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Redskins’ 2014 Analysis: Why Gruden gets a mulligan

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ASHBURN, Va. — Previous Washington Redskins coaches to go 4-12 — Richie Petitbon in his 1993 debut and Jim Zorn in his sophomore campaign of 2009 — were fired.

But Jay Gruden is expected to return in 2015 despite his rough introduction as a rookie head coach with the Redskins this season.

One reason Gruden will be back is he has four years left on a contract that pays him at least $4 million per season. Another reason is, at 4-12, his Redskins still finished a game better than the team he inherited last January. And two of Gruden’s victories came against NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia after predecessor Mike Shanahan went 0-6 in the division in 2013.

However, Gruden helped Cincinnati reach the playoffs in all three of his years as its offensive coordinator (2011-13) and had posted winning records in all 10 of his seasons in command in the Arena League (1998-2001, 2004-08) and the United Football League (2010). Gruden was also the coordinator for Florida’s unbeaten UFL champions under current Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in 2009. So until 2014 in Washington, Gruden hadn’t been part of a losing team since he was an offensive assistant for his brother Jon with Tampa Bay in 2006 when the Bucs went 4-12.

“It’s a humbling experience, being the head coach in the NFL going 4-12,” Gruden said during his season wrap-up press conference on Monday. “You learn a lot about yourself, a lot about the team, a lot about the staff you work with. It’s definitely a learning experience. It’s something you can grow from.”

Redskins fullback Darrel Young, who like receiver Pierre Garcon and injured special teams captain Adam Hayward, said he wants to keep playing for Gruden, agreed that the 47-year-old coach can grow into the job.

“He’s the type of guy you enjoy playing for,” said Young, whose only previous NFL coach was two-time Super Bowl winner Shanahan, whose first NFL command came when Gruden was a senior quarterback at Louisville in 1988. “He’s excited all the time and he’s gonna coach his (butt) off. He’s one of those guys you can always count on to be honest with you. It was a terrible year, but I expect us to be a lot better next year. The first step is done with where we’re trying to go.”

Receiver Santana Moss, the senior Redskin at 35 and after 10 years in Washington, said it’s up to the players to effect change.

“The guys have to take over and say, ‘We refuse to put up with what we’ve been going through,'” Moss said. “That’s when we can overcome what we’ve been going through. We can’t wait on nobody else to do it for us.”

Take away the remarkable 7-0 run under Shanahan that won the NFC East in 2012 for Washington’s only division title of the millennium and Redskins Nation has been waiting six and a half years for success. Even including that seven-game winning streak, Washington is 34-71 since mid-season 2008, including the loss to Seattle two years ago next week its only playoff game of the last seven seasons.

During that span, the Redskins had three coaches, two defensive coordinators, four play-callers, three special teams coaches and dozens of players. None of the assistant coaches and only three players — Moss, defensive end Kedric Golston, both backups for most of the last three years, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, whose 2014 season ended with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Week 3 — have survived all the defeats.

Fixing Washington’s woes will take some serious work.

The Redskins have weapons in moody receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and oft-injured tight end Jordan Reed, but quarterback Robert Griffin III struggles to get them the ball further than 15 yards downfield, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins is a turnover machine and Colt McCoy — if he re-signs — is also less than proven. What’s more, left tackle Trent Williams is the only reliable offensive lineman and running back Alfred Morris’ final month was easily the worst of his three seasons.

Haslett’s three-man front might not have a keeper other than emotional swingman Chris Baker. The secondary is a mess beyond cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a pleasant surprise as a rookie this year, and Hall, depending on his recovery. Linebacker is a strength with Ryan Kerrigan (13.5 sacks), the oft-injured Keenan Robinson, who played well in his first year as a starter, and rookie Trent Murphy, who seemingly showed enough to allow Washington not to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl pick Brian Orakpo, who managed just half a sack in six-plus games before being lost for the season with a torn pec.

Washington will have a first-round draft choice in 2015 for the first time in three years, but it sure looks like a long road back to respectability, let alone the top of the NFC East. Good thing that of the 19 usual starters under contract, only center Kory Lichtensteiger (30), right guard Chris Chester (31) and right defensive end Jason Hatcher (32) will be as old as 30 in 2015.

–Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins was showing plenty of promise until he suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the third game of his rookie year. Jenkins started most of 2012 and 2014 — while serving a backup in 2013 — but has only two career sacks and hasn’t been an impact player as a second-round draft choice is expected to be.

“Jarvis has done fairly decent against the run,” said Gruden. “He’s a load in there in the running game and our run defense has been pretty solid. He’s part of that rotation of big guys in there that really do a good job of holding up against the run and freeing up the linebackers. Obviously we would like to see a little bit more from a pass rush standpoint, but overall he has had a pretty decent year.”

Jenkins, who was credited with a career-high 51 tackles, believes that 2014 has been his best season, but he professed no desire to test the free agent market even thought his contract is expiring.

–Niles Paul was drafted as a receiver in the fifth round in 2011. Converted to tight end in 2012, he made his mark covering kicks and punts. But when Jordan Reed was sidelined for five-plus of the first 11 games this season, Paul saw more offensive snaps than he had played during his first three years combined. Paul had 16 catches for 253 yards during the first three games of 2014 — he had just 14 catches for 228 yards from 2011-13 — and wound up with 39 catches for 507 yards.

Washington’s coverage units also improved markedly this season, but with his contract expiring, Paul can’t be sure that he’ll remain a Redskin in 2015.

“I know there’s a possibility that I won’t be back, but this is my home,” said Paul, who finished with a career-high 39 catches and 507 yards. “I want to be here. I expect to be here.”

–After recording a career-high 11 sacks for Dallas in 2013, Jason Hatcher signed a four-year, $27.5 million deal with Washington as the Redskins looked to bolster their pass rush.

The 32-year-old defensive end was credited with 30 tackles and three sacks in Washington’s first seven games. However, Hatcher was shut out the next week against the Cowboys and was credited with just 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks over the following five games before an ailing right knee sidelined him for Week 15-16 and he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27.

“Obviously at the end here with the injuries it’s been a little frustrating for him,” Gruden said. “Early on … he was doing a good job, but I think overall for anybody to say that we were completely pleased with coaching performances or player performances would be a little over-exaggerated. He’s a great guy who works hard and I really appreciate what he brought to this team not only from the football player standpoint, but from a person standpoint. So moving forward I’m glad he’s on our team.”


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