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Gruden: "I'm very optimistic!"

March 30, 2017
The Washington Redskins have been heavily criticized this off-season for many issues. 

I’ve obviously been a part of that and I don’t apologize. Many others have as well. They deserve it and even if they were a top-flight organization that everybody trusted and believed in, they would get criticized.

Quite simply, many Redskins fans and media have a very small amount of faith in the direction of the franchise because of very few peaks over the last 20+ years.

Even when they’ve had those rare peaks, things have quickly crashed.

Jay Gruden, who received a contract extension a few weeks ago, doesn’t understand why there’s so much “doom-and-gloom” in Redskins nation or the media. He wants to know why people aren’t more positive and optimistic like he is.

At the recently concluded league meetings in Arizona, Gruden met with the media for over 50 minutes and repeated his stance. “I’m very optimistic,” Gruden told reporters. “I know it’s not great, but we’ve had back-to-back winning seasons. There’s no reason for us not to be optimistic.”

I like Jay. I really do. I think he’s a good guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s not a perfect person or coach, but he’s pretty genuine about how he feels, as best he can, in a difficult situation.

He also should be optimistic. He shouldn’t have a hard time understanding why “everyone is so doom-and-gloom around here,” which he wondered about this week.

He’s made this appeal before, in various forms. Gruden knows that he is largely succeeding in a pit of football despair.

The Redskins have won 17 games over the last two years, a division title and seem to be heading in the right direction in a lot of areas.

While they fell short this past season and they’ve absorbed a few massive body blows in the three months since – Gruden is right about something. There is no reason for the Redskins not to be optimistic.

Now – will the fans, customers and skeptics join them?

Here’s my spin: I am obviously more on the negative side. It’s going to be difficult to replace and improve the production of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. It’s hard to see how Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee are going to be better than Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois.

Regardless of what happened with Scot McCloughan, they are going to miss his football evaluation expertise. Make no mistake, both sides are to blame and a lot has happened here

I’m still disappointed in the way they’ve handled the Kirk Cousins situation with a long-term, fair approach.

They allowed Aubrey Pleasant to leave for the Los Angeles Rams because they didn’t want to pay him what he felt he was worth, despite the Redskins wanting him to stay.

I could go on and on. There’s quite a bit not to like. But, there’s a lot to like. Yes I said it.

Here’s my list of the positive things the Redskins organization has done over the last three months.

1 – The Redskins re-signed long-snapper, Nick Sundberg to a four-year extension in January. He’s one of the best, if not the best, at his position in the game.

I was pleasantly surprised by this, because I thought Sundberg was the type of loyal guy that the Redskins would let dangle in relative anonymity and possibly lose.

Before the season ending, on Ben Standig’s “Locked on Redskins” podcast, I said that Sundberg was the most important under-the-radar free agent Washington had. This was smart.

2 – The Redskins smartly promoted Matt Cavanaugh to offensive coordinator when Sean McVay left to become the head coach of the Rams.

Bill Callahan, who also got a promotion, at a later point, to assistant head coach – had enough duties on his plate taking care of a large group of personnel. During the season, the offensive line is eight or nine deep and during the off-season/training camp, the unit is about 12 or so deep.

Cavanaugh has done a good job helping Kirk Cousins develop, along with McVay and Gruden. He helps keep Colt McCoy ready and has worked with Nate Sudfeld for almost a year.

3 – Most Redskins fans were upset when Greg Manusky was named defensive coordinator. I wasn’t. Then again, I’m not a fan. I try and take a reasonable approach to this and even though a bigger name like Gus Bradley was available, it stands to reason that the Redskins made the smarter move for a couple of reasons.

Bradley ran a 4-3 primary system in Jacksonville and Seattle. The Redskins have used a primary 3-4 base for the last seven seasons.

Bradley, unlike Manusky, with success on his side of the ball, is more likely to get a head coaching opportunity sooner than later, so the Redskins could have been facing another turnover next year or in two years.

Manusky also was able to tap into somebody who many in the NFL feel is one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL, Jim Tomsula, who will serve in that role for the Skins.

Manusky was also intimately familiar with the roster and personnel, the building and the politics after joining the Redskins as an assistant the year before.

Not to mention, Manusky and Jay Gruden developed a very tight relationship over the course of the year, according to sources, who described the two as essentially, best friends. That might rub people the wrong way in Redskins land (of course it does, because fans care about statistics alone), but when you work together 90 + hours a week, you must have a strong relationship to take the next step. Especially when you don’t have plug-and-play talent across the board.

4 – The Redskins apparently are not going to trade Kirk Cousins. This is surprising because of the potential downside that only the Redskins seem to not be worried about or understand.

Cousins, appears to be the team’s starter for 2017 and once again, the Redskins will be in a very difficult bind next off-season, barring an unlikely extension before the July 15 th deadline this year.

Make no mistake. Cousins is better than Colt McCoy and having Cousins back for a third year as a starter should allow the Redskins to be better in different ways that can help out their offense and team. (LINKS)

5 – Signing Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal for $6 million guaranteed and potentially $8 million based on incentives, was a coup. Pryor is not as polished as Pierre Garcon or as explosive as DeSean Jackson, but he’s bigger than both, fast and by all accounts, a hard worker, based on everyone that I’ve talked with.

Brian Quick could also be a nice addition based on his arrow pointing up.

The Redskins red zone offense should be a LOT better this year than it was last year, because Washington has more size and ability to shield off contested throws.

6 – Washington was able to bring back a valuable veteran backup and swing offensive tackle, Ty Nsekhe. A mountain of a man has more than adequately filled in for Trent Williams (during his suspension) and at other times. Players like Nsekhe are hard to find.

7 -  Bringing back Junior Galette is a low-risk, potentially high reward move. I know, he has yet to play even a preseason game yet for the Skins in two years and he might be a mere shadow of his former self, but it’s a worthwhile gamble as long as the Redskins don’t fully count on him.

8 – DJ Swearinger is probably the most talented, high upside safety the Redskins have had since …Sean Taylor? Nobody is saying Swearinger is what Taylor was or that he’s great or perfect. The Redskins have had so many bad fits at the position, that a young player with a big upside and a proven skill package is a nice building block.

9 – For now, Chris Thompson and Will Compton are restricted free agents that were tendered deals by the Redskins and both are expected back for 2017.

10 - Vernon Davis re-signed for three more years to provide a very good second option to Jordan Reed at a crucial posiion. 

So how about that? Maybe Jay Gruden is right??

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins for Monumental Sports Network (www.DCHotRead.com) & Warpath Magazine. Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN   


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