make plays when things aren’t perfect, while others can’t.

I watched a bunch of highlight reels from the 2019 season this week as I was working on a couple of other articles, and, although I was focused on the Redskins receivers while I was watching, I was struck by what I saw from Dwayne Haskins. I saw tremendous improvement in pocket awareness. Even by the end of the season he was making some mistakes, but it was clear from watching film of one pass play after another across a string of games, that Dwayne was improving his footwork and becoming more aware of how to deal with the defense and how to put the ball on the right receiver effectively and on-time.

If he learned that much in nine games under a coaching staff with no future in DC, how much faster will he improve under a staff that is devoted to developing him into the best quarterback he can be?