When a fan opened the Q & A portion of the Redskins’ “chalk talk” by asking where team management thought the team’s greatest area of need is, Redskin General Manager Bruce Allen got a big laugh when he replied: “Offense and defense.” Later in the talk, Allen was asked to address yet another place the Skins desperately need to improve: special teams. Allen acknowledged the abysmal and “historically last” performance of 2013’s special teams “insulted the franchise.” He said the problem was not only personnel but the attitude of the units, and that “we lost our special team attitude.” Citing where coaches and management went wrong, Allen believes they “worried too much about extra players that could maybe do x, y, or z, and didn’t focus on their duties as special team players” – noting that the team didn’t carry a returner on the roster.
A fan followed that blunt assessment by pointing out the loss of 2013 Special Teams Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander due to the unjustifiable salary cap penalty for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which dovetailed into the question of why the Redskins didn’t escalate the matter further than the apparently did. As Allen put it, “It was wrong. There is still no justification for what occurred, other than somebody had some power on a committee… and decided… to have some fun. (That somebody just happened to be John Mara, owner of the division rival Giants and collaborator on the selective, ad hoc, and inconsistent penalty with NFL commissar Roger Goodell.) Allen said the NFLPA still has the matter “in the courts.”
Allen elaborated on another aspect of why he felt the cap penalty was wrong: “That money really was our players’ money. [Redskins owner Daniel Snyder] is fighting shoulder to shoulder with me so I can spend more of his money on players. It wasn’t that we were going to sign some high priced free agent; we just wanted to reward or players. If we had that money, we could’ve signed Orakpo last season, Perry Riley last season instead of trying to fit them into the cap room we have today.” Allen said that he didn’t want the players to focus on distractions like that again. “Our focus got away from football last year, and it needs to back on the field this year.”
Someone then pointed out that if Redskins fans are supposed to take hope from the changes on the coaching staff, it’s hard to see that hope on defense with the same defensive coordinator – Jim Haslett -- in place. Allen said he wanted to specify something before addressing a single coach or coordinator: “Mike Shanahan didn’t go 3-13; WE went 3-13. Kyle Shanahan didn’t go 3-13; we ALL went 3-13, as did Jim Haslett last year.” Allen reiterated the loss of control of an attitude, citing the special teams and how Lorenzo Alexander’s commitment and passion elevated his play in the prior season.
Speaking specifically to the Haslett question, Allen said the defense talent needs upgrades and added depth to handle injuries like those that plagued the team in both 2012 an 2013, and then “we’ll be able to judge him.” Allen further specified why Haslett remained: “The reason Jim Haslett stayed, just so we all know, is [new Redskins head coach] Jay Gruden wanted him. He worked with Haslett in the UFL and they had success. He said ‘I feel very comfortable with him. With my direction, we’re going to be able to do what we want,’ and we’re gonna attack on defense instead of, we were sitting back. Allen said to the questioner “I hear you, because you witnessed what we did last year. But the proof will be in the pudding.”
The final question dealt with re-establishing the Redskins as a brand of excellence. Allen returned to his main theme of the night: “It was never about one individual’s success with the Washington Redskins. “The Redskins” will score a touchdown, not “Alfred Morris”. It will not be about “Robert Griffin threw for 300 yards”, [but about] “Did we win the game?” We got away from that. It was about that individual (citing Albert Haynesworth, whose name had come up with previously when the notion of signing high-priced free agents this offseason came up), wanting to get nine sacks.”
“We weren’t about that for decades. Whenever we had success, we weren’t about that. We don’t want pro bowl players, we want playoff players. We want everyone to feel they had much input into the success as the guy who scores three touchdowns in the game, and that’s the attitude we’re gonna have.” This message echoed some early comments in the chalk talk citing Robert Griffin’s being among the first ones in and last ones out of the complex. That point combined with the repeated focus on a team over individual outlook made it clear that the Monday morning quarterbacking on the 2013 season which sought to single out RGIII and dig up or manufacture shortcomings in his effort and leadership is hoped to have left Redskins Park with the previous coaching staff.
The Skins’ GM concluded by tying in the team’s new head coach into the picture: “It’s nice that Jay Gruden played the sport and understands the teamwork element to it. It’s on our boards upstairs: it’s about the team, the team, the team. We appreciate where we’ve been, thanks to the great coaches, players, and fans from before, but it’s about us now holding our part of the bargain for the future.”