RICHMOND — Only able to draw upon experience gained in three previous NFL training camps, new Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden wanted everyone’s opinion when crafting a plan for three weeks of practice.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who is entering his fifth season with the Redskins, was given his say. So, too, was offensive coordinator Sean McVay, promoted in January from tight ends coach.
Even Paul Kelly, the director of football operations and the man tasked with the minute-by-minute planning of each day, shared what worked and didn’t work in the team’s first camp away from home last year.
Gruden naturally hopes everything runs smoothly, but in football, such wishes are rarely granted.
“We’ve all been in different systems with different programs and we’ve seen how different teams do them,” Gruden said. “I used everybody’s input on that, as I do in coming up with game plans. Every decision that I make will have input. Obviously I’ll have final say, but I really expect that from the coaches.”
Among the changes from last year, the final camp under Mike Shanahan, is the change in timing of the practices. No longer will the Redskins conduct their full, two-hour practice in the mid-day heat; they will begin most days at 8:30 a.m.
Gruden also suggested other day-to-day changes could be made, depending on the players’ performance and effort. The less rigid system will allow the team to correct areas of concern immediately — and, the coach hopes, improve.
“We’re hoping to give them the opportunity to continue to speak our language, play our offense, play our defense, be taught special teams and continue to coach and get them ready for their first game,” Gruden said.
Eighty-six of the 90 players the Redskins will have in camp will be ready on Thursday, but four will not be: defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who were placed on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, and offensive lineman Maurice Hurt, who will begin camp on the non-football injury list.
Gruden did not want to estimate when any of the four would be able to return, though he conceded that Hatcher, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on June 19, should be the first one back.
Hatcher, who signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with the Redskins in March and was expected to take over as their starting right defensive end, was projected to need four to six weeks to recover from the procedure. He said in June, at the end of organized offseason workouts, that his soreness was the accumulation of several old injuries and wasn’t something new.
Bowen is still recovering after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair the cartilage in his right knee in December, while Hankerson tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in the Redskins‘ loss at Philadelphia on Nov. 17.
Hurt will enter training camp on the non-football injury list because, Gruden said, he’s not in shape. He also was not in shape at the start of training camp last year, and he wasn’t activated during and missed the entire season.
Two players who will be ready to practice on Thursday are cornerbacks Richard Crawford and Tracy Porter, who are vying for a spot as the nickelback. Crawford tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee last preseason and missed the entire year, while Porter, who signed a two-year, $6 million contract in March, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in one of his shoulders.
“They’re good,” Gruden said. “They’re ready to roll.”
After a 3-13 finish last season, Gruden said he hopes the players enter camp motivated and ready to compete. He, personally, expects to feel nervous and anxious as he takes the field for the first time on Thursday.
He has told himself that such a feeling is normal because of his desire to succeed. In a way, he hopes his players feel that way as well.
“We’re fired up,” Gruden said. “Everybody showed up on time. Everybody’s eager, ready to roll. We had a great offseason program, like I said, and this is the beginning of something special, we hope. All of these guys are excited. Like I said, the coaches are excited. I think the city’s excited. Now it’s just a matter of putting the work in and getting better every day. That’s the motto.”