- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Washington Redskins president Bruce Allen said Tuesday that coach Jay Gruden’s squad is “close” to being a playoff team, adding the Redskins just need to find the “right ingredients to get over that hump.”

Speaking to reporters in Mobile, Alabama, at the Senior Bowl, Allen addressed a variety of topics centered around the team — including the discontent of the fan base. Over the last month, fans have called for Allen’s firing on social media with the hashtag “#FireBruceAllen” and the Redskins dealt with attendance issues throughout the season.

Allen pointed to the Redskins finishing two games out of first in the NFC East as evidence the team was close.

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Washington went 7-9 for the second straight season and have missed the playoffs the last three years.

“The last couple of years, it’s heartwrenching to everyone,” Allen said. “The passion of our fans is fantastic. They want us to win. We hear from them. I know exactly what they want. They want to win football games. And that is our job — trying to find a way to win these football games.”

The Redskins did not make any wholesale changes after the season. Gruden was retained for a sixth season and the team’s management structure, including Allen as team president, was also kept intact.

Allen said Gruden was brought back because management felt the team was headed into the right direction. Washington has been in the process of evaluating their coaching staff, speaking to high-profile defensive minded candidates like Todd Bowles and Gregg Williams. The two later accepted jobs on different teams.

Gruden will get the chance to shape his coaching staff, Allen said. Three members of the staff — special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, outside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray — have left for other jobs.

On the business side, which has also seen some turmoil, Allen said he likes the structure of the team’s front office with Doug Williams, Eric Schaffer and Kyle Smith overseeing different departments. The team opted not to fill former general manager Scot McCloughan’s spot when they promoted Williams to senior vice president of player personnel in June 2017.

Allen was also asked about his own status, given his 59-84-1 record since arriving in 2009.

“Why am I the right person?” Allen said. “I share [the fans’] passion for this franchise. I share the passion for the things that we can accomplish. And we’re going to get this whole organization believing in it.”

The Redskins went through a series of dramatic highs and miserable lows in 2018. They got off to their best start since 2008 and held a two-game lead in the division until Alex Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury against the Houston Texans. After Smith’s injury, Washington went 1-6 to close out the season.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Redskins also had a variety of off-the-field controversies, including the team’s decision to claim Reuben Foster on the heels of a domestic violence arrest. Players like Mason Foster and Zach Brown posted inflammatory material on social media. Starter D.J. Swearinger was released after publicly criticizing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s play-calling.

The Redskins even created a stir when they fired four business executives — including president of business operations Brian Lafemina — the day after Christmas, just months after the four were hired.

Allen declined to address why Lafemina and the others were let go, saying they’ve hired new executives on the business side who “bring an enthusiasm for our market that our fans are really going to appreciate.”

In total, the Redskins‘ attendance fell 19 percent in 2018.

“Our fans are passionate,” Allen said. “I think when we went deep into our depth chart — I’ll say it that way — they didn’t want to be there for an Eagle victory, maybe, at the end. But we’ve hired some new people for our business staff and they’ve engaged our fans and our engaged our sponsors with a great enthusiasm and I think you’re going to see a big change in 2019.”

The Redskins‘ biggest offseason question is if Smith will be able to play next season. Allen did not have an answer for that, “if anyone can come back, it’s Alex.”

Allen described the team’s season as a “rollercoaster.” He said the team’s record fell on everyone in the organization and the Redskins have to find better players.

But he said the Redskins were in the middle of the pack — “which means you’re close.”

“We were two games out of the playoffs,” Allen said. “No matter how you want to look at the season, we were two games out of it. The year before we were one game out of it. … So we have to find the right ingredients to get over that hump.

“I think with the talent we’re seeing (in Mobile) and what’s going to be available in free agency and getting our players back healthy, it bodes well for us.”

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