RICHMOND, Va. -- Jay Gruden doesn’t need a reminder. The Washington Redskins coach knows the situation quite well. It’s his fifth season, which makes him the longest-tenured coach under owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.
The math adds up to the obvious: It’s time to win.
“We do need to produce, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “It’s a production-based business, without a doubt. Every NFL head coach knows that’s the deal, whether you’re in your first year, fifth year, 10th year or in the Hall of Fame. You’ve got to win.”
That’s why it’s good for Gruden that he views this roster as the most complete one he has had in Washington. Player after player has said the vibe is different this season, though that has been said in past camps.
The Redskins have won 10 games only three times since they won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. It’s a fan base and an organization that want much more. The team has taken steps under Gruden, going from four wins his first season to nine and an NFC East title in his second. But then it was 8-7-1 followed by 7-9.
Snyder gave Gruden a two-year extension in February 2017, and the head coach would be wise to avoid job security speculation by leading this team to the postseason this time around. Otherwise, we could see the eighth coaching change under Snyder, who bought the team in 1999.
Not that this weighs on Gruden more than it has in the past. He doesn’t come across any differently, displaying sarcasm and humor during news conferences. He works on the field the same with the players, sometimes lining up as a defensive back against receivers in drills.
“I felt pressure the moment I signed the contract,” he said. “That’s the way it is here in D.C. Everyone expects a winner. I know Mr. Snyder does and Bruce [Allen], the whole city and the fans. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to this without winning a playoff game. I understand the expectations are high. We’ve put ourselves in position that it should be high, given the talent on this team.”
Gruden said this is the most talent he has had since he was hired in 2014. The Redskins have more depth on the defensive line and at running back. They have a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith, who they believe is an upgrade over Kirk Cousins, now with Minnesota.
Gruden also pointed to defensive improvements, adding first-round defensive lineman Daron Payne to pair with his former Alabama teammate, Jonathan Allen. The organization hopes it has created more depth based on how some players were forced to play during an injury-filled 2017.
“Yes, we have more players that can step in and play than we ever have,” Gruden said. “We have the makings of something pretty good. Now it’s a matter of getting everyone on the same page. It’s about producing and playing in key situations and making plays when it counts.”
The Redskins like their running back situation, starting with rookie Derrius Guice and third-down back Chris Thompson, among others. They like their receiver situation with the addition of speedster Paul Richardson. They like their tight ends now that Jordan Reed is healthy (that sound you hear is the organization collectively knocking on wood). If they stay healthy -- the team used 36 offensive line combinations last season -- and if players such as receiver Josh Doctson develop, then the Redskins could have an explosive attack, which doesn’t mean to Gruden what you think.
“Explosive to me doesn’t mean 40 points a game,” Gruden said. “Explosive to me is ball control, having big-play ability, of course, but also expressing your will on the defense. Hopefully with the power we now have at running back and the tight ends able to block, I think we can control the line of scrimmage. So explosive might mean control the ball and score 20 points. We have the ability to do a lot of different things. We can spread you out or tighten you in and run the ball. It’s just us finding a happy medium and not going too crazy with the 300-play list for game day.”
That’s why players are optimistic.
“I can’t pinpoint it. Just the vibe feels different,” said Thompson, who is coming off a broken fibula. “I know Jay feels it, and we feel it. It’s a matter of us getting all the guys healthy.”
Safety D.J. Swearinger said the vibe is definitely different.
“We got a lot of leaders on this team, especially with quarterback, and we get a guy like Alex Smith in here,” he said. “Defensively, we got a lot of pieces. We added a lot of pieces on offense. The talent is through the roof. The main thing is get the chemistry there, and you get the chemistry there, and there will be trouble.”
That would be good news for Gruden and the Redskins. Otherwise, there could be a different sort of trouble.