Albert Breer took over the Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) gig from Peter King about 11 months ago. It’s a high-profile platform for the 39-year-old journalist.
This week, SI/MMQB published a fairly in-depth article titled, How Washington Decided to Draft Dwayne Haskins. Afterward, he talked about the article and its background on the Grant & Danny show on 106.7 The Fan.
When I first became aware of the article, I thought it was going to be all about Dwayne Haskins.
It isn’t. Not really.
The article puts the focus on Jay Gruden, and in both the article, itself, and the subsequent radio interview, Breer paints a picture of a highly competent and confident Jay Gruden who was an integral part of the Redskins draft preparation.
This is significant, in my mind, because of the view, widely held among Redskins fans, that Jay Gruden is a lame duck coach who is “gone” when the final whistle blows on the 2019 season. This view is so entrenched that it is taken as ‘gospel’ by many, who would be absolutely shocked if Jay were still the head coach in 2020.
For this reason, many fans have said that they don’t want Jay ‘anywhere near’ the development of a young quarterback like Haskins. They argue rather strongly that, since Jay will not be here in 2020, he should never have been retained for 2019. Those people also point to earlier media reports of Jay being locked out of the scouting and pre-draft planning as evidence of Jay’s lame duckness.
I tend to hold a different view — not so much of the question of whether Jay should still be the head coach of the Redskins — but whether his fate is already written in stone.
He’s our guy until he isn’t
As a young manager in the early 1980s, I learned something new every day about managing people. One lesson came from my boss when we were discussing in a manager’s meeting how to deal with a problem employee who regularly came to work late and didn’t seem to be very good at his job. There were suggestions of reducing his hours or giving him crappy work assignments in an effort to get him to quit. My boss spoke up and said something that has stayed with me and formed part of my HR philosophy ever since: “He’s our guy until he isn’t.”
The boss elaborated. The guy we were discussing was one of our employees. As long as that was true, we would train him, encourage him, discipline him, support him, and give him every chance to succeed. We would be 100% behind him. If the time came when we could no longer support him 100%, we would thank him for his efforts, and fire him. Until then, he was one of us; he was one of our guys.
It’s all or nothing. You believe in a guy, or you don’t. There’s really no such thing as 60% belief or ‘qualified support’ when you employ people. If a manager or business owner doesn’t have full faith in someone in the organization, it is a mistake to try to keep that individual around.
From that standpoint, I agree with the idea that if Jay wasn’t gonna be here in 2020, he should never have been retained for 2019. But then I say to myself, if he is here in 2019, then his future hasn’t been written yet, and he deserves to be given every opportunity to do his job his way.
If Jay Gruden is the head coach of the Redskins in 2019, it has to be because the owner and executives believe he will still be the coach in 2020 and beyond. A guy who has less than 100% support from the organization cannot succeed, and, in an $8 billion per year enterprise like the NFL, a franchise can’t just ‘write off’ a year due to some unpredictable capriciousness of the owner.
The organization has to be fully invested.
Gruden, the Redskins, and preparing to draft a quarterback
Breer paints a picture of a head coach in Jay Gruden who is ‘all in’ on the Redskins, and, by extension, a franchise that is still all in on the head coach.
Consider this, from the Sports Illustrated article;
Gruden made a massive investment in studying the quarterbacks to see if one would warrant Washington’s first-round pick. Gruden personally watched every 2018 throw, and then some, from every quarterback the team was considering picking—“Not just Dwayne and not just Kyler [Murray], but all of them, from [Clayton] Thorson to [Jarrett] Stidham to [Ryan] Finley, [Will] Grier. All those guys.”
“Watched every game, every throw that they made, how they handled themselves under pressure,” Gruden said. “That’s the big thing, you try to find good defenses that gave them pressure, see how they handled pressure, and go through all their throws. And if you have more than one season, you go back and watch another season. Dwayne only had one [season], Kyler only had one.”
The Redskins then met with the quarterbacks at the combine, canvassed all their pro days with offensive coaches (Gruden personally attended pro days at West Virginia and, yup, Ohio State) and used eight of the 30 in-house visits teams are allotted for prospects to bring quarterbacks to Washington.
This doesn’t sound like a coach who has ‘checked out’, knowing that his future is already decided.
It also doesn’t sound like a coach who is ‘locked out’ of the process by the organization he works for.
It sounds, in fact, like a man who is deeply engaged and deeply involved in the work of solving, not only the short term issues that face the team, but in setting the long-term direction of the franchise.
After all, what single issue in January, February and March was more important than the question of which quarterback the Redskins should select in the April draft?
If Breer is to be taken at face value, then, if Gruden wasn’t the driving force behind that effort, he was at least integrally involved in the process.
Breer highlights, in the article, what made Haskins a prospect that the Redskins liked, focusing on Gruden’s role in identifying him as the right guy for the ‘Skins.
Because of the depth of the work Gruden did before the 2011 draft and for this year, he often uses the ’11 class as a point of reference. Haskins reminded Gruden of a quarterback from that class—not in playing style or in classroom knowledge, but in personality.
“They’re all pretty confident kids, bright-eyed. I was impressed with the entire class,” Gruden said. “But [Haskins] has a demeanor and aura about him, kind of similar to Cam Newton coming out, just an aura of confidence.
There’s something about him. When you’re around him, you feel like he’s got it, everything’s going to be O.K.—that he’s going to be successful, because he believes it.
Having been a quarterback himself, Gruden’s expertise has always been in this particular position, and two things about Haskins jumped out from the Buckeyes’ offensive tape. First, Gruden saw that Haskins game would translate easily to the pros.
“Coach [Ryan] Day did a great job there with their offense,” Gruden said. “It’s not just an RPO-type game. They were doing all kinds of dropback and quick game and play-action, things that conceptually are very similar to what we do. So it was easy not just to watch him, but watch him progress.”
The second thing? Gruden knew going in that Haskins had a howitzer—that’s what put him in first-round consideration in the first place. Studying him revealed more.
“He has a cannon of an arm, but he doesn’t throw it hard all the time like some quarterbacks with big arms do,” Gruden said. “Those guys get themselves in trouble, they just want to throw it hard every time. He can take a lot off of it, sometimes to a fault, he puts too much touch on it sometimes. And he can also make the difficult throws, the deep throws, the deep out routes, left hash-to-right hash on a line.
“So he has the arm strength but he also has the talent to be accurate and anticipate throws and throw with touch.”
Relationships matter, and this is where Gruden’s offensive coordinator, Kevin O’Connell—who worked with Day in San Francisco under Chip Kelly in 2015—could help. While Gruden recognized a lot of carryover from the Ohio State offense to his offense, O’Connell “could relay all the concepts. He knew what was going on.”
Having that background helped Gruden dig into the details on Haskins when he talked with Day at Haskins’s Pro Day. Gruden found what Day explained to us in an early March MMQB—that, by the end of the year, Haskins was carrying a heavy load mentally, proof positive of how capable a learner he was as a one-year starter.
Gruden saw first hand how the pressure of being the Redskins quarterback affected Robert Griffin III. Of course, it’s hard to project how another 20-something will deal with that. But where Haskins played—and how he handled playing against archrival Michigan, first coming in as a backup in 2017, and then as a starter in ’18—was no small plus in that regard.
“Good thing about being at Ohio State, they’re gonna have plenty of those big games,” Gruden said. “And he performed well in all of them. … He played in plenty of big games at Ohio State. He had a little bit of a failure against Purdue, but for the most part, he was pretty darn good against everybody else.”
Turning preparation into execution
Breer’s praise for Gruden’s preparation expanded to include everyone involved in free agency and the draft during his interview with Grant & Danny.
The Redskins’ goal heading into the draft, was to be as prepared as possible to select a quarterback without being “pigeonholed into taking one at 15.”
”That’s where you can, a lot of times, wind up making your mistakes, is when you predetermine where you’re gonna take one,” said Breer. “Because then, if the guy that you wanted is there, maybe you wind up panicking and doing something you shouldn’t.”
“It’s interesting, because Jay was in a situation – it was similar, but a little different – in 2011, where Carson Palmer had retired, and the Bengals literally couldn’t do anything because they were in the middle of a lockout,” he continued. “So they couldn’t go out and get a veteran option, so they literally had to find a starting quarterback in the draft.
”And I know Jay sort of wanted to try to avoid that this time, where he would be forced to take a guy who he knew was going to be starting for him in the draft. Which was the idea of bringing in Case Keenum in the first place, at least creating an option with a guy who had started in the past. Not that they saw Case as any sort of long-term starter, but at least he was a guy who you could compete with in the short term.”
Haskins falling to them at 15 was the best-case scenario, but they were prepared to move up if they needed to, or go in a different direction if Haskins was already off the board. Credit where it’s due, for an organization that is notorious for its blunders, it sounds like the Redskins were prepared for every scenario on draft day.
“for an organization that is notorious for its blunders”
We can never avoid the caveats, can we?
Still, Breer was unrestrained in his positivity as he analyzed how the Redskins used the intense preparation to put themselves in a good position to do more than just get a quarterback in the first round.
“It sounded to me like, going into the week of the draft, they were really set on the idea of maintaining some flexibility beyond what they were going to do at the quarterback position,” Breer continued. “And obviously they got pretty fortunate that Dwayne fell to them at 15, but I do think that they had contingency plans in place, and they weren’t planning on just selling out for one.
”And as a result of that, they wind up coming away with a pass rusher that I think would have been in consideration at 15 if Haskins hadn’t been there, in Sweat.
“I think one of the main things for them was holding onto the draft capital that they did have, right?” Breer said. “And that’s what allowed them to go and get Sweat at the bottom of the first round. It was a big deal to them.
The Redskins came away from Round 1 with a haul that looks pretty damned good right now. They got speed on the edge that they badly needed, and a young quarterback who has tons of potential and who won’t take up much of the team’s limited cap space.
[T]here aren’t any promises yet on whether Haskins will start. When OTAs kick off later in the month, Haskins and Keenum will split the first-team reps. If Haskins earns it, he’ll remain in the fight for the starting position whenever McCoy jumps back into the fray—I’m told he hopes to be physically ready to practice again before the Redskins break for summer in mid-June. So Haskins might start Week 1. He might not.
But the rise in hope for the Redskins fan base (and, it seems, inside the building as well), isn’t limited to just some vague better feeling about Haskins or the 2019 win total. It connects to Gruden’s future as well. As Breer said in his SI article, “it’s a lot different from what Gruden’s had the last six years.”
[T]he promise [Haskins] brings is undeniable—and a new feeling for Gruden in his sixth season as the Redskins’ coach. Remember, the Griffin situation was fairly messy before he arrived in Washington, Kirk Cousins was in a contract year every year he was the starter and Smith was acquired at age 34, then almost immediately got hurt.
Conversely, when you draft a quarterback in the first round, a team is hoping to have him for 15 years. If you hit on the pick, it means job security for everyone. It changes everything.
Words that don’t often go with coaching in the NFL, and words that haven’t been linked with Jay Gruden much in the past year or two.
But, the same reasoning that causes some fans not to want Jay involved involved in Haskins’ development leads to the notion that by having Haskins in the Redskins organization, it may mean added security for Coach Jay.
“[I]t is exciting to have a quarterback here that you’re gonna have for at least five years that you know you can grow with. You can build your offense around his skill set. … It’s exciting, for sure.”
Jay Gruden has been given the keys to the Redskins shiny new car; it seems that those in charge are trusting him not to crash it.
It seems to me that they’ve agreed that Jay is their guy… until he isn’t.