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Need to Know: Redskins personnel decisions top camp priority for Gruden

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Need to Know: Redskins personnel decisions top camp priority for Gruden

RICHMOND—Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, July 24, 14 days before the Redskins open the preseason against the Patriots..

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Training camp starts today so three and out goes out the window and we are back to doing things in groups of five as standard operating procedure. Jay Gruden addressed the media on Wednesday afternoon; here are some quotes and notes on what he said.

—Maurice Hurt was placed on the non-football injury list. “He came in a little bit out of shape,” said Gruden. “We’ll just go from there and make sure we monitor his condition moving forward.” Hurt was not in shape last year, either. He spent the entire season on PUP after getting a knee scope before minicamp. I don’t see any way he makes the roster; in fact, I’m not sure why they are even keeping him now. If he comes back and then gets injured the team could be on the hook for his entire 2014 salary.

—Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Leonard Hankers were all put on PUP. Asked if he expected Hatcher to be back sooner than the other two, Gruden said, “It probably is. I think he’ll be ready quicker than the others.” Bowen and Hankerson have more serious knee injuries and it will be a while before we even get a good handle on what the status of each of them is.

—His most important job during training camp? “I want to make sure we make the right decisions on players, No. 1,” he said. “We have to make sure we get a good look at all the young guys, all the free agents, all the undrafted free agents, the draft picks, the veteran free agents, and make sure when we make our final cut-down we make the right choices and hopefully these players will make it very difficult on us in making those decisions.” Earlier this week I wrote a list of the players I believe are locks for the roster. There are 21 spots up for grabs and 58 players fighting for them. Gruden doesn’t want anyone he released to come back and “kick [our] ass”.

—Gruden does not expect to have any problems motivating his players. “Any time you lose the last one – whether you go 2-14 or we were 11-5 in Cincy and lost the last one – you should have a chip on your shoulder,” he said, referring to the Bengals’ first-round playoff loss. “You should want to get back on the saddle and compete.” He said that the team didn’t bring in anyone from the champion Seahawks so all 90 players on the roster should have chips on their shoulders. The Redskins have seem complacent some seasons even when their performance the year before didn’t warrant it. We’ll see if Gruden can make this a thing of the past.

—Gruden doesn’t have his own mistakes as a head coach to learn from yet so he has to learn from others. “You try to learn from history, coaches’ past mistakes, not only here but every other franchise in the NFL,” he said. “And you learn as a coach. We’ll learn from what we did in Cincinnati, what we did right, what I think we did wrong, how we ended the season, how poorly we finished and what we can do to rectify that.” The last coach gave the impression that he had all the answers and, given his experience, that’s not surprising. Gruden doesn’t know everything but he seems to know what he doesn’t know and that’s a good start.

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Timeline

Today’s schedule: Full practice 8:35; Jay Gruden media availability 3:45; Walkthrough 4:10; Robert Griffin III media availability time TBD; players availability after both practices.

—It’s been 207 days since the Redskins played a game; in 45 days they play the Texans in their 2014 season opener.

Days until: Preseason opener vs. Patriots 14; Final cuts 37; Redskins @ Eagles 59

Who's under the most pressure?

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After 4 teams in 4 years, D.J. Swearinger knows what it takes to make the Redskins home

After 4 teams in 4 years, D.J. Swearinger knows what it takes to make the Redskins home

It's never been a talent issue for D.J. Swearinger. In college he made big plays and earned all conference honors playing in the SEC at South Carolina. He was drafted high by Houston, second round in 2013, and started 10 games his rookie season. 

In his first two seasons with the Texans, Swearinger started 22 games and proved to be a playmaker. He logged three interceptions and more than 100 tackles. He looked like a possible long-term answer at safety, until he was uncermoniously cut after his second year.

Reports showed Swearinger bucked at playing special teams. And over time, a reputation as a big - sometimes dirty - hitter emerged. 

None of it helped Swearinger, who was signed by Tampa in 2015. He played seven games for the Bucs but was cut mid-season. Arizona signed him late in the 2015 season, and kept him for 2016.

Last year, playing on a defense with strong leaders like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson, Swearinger excelled. He played all over the Cardinals secondary, starting 12 games and making plays like he did early in his career in Houston.

He finished the 2016 season with three interceptions, two sacks and eight passes defensed. He made more than 50 tackles. Pro Football Focus rated Swearinger with a +15.3 grade, by far the highest of his career and good for the 8th best rating of any safety in the NFL.

The Redskins haven't had solid safety play in years. In 2016, the team tried to address the position on the cheap, converting cornerbacks to safeties and signing low tier free agents. It didn't work.

So, finally, in 2017 the Redskins front office addressed the safety position by signing Swearinger to a three-year deal. And it sounds like the 25-year-old has grown up a lot after four years of bouncing around the league.

"I've been on a lot of teams. I want to make this home," Swearinger said (full video above). "I feel like I’m experienced enough to know what to do as a pro, know what to do to stay on top of things and be a pro. As long as I be a pro every day and make the plays I’m capable of, I’ll be a Redskin."

Swearinger's deal will keep him with the Redskins through the 2019 season, but already, head coach Jay Gruden seems excited about the new safety. Earlier this offseason, Gruden said watching film of Swearinger revealed a player hitting the highest levels of safety play in the NFL. In OTAs, seeing Swearinger in person, Gruden was impressed.

"Watching him the first two days really excites me. He just looks like a safety back there," Gruden said. "No offense to the previous safeties we’ve had before, but I just think D.J. is to a level in his career right now where he’s got a lot of confidence. He has got a lot of talent."

There was some question if Swearinger can play the free safety role in Washington. More to the point, if he has the speed to play a true center field, with second-year man Su'a Cravens moving from linebacker to strong safety. Swearinger has zero concerns.

"I'm a free safety, I think that fits my body well," he said. "As a free safety you got to have the confidence in yourself that you can run with those guys and make plays on those guys."

Swearinger doesn't lack for confidence, and he shouldn't. Combined with Cravens, along with Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland at cornerback, the Redskins secondary could be a strength in 2017.

"We have a lot of talent. If we work day in and day out, I think this group can be one of the best," Swearinger said. "We just got to keep working, keep gelling to get everybody on the same page, the sky’s the limit."

It's normal for players to be excited in May. There supposed to be. 

Coaches, however, tend to be more hesitant with praise. Not optimism, but actual praise, though when it comes to Swearinger, Gruden isn't shy about his expectations.

"We know that he’s a physical guy, but as far as coverages and breaking up things, he’s got a lot of confidence and I think he’s going to really, really emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league," the coach said of his new free safety.

It's been a long journey for Swearinger. From four teams in four years to five teams in five years. He's hoping this one sticks. 

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

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ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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Redskins Playbook: 3 quotes that stood out during OTAs

Redskins Playbook: 3 quotes that stood out during OTAs

With Memorial Day weekend between now and the Redskins next batch of OTAs, let's look at the three best quotes from the first organized team session. For Redskins fans, the biggest looming issue remains the contract negotiations between Kirk Cousins and the organization, but there are plenty of other spots worth watching. 

1) Bad recruiting - A long-term deal might not get done, but that doesn't mean the talks aren't moving along. Cousins sounded almost optimistic but also knows that football is never a sure thing. To explain, he told a story from his high school days:

I’ve just kind of learned from previous experiences and if you know my story going back to high school, I played my senior year of high school with no scholarship offers, in fact there was a coach here from Northwestern today who was my recruiting coach at Northwestern, he’s still the running backs coach 10 years later at Northwestern and I was getting recruited by Northwestern, wanted a scholarship, they didn’t offer me, and it was just a reminder that you never know what’s going to happen. 

2) Sky's the limit - Despite the high-cost addition of Josh Norman, the Redskins secondary in 2016 was hardly a strength. Much of that came from poor safety play, where the team had few experienced options and spent little. This offseason, Washington invested in the position, bringing in D.J. Swearinger from the Arizona Cardinals. The new safety thinks the secondary can become a strength, quickly.

We have a lot of talent. If we work day in and day out I think this group can be one of the best. We just got to keep working, keep gelling to get everybody on the same page, the sky’s the limit.

3) Does it even matter - The NFL gives out a lot of awards, but at least publicly, there is no hardware for the funniest head coach. If there was a trophy, Jay Gruden should win it. Earlier this week the league announced a number of rule changes, most noticeably a change to stodgy TD celebration penalties. Another rule change: Overtime will shrink from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Gruden wasn't impressed when asked about it. 

Who cares?

Bonus - Who you calling fat? Gruden is too funny to only make the list once. Asked about second-year running back Robert Kelley, the coach made sure people know the difference between a nickname and reality.

That was just a nickname, he wasn’t actually fat. I think when you’re a 22-year-old kid, 21-year-old guy out of Tulane and you understand the wear and tear that the NFL is going to give you, you better get yourself into shape if you want to maintain a career in the NFL as a running back.

Always something on social 

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back