Meeting with the media for one final time in 2014, Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden on Monday called his first season as head coach a humbling experience which plenty of learning experiences along the way.
"You learn a lot about yourself, a lot about the team, a lot about the staff you work with, and it's definitely a learning experience," Gruden said. "It's something you can grow from. The big thing is not making the same mistakes twice, trying not to, and growing with your staff and with your football team and moving forward to bigger and better things."
The season certainly didn't go the way the Redskins or Gruden expected.
After being hired Jan. 9, Gruden constructed his staff, bringing in former NFL players like Randy Jordan and Ike Hilliard, who coached with the team in 2012, while also agreeing to retain others like defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
While many players credited the new coaching staff for helping them grow during the offseason, the reality is the Redskins won just four games during the regular season, strapped at times by key injuries or a lack of execution.
Both were certainly a problem for the Redskins' defense in 2014. When asked his thoughts about Haslett's job status moving forward, Gruden said he'd recommend keeping him aboard, reminding driving home the point that the unit constantly battled the injury bug throughout the year.
"Coach Haslett had his hands tied a little bit this year," Gruden said. "We had a lot of injuries, a lot of issues to our defense, the personnel that not many people have had to go through in this NFL season or in the history of this league, playing with as many different guys at as many different key positions throughout the season.
"I don't know what the numbers were but I'm sure they're up there with a record amount of players that had to start and play in this defense."
Gruden said he will meet with both owner Dan Snyder and President/general manager Bruce Allen by Sunday before beginning full staff evalutations.
Quarterback Evaluation Will Take Time
Gruden reiterated on Monday that the player evaluation process takes time, especially at the quarterback position, where Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins each played a significant amount of time under center in 2014.
While the staff will look at the tape to see how all three quarterbacks performed – both positively and negatively – Gruden said he believes Griffin III has "got the arm talent" to be a major cog in the offense, perhaps taking full control of the position next season, but that he also has some things he needs to work on the meantime if he can ever run away with the job.
"Obviously some issues in the pocket have to be worked with – anticipation, accuracy," Gruden said. "There's a lot of things that can be improved on. But every quarterback in the NFL will have to improve on every part of their game from one season to the next and he's no different."
As for next season, Gruden said that he would like a little more consistency from the position, and that he typically prefers to have just two primary quarterbacks on the roster.
"It's very difficult to have three with the reps that you get," he said. "You'd like to try to narrow it down to at least two. But like I said, if somebody said that, 'Hey, you have to play with this guy, this guy or that guy,' I'd be comfortable working with one.
"I'd like to pick one as soon as I could so we could really try to work and grind on him and develop him, but until that position is earned, you have to have a competition."
Final Message To The Team
The Redskins players trickled into Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., early Monday morning for physicals and individual meetings before a team-wide session.
While he briefly touched on the recently-ended 2014 season, Gruden said he wanted to take the opportunity to give the players the dates for some of the offseason training sessions and inform them that there will be changes to ensure they don't suffer another tough season like the one they just experienced.
"We want to approach this next season differently," he said. "We want to work harder. We want to do things that you have never done before. And sometimes when you go about the same way you train, same way you work, same way you prepare, you're going to get the same results, and we've had the same results here for too long."
As the players go home for the next few weeks to recharge their batteries and be with loved ones, Gruden's hope is that they'll come back motivated to rebound.
"We've got to look at doing things differently and hopefully these guys come with a fresh mindset, come in in the best shape of their careers, best shape of their lives because we have to," he said. "We're not good enough not to come in in the best shape of our life.
"So, a challenge to these guys? Very much so. And the core group of guys that I know are going to be here, I feel good about. ... Now it's a matter of surrounding them with other good people."
Changes Will Be MadeWhile he was mum on any specific changes Monday, Gruden did say that it's important to have 53 players who want to compete and have the desire it takes to be successful in the NFL.
"Being with these guys for a long time, there are some things that you want to address," he said. "You want to make sure you have the right people in here. I'm not saying that all 53 guys are my type of guys, you know? There are some changes that are going to be made. I do have a lot of respect for everybody, the way the worked and prepared, but we do have to get better."
As for next year, expect a different looking team, Gruden said.
"I promise you this – this will not be the same football team, football staff, right now that we're going to have the start of next year," he said. "So we're going to have a lot of changes that are done and made and hopefully for the better."