- The Washington Times - Monday, April 7, 2014

The exuberance with which new coach Jay Gruden addressed his players Monday morning set the tone for a new direction the Washington Redskins would like to take as they began their offseason workouts.

“There’s a new aura in the building,” left tackle Trent Williams said Monday afternoon. “Obviously, a lot of that comes with the new coaching change and the new free-agent pickups, so I’m really excited to see how the season turns out.”

With Gruden’s hiring, the Redskins were able to begin their voluntary offseason program two weeks earlier than normal – a move the NFL instituted three years ago to assist teams making the transition from one coaching staff to another.

During the first two weeks, players are only allowed to participate in strength and conditioning workouts, and only coaches with those responsibilities are able to join them on the field. It won’t be until the third week of the program, which will begin April 21, that position coaches are able to lead players through drills.

“I think you do build during this type of year,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield. “I’m not sure if the Redskins can necessarily win the Super Bowl now. You’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to stay healthy and really execute on Sundays in the fall/winter. But realistically, you definitely build, especially with a new coach, with a new staff. I think it’s really going to help us inject some new optimism into the whole team, the whole franchise.”

Cofield and Williams, team captains the last two seasons who participated in conference calls with reporters on Monday, each said optimism also came in part from the other players the Redskins have signed in recent weeks.

Shortly after the free agency signing period began on March 11, the Redskins added defensive end Jason Hatcher, wide receiver Andre Roberts and left guard Shawn Lauvao. They then made their biggest splash last week, when they signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson, released by the Philadelphia Eagles the week before, to what is essentially a three-year contract.

Williams said he was among the Redskins players who put in the effort to court Jackson during his time as a free agent. The two met at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu in January and kept in touch, and Williams was surprised to hear his team had contacted Jackson’s agent after the Eagles released him.

“I just told him, basically, that we would love to have a player of his caliber, that our team would be willing to embrace him and try to do big things this year,” Williams said.

Jackson reportedly struggled to fit into Chip Kelly’s structured operation during the coach’s first year in Philadelphia, and a report published by The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. the day of Jackson’s release outlined his connections with several known gang members.

Those assertions have prompted questions as to whether Jackson, entering his seventh season, will be able to fit into the Redskins‘ locker room. Williams doesn’t think it will be a problem; in fact, he believes such characterizations are the result of personal vendettas.

“To be honest with you, for a guy that has had the type of impact that he has had, and what, you know, three Pro Bowls, and a countless number of big plays and putting his team in position to win? To me, I wouldn’t question his practice habits,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t question him as a player. I mean, he’s proven himself day in and day out, and I just think it’s just human nature for whatever you’re doing, with all eyes on you and the public eye, there’s somebody that’s not going to like you.”

Lauvao played right guard the last four seasons for the Cleveland Browns, and Cofield said he, and other defensive linemen, noticed Lauvao’s tenacity when the Redskins defeated the Browns in Cleveland late in the 2012 season.

As for Hatcher, Cofield believes the addition of the former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman, who had a career-high 11 sacks last season, will only help the Redskins be more disruptive with their defensive line – something they were unable to do with any consistency last season.

“He’s a talented player,” Cofield said. “He brings a completely different skill set, I could say, from the guys that we have. He’s very unique in that way, and I think he’ll complement everybody along the line extremely well. … There will be a lot of wrinkles and a lot of differences that help make us better.”

Because of the coaching change, the Redskins will hold their additional minicamp from April 29 through May 1. Organized team activities, the phase when actual practices are permitted, will begin in late May.

“I think this time of year is very important for building that foundation,” Cofield said. “But, like I said, all of this will be for naught for if we don’t execute next year.”