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Back To Calling Plays, Jay Gruden Will Add New Wrinkles And Adjust In Red Zone

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With Jay Gruden back to calling plays in 2017, he's working with offensive coaches to add new layers to play calling while also correcting some of the issues that impacted the team's red zone performance last year.

When Jay Gruden first joined the Washington Redskins as the team's head coach in 2014 following three successful seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, he continued calling plays while adjusting to life as a first-year head coach.

Gruden ultimately decided after his first year in Washington that he would hand over play calling to offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who guided the offense during prolific seasons in 2015 and 2016, feeling it was best for his professional growth at the time.

Now that McVay is the youngest head coach in NFL history, joining the Los Angeles Rams just prior to his 31st birthday in January, Gruden will step back into a play caller's role for the Redskins in 2017.  

"I'm a little nervous about it, [but] I'm confident and I'm excited also," Gruden said this week at the NFL's annual League Meetings in Phoenix. "It's a lot of work to call plays, and to call plays effectively, I think you've got to be more active  as far as scripting plays [and] drawing the cards on defense. That's something I didn't really do a lot of the last couple years as far as doing that.

"That's something I have to make time for to do that. I'm excited about it. I've always had a passion for it. I didn't like to give it up when I did give it up. I was still active in calling the plays, but not as much as I would like to have been. Sean did an excellent job, so I didn't feel like I had to step in a lot. He was a great play caller." 

The Redskins replaced the departing McVay with a promotion for Matt Cavanaugh, who previously held offensive coordinator positions with the Chicago Bears (1997-98), Baltimore Ravens (1999-2004) and the University of Pittsburgh (2005-08).

Gruden likes the fact that Cavanaugh brings prior play calling experience with him into his new role after two seasons as Washington's quarterbacks coach. Having a familiar face around should also help Kirk Cousins as he enters his third season as full-time starting quarterback.

Gruden, Cavanaugh and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan have already been working together on finding ways to make the offense even better in 2017, though, potentially adding new plays in the process.

"The good thing is when we watch all this college tape and we're watching all these players in college, we always come up with more ideas," Gruden said. "'Hey, did you see what Florida did against…whatever?' We draw up the plays, we put them in. We come up with stuff all the time. We'll have some new wrinkles here and there. For the most part our system has been pretty sound the last few years and been pretty successful. We do have some thing we have to fix, no doubt about it. Our red zone offense we have to continue to work and progress in that area."

While the Redskins were effective moving the ball up and down the field in 2016, the offense indeed struggled once it got inside the 20-yard line.

After compiling a near-60 percent red zone efficiency in 2015, that number took a dip in 2016 as Washington converted on only 46 percent of their appearances inside the 20-yard line.

Gruden will likely tinker with some of the decisions down inside the red zone, but the head coach knows that number will not increase unless Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson and the rest of the running backs are more effective.

"Our running game has got to improve down there, or what runs we call down there have to improve," Gruden said. "And some of the pass concepts, we've got to get our quarterback more comfortable. And sometimes when you call a pass down there, when they drop eight guys in coverage, it's hard, the windows are very few and far between. It's something Kirk can work on as far as buying time. And keeping plays extended for a little while longer, so there are a lot of things we can work on as coaches and the players can work on and we can get them fixed."

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