Here's five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's first media session with reporters on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center.
1. Gruden has confidence that his team will build relationships well over the next three weeks.
The beginning of training camp is always filled with anxiousness and uncertainty – players can't wait to get back on the field just as they know the competition for a roster spot will be severe. This is head coach Jay Gruden's fifth year at the helm, which is to say he has a god sense of the mood, the character and the depth of the roster heading into camp, and he's been encouraged by it all.
"We're going to talk about expectations and what we think they need to accomplish to make this football team," Gruden said. "What each position has to do to make the football team and special teams is going to play a big part in that for a lot of these guys, so we'll see what happens. But, the good thing about this football team, in my opinion, is we got a good core group of veterans that they don't need a whole lot of talking to. They know what it takes to be a successful football player and football team. Now, it's a matter of us gelling as a group and playing well on Sundays."
Understandably, the most important veteran is quarterback Alex Smith, who has had a few months to grasp the team playbook and build camaraderie with his teammates. As camp develops, so will his relationships with everyone. But so far, Gruden has noticed it's already been an easy transition for Smith.
"Smooth, you know effortless, he doesn't go out of his way to try to do that," Gruden said of Smith building chemistry. "I think people just gravitate towards him, he's a natural leader. You know, we will see. I don't think that's ever going to be an issue with him, it never has been. Just a body of work that he has put in the NFL. What people have said about him is all true as far as what I've seen so far. But, we're in the infancy stages and we will see how it goes."
2. Injured players from last season will slowly work themselves back into shape.
For a handful of players, this camp will be an exercise in restraint. As they look to recover and rehab from injuries suffered last season, the challenge will be to not overextend themselves in the midst of getting valuable reps before the preseason.
Gruden says that for the handful getting back to the field – Jordan Reed, Trent Williams, Morgan Moses, Ty Nsekhe, Chris Thompson, among others— he'll have a plan for them, allowing them to partake in some individual drills, some limited team reps and then adjust their play time accordingly. It's a touch and go challenge.
"That's the million-dollar question, really," Gruden said of monitoring them. "You know, guys need to work but, we need them on the field on Sundays. So, that's something that I need to communicate a) with the trainer and b) with the player. The assistant coach has to know and get involved also. So, they've got to understand we're not trying to push them back and get them reinjured but, we also have to understand that they have to practice to get themselves ready to play on Sundays against these teams in the NFC East and all over the place. So, there's a fine line there but, we'll have great communication with the staff, the trainers and obviously the strength staff also and the player."
3. The injuries from last year allowed many backups an opportunity, giving this team a solid depth chart.
One of the biggest differences in this training camp compared to others is the depth of the Redskins' roster, which might be the best Gruden has had at his disposal in his five years with the team. Part of that fact is based on last season, in which numerous backups played frequently due to a litany of injuries to starters throughout the year.
"It did help our depth really," Gruden admitted. "We got a good look at some players in key situations, and they're going to be asked to do the same thing this year. So, it helped our depth, but you never want to go through that again. It's good to see these guys work.
"I'm very happy to see Chris Thompson, Morgan Moses, and Ty [Nsekhe] and Trent [Williams] how much work they've put in and Phil Taylor. You know, these guys worked their tails off to get back into shape and get back in football shape. They've done an excellent job in doing that. So, the big thing is we're trying to take care of them out here. We got a lot of new ways to have their bodies recover and help their bodies in that regard. We've done the best we could do as far as our due diligence as far as helping these players recover, stay on the field, get them treated, but the players have done an excellent job in getting themselves well. So, we anticipate a new year with healthy bodies."
The Redskins participated in their annual conditioning test at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.
4. Only two players won't be participating with the team right away.
The beginning of training camp brings requisite injury news, though the Redskins' list of players sitting out the start of camp was thin. The team placed defensive lineman Stacy McGee on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list and placed defensive back Joshua Holsey on the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
McGee is still recovering from core muscle surgery while Holsey had a more unfortunate accident, in which he dropped something on his toe. Gruden also didn't seem concerned about the preliminary MRI for wide receiver Josh Doctson. His results came back with nothing to report and he'll be ready to go on Thursday. Otherwise, Gruden is happy with the way the team looks physically.
"You know, I think they did a great job staying in shape as evidence them running today, and their weights - making all their weights," Gruden said. "Just step one now we just gotta get them out here, get them in the meeting room, and see how they handle and retain the information from the offseason program, which I'm sure they did. By the looks of them, their weights and the way they ran, I'm happy the way they handled the offseason."
5. Training camp is a true meritocracy when it comes to making the roster.
It's challenging not to enter camp without some expectations and biases, but Gruden does his best to keep an open mind when watching players get in their first practice reps of the year. "We don't try to predetermine. We try to let these guys play," he said.
That naturally funnels into the tough situations that must be made in the weeks ahead, slimming the roster down in time for the season. Gruden believes the process by which he and the coaching staff make those decisions -- it's based solely on the talent displayed on the field.
"That's the goal," Gruden said. "We don't have any factors here other than the best player will make the football team, anybody that knows me knows that it doesn't matter if you're a first round pick or a free agent, rookie free agent, so it doesn't matter everyone is going to get an opportunity we'll play the best guy.
"I just think we have to get these guys playing together," Gruden added. "Team camaraderie is a huge thing for me, chemistry is big for me, so it's up to the players to gel and we have to do the best thing we can to let them have that opportunity. The big thing for me is trying to do my best to get these guys motivated on a daily basis so we get the best version of themselves daily and just go from there."