Here's five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's session with reporters at the 2016 NFC Coaches breakfast March 23, 2016, in Boca Raton, Fla.
1. Kirk Cousins "needs to work on everything" in order to build upon a record-setting season as the Redskins' starting quarterback in 2016.
Now officially back under center after having Washington's franchise tag placed upon him just before the start of free agency, Cousins and his head coach know there's no use in being satisfied with what the Michigan State product was able to accomplish in 2015.
"As a quarterback you have to consistently work on your fundamentals on the time: footwork, your drops, all that stuff, you can never stop working your fundamentals ever," Gruden said when asked about what Cousins can work on to get even better moving forward. "The one thing he's going to continue to do vigilantly is study the game, study formations, study plays, study concepts vs. different defenses, blitz patterns, how to pick them up at the line of scrimmage, the audibles, change of protections at the line, I think he's going to continue to study the game from a mental standpoint – but from a physical standpoint it's footwork, throwing the ball, taking care of your body."
Gruden said he's not worried about any kind of pressure getting to Cousins after receiving the franchise tag – and the almost $20 million in guaranteed money that comes with it.
Cousins, who came into the league as the Redskins' fourth-round pick in 2012 and certainly earned his starting spot by paying his dues, showed his grit down the stretch last season, performing as one of the top quarterbacks in the league to lead Washington to the NFC East title.
"I think he's excited about it, ready to show again that he's worth it," Gruden said. "That's what happens when you sign a deal like this – it's one thing being a fourth round pick and you come in as a backup and, 'OK, I did this.' Now all of a sudden when as you're trying to establish yourself as one of the top five guys in the NFL, now you have a little bit more pressure on yourself to perform, and he knows that."
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2. There's certainly "concern" about the current depth at the safety position.
If the Redskins were to start the season today, they'd be a little thin at both free safety and strong safety. Among those available to play would only be Duke Ihenacho, David Bruton Jr. and DeAngelo Hall, while some cornerbacks – Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett among them – could play safety in a pinch when needed.
Defensive back Kyshoen Jarrett, meanwhile, is still recovering from serious nerve damage to his shoulder and hopes to be ready by training camp. If he's able to go by Week 1, he's another player that can play either safety or cornerback.
Beyond that, the Redskins certainly hope to add to their secondary this offseason, either through free agency or the draft.
"The depth at safety is a little challenging right now," Gruden said.
The Redskins could look into re-signing veteran Dashon Goldson, who was released the first week of March. Last season – his first in Washington – the defensive captain led the Redskins with 139 total tackles and had one interception – which he returned for a touchdown – along with two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
"We haven't shut the door yet on Dashon," said Gruden, who admitted that the veteran's contract size was a major factor behind his release. "I know there's been some talks with him also. So that's [Scot McCloughan's] and Eric Schaffer's doing right in there and we'll have to wait and see what happens with him."
3. The Redskins could transition Trent Murphy from more of an outside linebacker to a defensive end.
Last season saw the emergence of second-round pick Preston Smith, whose eight sacks from the outside linebacker position led all NFL rookies.
Add Smith's talents to what the Redskins already have at the outside linebacker position entering the 2016 season – Ryan Kerrigan, one of the more consistent pass rushers in the NFL, and the recently re-signed Junior Galette, who had 22 combined sacks in 2013 and 2014 before suffering a season-ending injury just before Week 1 last season – and reps will likely be hard to come by for a guy like Murphy in 2016.
But Gruden and the Redskins still want to utilize Murphy's pass-rushing and run-stopping talents up front, and could ask him to bulk up this offseason in order to be more of a true defensive end in defensive coordinator Joe Barry's 3-4 scheme.
"We're in that process," Gruden said. "He's a young football player and coming out of college at Stanford, he's going to get bigger naturally. We're hoping that that comes naturally. He will have the ability to put his hand down, maybe play five technique or something like that."
Gruden said Murphy's "got great hips, I think, and he's got a great motor" and "plays extremely hard."
"We've got to find a place for him to keep him on the field," Gruden said.
4. Speaking of Galette, Gruden wants to be cautious this offseason bringing the intense pass rusher back from his torn Achilles.
The Redskins gave Galette a second shot last training camp, being the first team to reach out and sign the linebacker after his unceremonious release from the New Orleans Saints.
In the few weeks after his signing, Galette looked like a man on a mission at practices, showing the Redskins coaches and his teammates that they definitely made the right decision bringing him on board.
But just before the Redskins' Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, Galette torn his Achilles during practice, ending his first year with Washington before it ever really began.
Galette has brought that same "man on a mission" mentality to his recovery ever since, but Gruden knows not to push him too hard this offseason – even if he's cleared for full participation.
"He's had a lot of time and I've seen him run from time to time in the locker room, but I expect him to be close," Gruden said. "But I imagine there's a good chance we'll keep with the trainers and we'll hold him out either until mandatory or training camp."
Gruden said he was relieved that Galette and the Redskins were able to come to terms on a reported one-year deal to give the Stillman product another shot at terrorizing quarterbacks – this time in the burgundy and gold.
"There were some other good pass rushers in free agency, but we felt like getting Junior back would be like an added free agent because we didn't have him," Gruden said. "Great pass rusher, got to get him healthy obviously. He's working his butt off to get healthy. And he's going to be a huge, huge help to us on third down next year."
5. The Redskins could still add to the tight end position, which was ravaged by injuries last season.
Currently, Washington has five tight ends entering offseason workouts: Jordan Reed, Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen, Derek Carrier and Marcel Jensen.
Reed is easily the starter, as he solidified himself as one of the more dangerous pass-catching threats in 2015. Paul, a converted wide receiver, was set to contribute more than ever last season before suffering a year-ending ankle injury in the preseason. Paulsen, perhaps the Redskins' top blocking tight end, suffered the same fate as Paul – a season-ending toe injury in the preseason. Carrier played in 10 games for the Redskins last season before tearing his ACL, ending his season and placing at least the first few weeks of the 2016 season in doubt. And Jensen is considered a talented project at tight end for the Redskins, who brought him in towards the end of the 2015 season once Carrier went down.
General manager Scot McCloughan hinted at the possibility of signing Pro Bowler Vernon Davis on Tuesday, and Gruden said Wednesday that, because of the injuries and the unknowns at the position, the Redskins likely aren't done at tight end yet.
"We have some guys to pick, it's just a matter of finding out the healthy ones," Gruden said. "Niles and Carrier can't practice and all you have is Jensen and really Logan and Jordan, and we want to take care of Jordan obviously. It's rough."
Gruden also hinted at the possibility of using Paul – or another tight end – as a fullback in some formations. The team has elected not to re-sign longtime fullback Darrel Young, giving Gruden and his offense some options at that position.
"You can either dress a fourth tight end-fullback or dress three tight ends – one of those tight ends can play some fullback," Gruden said. "Then you can open up another spot for either a sixth wide receiver possibly, or a special teams guy, maybe a third quarterback if you need one, a fourth running back or some defensive players, an extra corner or special teams player."