RICHMOND — DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts were discussing their roles in the Washington Redskins’ offense one morning last week when they realized that not all of the team’s receivers will end up pleased with the number of passes they’ll be thrown.
“It’s very dangerous and very scary, so I’d rather be on the team that has all the weapons,” Jackson said. “Somebody has to be open.”
The Redskins upgraded their passing game during the offseason, perhaps more than any other team, when they signed Jackson and Roberts. Those two, plus Pierre Garon, will give quarterback Robert Griffin III a trio of highly skilled wide receivers in the first year in new coach Jay Gruden’s offense.
So far, the process of getting every player together as a cohesive offense has been an adjustment. In the team’s initial training camp practice on Thursday, Griffin underestimated Jackson’s speed on one deep ball before Jackson dropped another attempt because of the wet conditions. Then, on Friday morning, Griffin attempted to connect with Jackson during a passing drill, only for the ball to end up near the receiver’s ankles.
“Honestly, that’s what practice is for: Going out there every day and working and taking rep after rep after rep after rep — really trying to get on the same page and get on the same accord as an offense,” Jackson said. “Being a new offense — Jay Gruden’s first year, my first year here, [Griffin] being in his third year — really, it’s just kind of new for everybody.”
Gruden’s offense is vastly different from the one Jackson worked in last season, when he had 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. That production was partly due to coach Chip Kelly’s “fast, speedy offense,” as Jackson called it; now, he’s settling into a scheme that’s more similar to what he had under coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for his first five seasons.
That means Jackson will be tasked with a variety of responsibilities, both outside and in the slot, and be used in a variety of ways. Gruden’s modified West Coast offense won’t look vastly different from what the Redskins ran last year, but he does want to slightly quicken the tempo — which, as demonstrated last year, could be advantageous for Jackson.
“He’s continued to get more comfortable with the verbiage that we’re using,” said offensive coordinator Sean McVay. “There are some similarities to what he did with Coach Reid and what Coach Gruden’s offense is doing, but he’s done a great job picking it up in the meeting rooms and being detailed with that and challenging himself to be better in that aspect.”
Jackson’s hands and speed make him a valuable downfield target, but it also allows the Redskins to be flexible on short and intermediate routes. By stretching the field vertically, Garon, Roberts and tight end Jordan Reed should, in theory, have greater flexibility underneath to make catches and pick up yards.
That is, once Jackson and Griffin get their timing down.
“You can’t always just drop back and heave it long with a guy like DeSean,” Griffin said. “Defenses are gonna be ready for that type of stuff, so really, we’re working on making sure our timing is down on all the underneath routes. The deep routes will come, and I’ll be able to throw the deep ball, he’ll be able to catch the deep ball. But I feel like we’re really far into the process of [getting] that chemistry.”
Jackson ended up in Washington only after an acrimonious departure from Philadelphia, and though there were allegations that the Eagles were concerned about his character, the team insisted Jackson’s release was merely a football decision.
If that was, Jackson said he wants to prove to the Eagles that he can still play football — and thriving in the Redskins’ offense will be a way for him to do so.
“At any given time, the defenses are going to have to be accountable for multiple guys — not just one guy, not just two guys, but four and five guys every play,” Jackson said. “[Griffin] is going to have a lot on his hands, because there’s going to be a lot of guys open. That’s the plan — just make it easier for him. As long as guys are open and he knows where to dish it to, it’ll be fun for us to go run and score touchdowns and make good plays for him. I think that’s what we look forward to.”