Jay Gruden has been the Redskins’ coach for three months, but today marks a huge step in his truly taking command of the team. That’s because the players report to Redskins Park today for the start of offseason workouts that last until the final day of minicamp on June 19.
While Gruden inherits a team that went 3-13 last season, Washington’s worst record in 19 years, the currently healthy regulars at each of the 22 starting positions represent a collective upgrade from the men who would’ve filled those spots at this time last year when the Redskins were coming off their first NFC East title since 1999.
Only 10 of the 22 starters remain the same from last April. On offense, those players include tackles Trent Williams and Tyler Polumbus, right guard Chris Chester, running back Alfred Morris and fullback Darrel Young. On defense, the returnees are left end Jarvis Jenkins, nose tackle Barry Cofield, inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr., outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
Last month’s signing of Shawn Lauvao from Cleveland which moved Kory Lichtensteiger from left guard to center and finalized the release of incumbent center Will Montgomery might be considered a wash although Gruden and his staff would argue otherwise.
However, there’s no dispute that newly-signed three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson isn’t a huge upgrade on predecessor Josh Morgan. While Morgan has never caught more than 52 passes for 698 yards and three touchdowns during his six seasons with San Francisco and Washington, Jackson averaged 59 catches, 1,020 yards and five touchdowns during his six years in Philadelphia.
“Signing DeSean was huge for our team,” said Williams, who became friendly with Jackson at the Pro Bowl and encouraged him to become a Redskin. “He’s caught so many bombs over the years. He gives us another big weapon. That helps everyone’s confidence.”
So does having a healthy Pierre Garcon opposite Jackson. Garcon, who would break Hall of Famer Art Monk’s franchise record with 113 catches in 2013, was recovering from surgery last spring leaving the job to Leonard Hankerson, who’s now rehabbing after having his left ACL repaired.
Assuming that tight end Jordan Reed is cleared to fully participate nearly five months after being sidelined for the final seven games of 2013 with a concussion, he’s an improvement – at least as a receiving threat — on Logan Paulsen, the blocking specialist who worked with the first team last spring. Reed set Redskins records for a rookie tight end with 45 catches and 499 yards in just nine games in 2013. Paulsen has 66 catches and 723 yards in 59 games during his four years.
And as much criticism as Robert Griffin III endured last season when he didn’t come close to matching his record-setting rookie year of 2012, not even backup Kirk Cousins can say with a straight face that the latter is a better quarterback than the former.
On defense, lineman Jason Hatcher was a long-time Dallas backup like the man he’s replacing for now at right end, Stephen Bowen, who’s recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee. Hatcher had 19-1/2 sacks during his last three seasons in Dallas including a team-high 11 last year. In seven seasons, Bowen has just 12-1/2 sacks, six of which came in 2011, his first year in Washington.
“I’m glad we won’t have to try to block Hatcher anymore except during practice,” said Williams, who was also very happy that the Redskins re-signed Hall, Orakpo and Riley.
Akeem Jordan, a free agent from Kansas City, isn’t the player or the leader that captain and four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher was.
However, strong safety Ryan Clark, who has returned after eight years in Pittsburgh, is a leader in his own right. Even at 34, the hard-hitting Clark and mercurial free safety Brandon Meriweather – who missed last spring with a troublesome knee – are an upgrade over 2013 rookie Baccari Rambo and Reed Doughty, who remains unsigned – on the defense’s back end.
At the cornerback opposite Hall, veteran Josh Wilson was ahead last year of where second-year man David Amerson — the presumed starter in 2014 — is now, but Wilson had such a poor season in 2013 that the Redskins didn’t attempt to re-sign him.
Of course, Garcon, Griffin and Meriweather all returned to reclaim their jobs last September, which is when the comparison of lineups will really matter, but five months from Gruden’s opener his starters are better than Shanahan’s were at the same time a year ago.
“We didn’t put our best foot forward last year, but now we can put that behind us and look forward to a much better season in 2014,” Williams said.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.
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