- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — Jay Gruden said Wednesday that the Washington Redskins will enter their upcoming offseason program with Robert Griffin III as their starting quarterback.

Griffin, who played in nine games last season as he battled injury and ineffectiveness, finished 2014 as the Redskins’ starter only after Colt McCoy missed the final two games because of a pinched nerve in his neck.

“We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No. 1 guy, and you know, it’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person,” Gruden said at Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL combine. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”

Griffin struggled to adapt to the offensive scheme Gruden installed in his first year as the Redskins’ coach, and his progress was hampered after he dislocated his left ankle in the first quarter of a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 14.

When Griffin returned on Nov. 2, facing the Minnesota Vikings, he slogged through three subpar performances before being pulled in favor of McCoy before a road game against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 30.

McCoy pinched a nerve in his neck late in a game against the St. Louis Rams the following week, and though he tried to play through the injury in the next start, he was unable to do so. Griffin replaced McCoy in both games, then started the final two games with McCoy on injured reserve.

McCoy is set to become a free agent on March 10 when the new league year begins, and Gruden declined to address a question about whether he would return to the team. Kirk Cousins, who originally replaced Griffin as the starter before he, too, was pulled because of his performance, is also entering the final year of his contract.

Gruden didn’t delve into specific things Griffin can improve, instead noting only that he needs to work on his mechanics and fundamentals.

“He’s got a pretty good idea of what we did last year at the OTAs and during the season with his footwork and fundamentals that he can continue to grow on and build on as a quarterback,” Gruden said.

To assist in his development, the Redskins added a quarterbacks coach, Matt Cavanaugh, who spent the last two seasons in that role for the Chicago Bears.

Gruden had said for some time, even dating to the end of last season, that he would explore adding an assistant devoted solely to that position. On Wednesday, he admitted that he misjudged how much time he and offensive coordinator Sean McVay would be able to devote to coaching quarterbacks during the season.

“Just to have another element working with Robert is a good thing,” Gruden said. “An experienced guy. I think I probably put too much on Sean last year. I thought I’d be a little bit more hands-on with the quarterbacks than I probably was, so I thought it was important to add another set of eyeballs that can really focus and hone in on the quarterback position. I think it’ll be a good thing.”

Griffin was scheduled to work with Terry Shea, a private quarterbacks coach who has tutored him since college, during the offseason. Cousins, meanwhile, spent time last week working with Jon Gruden, Jay’s brother, in Tampa.

Gruden said he didn’t know that Cousins was working out with his brother until afterward, but stressed that he didn’t believe that arrangement was anything special.

“It’s not just Kirk,” Gruden said. “There’s a lot of guys that go down there, coaches included. He’s got a great setup down there, and like I said, he just loves to be a part of working with players, no matter if it’s a pro player, college player, high school player. Who he works with is his business.”

Gruden, in his nine-minute press conference, also touched on the recent hiring of two other assistant coaches. He called defensive backs coach Perry Fewell, the former New York Giants defensive coordinator, an “experienced coach” who can help develop the Redskins’ young secondary, and said defensive line coach Robb Akey is “an energetic, passionate guy.”

He also said briefly afterward that president Bruce Allen and vice president of football administration Eric Schaffer would handle any issues with current players’ contracts — including that of wide receiver Pierre Garçon, who is scheduled to count for $9.7 million against the salary cap in 2015.

And, in terms of the combine, Gruden echoed what recently hired general manager Scot McCloughan has said — that the Redskins will pursue the best player available when it’s their turn to draft one.

“There are so many good players,” Gruden said. “I’m excited to get to know these guys in our interview process and watch them run and watch them work, so your needs can change. You may not be thinking about a position, but somebody else stands out in the interview room or on the field out there and you back and watch the tape on him. We’re not gonna close our eyes and say, ‘We only need this.’ We’re going to open our eyes up and evaluate every position equally.”

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