When Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay responds to a question, he sounds like he knew what was going to be asked. Answers are rapid and clear. In more than seven minutes with reporters last week, McVay said “um” once. That pause only popped loose when he was asked about how rookie wide receiver Jamison Crowder was handling domestic violence accusations.
In January 2014, the Redskins made McVay the league’s youngest offensive coordinator, promoting him from tight ends coach. McVay is just 29 years old, narrowly older than 28-year-old wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. When the season starts, he and backup quarterback Colt McCoy will be the same age.
McVay will have another decade to deal with age references before he surpasses most he coaches. Age notes are not new for him. He was 22 years old when his first pro football job as an offensive assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came. Redskins coach Jay Gruden was also an offensive assistant for his brother, Jon, at the time. McVay moved to the United Football League the following season, where he worked for former Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett as tight ends coach for the Florida Tuskers. He joined the Redskins and went to work for Mike Shanahan the following season.
There were holes and oddities around the Redskins’ coaching prodigy last season. His job was part coordinator, part quarterbacks coach. He had play-call input, but Jay Gruden also handled that. Most teams had a quarterbacks coach, yet the Redskins did not despite heaving tumult at the position.
In the offseason, Washington brought 58-year-old Matt Cavanaugh in to run the quarterbacks’ room. It hired 59-year-old Bill Callahan to coach the offensive line. Those investments allow Jay Gruden and McVay to to drop in on various factions of the team and defer. McVay moves from offensive group to group. Jay Gruden has time to rush the passer during organized team activities.
“Having Matt Cavanaugh with the experience he has as a player and a coach has been a great resource for myself and the quarterbacks,” McVay said. “He’s done a great job of sort of implementing the fundamental techniques and the things we want to emphasize on a daily basis from a work standpoint . It’s been extremely valuable.”
Those four will try to fix a Redskins offense that was 26th in the league last season in points scored. The Redskins averaged just 18.8 points per game, one tenth of a point in front of league bottom-feeders the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.
Going through multiple quarterbacks multiple times for multiple reasons is no path to consistency. So, the Redskins re-hitched themselves to Robert Griffin III in the offseason when they named him the starter and picked up his expensive $16.155 million option for 2016.
The Redskins also appear to have wed themselves to a conceptual shift. When Griffin walked to the podium for his first press conference since the offseason, he wore a “Stronger together” T-shirt. He quickly pointed out that the T-shirt was produced by the team, not him, leaving the uncreative and reactionary to lament the death of an easy storyline. The idea that the Redskins will try to win as a team and not be Griffin LLC, for better or worse, was reinforced by McVay’s answer when asked if Griffin had made progress.
“I think we are seeing improvement,” McVay said. “I think Colt and Kirk (Cousins) have showed improvement as we’ve gone through the OTAs. Coach Barry’s defense has done a great job of giving us a bunch of looks. I think all the quarterbacks have continued to improve each practice.”
The Redskins are in this strange land where they loaded Griffin’s basket with their eggs — the pickup of the option showed that — yet are preaching whole as they try to deter the concept of onus on one.
Perhaps more important than the psychology of perception around the quarterbacks is the team’s inability to convert yards into points. Last season, Washington was a respectable 13th in yards gained per game. A scoring disconnect followed. Among the league’s 14 teams to gain 350 or more yards per game, the Redskins were the only one to average less than 24 points.
After games, Jay Gruden would take partial blame for offensive shortages. He put responsibility on the players, before often following with aggravated statements about his play-calling. Though McVay is in his second season as offensive coordinator, the only thing Jay Gruden will commit to in reference to play-calling is that they have similar offensive minds.
“We’re very close mentally to thinking alike, and that’s the thing,” Jay Gruden said. “When we put together a game plan and you have your third-down situations, you can almost call them together. So it’s very important for us to be on the same page when we install and call plays. But we’ll both have input on game day like we do every game.
“Whether he calls 50 percent, I call 50 percent, he calls 80 percent or 20 doesn’t matter as long as we agree during the week that ‘This is our plan, this is how we’re going to attack and these are the situations we’re going to call certain plays.’ So I feel very confident in him calling plays and obviously I feel confident in me calling plays.”
If it’s McVay making the call, there won’t be indecision. His choice will be brisk, like his answers and career arc. And, this year, he’ll be flanked by two supporting coaches twice his age.