Roughly 24 hours after being drafted by the Washington Redskins, Brandon Scherff went to dinner with his new offensive line coach, Bill Callahan. At one point in the conversation, Callahan mentioned “The Hogs,” the iconic offensive lines that propelled Washington to Super Bowl titles more than two decades ago. The coach told Scherff he wanted to bring back that mentality.
“Just get back to the old days — the ground-and-pound football, which will open up all the passing lanes,” Scherff said. “I think that’s what they want to start doing and that’s what we will start doing from Day 1.”
If there is a common thread connecting the 10 players picked by the Redskins this past weekend in the NFL draft, it is that desire to rekindle the smash-mouth nature of years past. After a dismal 2014 season, the team hired well-respected talent evaluator Scot McCloughan as general manager and turned over much of its coaching staff. It entered the draft with a long list of needs but one primary goal: to get larger, stronger and nastier in every phase of the game.
With players like Scherff, the Redskins took steps toward achieving that goal. They selected six offensive players, including three linemen, and four defensive players, including two linebackers. They leaned heavily on size, producing a draft class with an average height of 6 feet 2 and weight of 243 pounds. And they drafted players with special teams experience, guys who don’t mind the collisions that occur in the most violent phase of the game.
“I think really the motto is [McCloughan] really preaches he likes tough football players, physically tough football players,” coach Jay Gruden said Saturday. “You see that with the guys that we got.”
In his first draft with the Redskins, McCloughan set a tone by using the fifth overall pick on Scherff, a tackle from Iowa who was believed to be the top offensive line prospect in the class. At 6 feet 5 and 320 pounds, Scherff is larger than any member of Washington’s current line besides Trent Williams, whom the team drafted in the first round in 2010. And when asked to describe his style of play, he started with two words: nasty and physical.
Mississippi State linebacker Preston Smith, who is listed at 6 feet 5 and 271 pounds, followed in the second round. Florida’s Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound running back who said he patterns his game after the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch, was selected in the third.
“He’s a big boy,” Gruden said of Jones. “When you look at him, you’d be like, ‘I don’t know if I want to tackle this one.’”
On Day 3, the Redskins placed an emphasis on versatility and special teams experience. They drafted a pair of wide receivers — Duke’s Jamison Crowder in the fourth round and Ohio State’s Evan Spencer in the sixth round — and two former college teammates: inside linebacker Martrell Spaight and cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who played together at Arkansas. Alabama offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio, who graduated from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, and Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett and USF center Austin Reiter rounded out the picks.
Four of the team’s seven picks in the final four rounds were key special teams contributors in college, and Gruden believes all of them have the potential to contribute to the Redskins in that department next year.
“You really only improve special teams by improving your depth, and when your depth becomes improved then your special teams becomes improved,” Gruden said. “They’re going to come in and they know on Day 1 that [it’s] special teams one, position [second]. That’s the way you crack into the lineup. That’s the way you crack into the NFL is by dominating special teams, making your mark in coach [Ben] Kotwica’s room. And then when your opportunity is called out there at your position, you make the most of it.”
The Redskins were able to accumulate all of those players on Day 3 because of trades. They made a deal with the Seahawks on Friday, moving down in the third round in exchange for extra picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth. They also shipped one of their fifth-round picks to the New Orleans Saints for two sixth-rounders, one in this year’s draft and one in 2016.
The additional picks gave McCloughan and the Redskins more chances to address their weaknesses, to improve a team that went 4-12 last season, to add size and toughness throughout their roster.
“We don’t have that luxury of sitting back and trading a bunch of our picks away,” Gruden said. “Hopefully someday we’ll get to a point where we won’t need as many draft picks like some of these teams, but really this is the way you develop a football team with these draft picks.”