Washington Redskins passing game coordinator Kevin O'Connell enters his second season with the team looking to guide a quarterbacks room that has a new leader in the form of Alex Smith.
While it will be the first time that O'Connell has worked with the 14-year veteran, O'Connell believes that Smith will be able able to pick up Washington's system quickly.
"Alex has reps in a lot of different systems," O'Connell said. "He even goes back to playing with a guy like Vernon Davis when they were in San Francisco together. There's a lot of times we call a play, we execute it and we go in and watch the tape and he can call back to a play that they either had in Kansas City or San Francisco and say, 'Hey, we might of read it like this. This is how we attacked that coverage.' I know Jay's really been great about it and [offensive coordinator] [Matt] Cavanaugh, to really put together the system. Maybe there's a little tweak here and there that guys out here might not even notice, people may not notice.
"From our standpoint in the system, it's a big deal to get it implemented but we're doing that to make him as comfortable as we possibly can. And then there's other times where you say, 'No, we've really done it like this and here's why.' I think that's the keyword is why. Why are we doing the things we're doing offensively and if there's a better way to do that he's done somewhere else, we'll incorporate that. But if we feel strongly about how we've done it here or how Jay has done it, even going back to his time in Cincinnati or Tampa, we're always trying to incorporate things to make what is a really good offensive system even better."
At just 33 years old, O'Connell has made massive strides in coaching since his last action as a quarterback for the San Diego Chargers in 2012. He began his coaching career as the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2015 and then spent a season working on special projects for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 before joining the Redskins last year.
The San Diego native enters an interesting situation this year where he will be working with a player that is actually older than him in the 34-year-old Smith. The two have been connected before Smith's addition to Washington's roster, as they went against each other in 7-on-7 practice drills during their playing days in high school. O'Connell has praised the Utah product's leadership skills since his arrival to Washington and doesn't view the age gap as any kind of barrier between the two.
"Going back to my time in New York, we had a guy named Mark Brunell there with a second-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez and just watching him cultivate that room and kind of help bring Mark along and pick his spots but not overdue it," O'Connell said. "From a standpoint of we've got quarterback guys in this building. Coach Gruden's coached at the highest level of quarterbacks. Coach Cavanaugh coached me and coached a lot of guys from the Jay Cutlers to the Josh McCowns and Kirk Cousins included that have played some of their best football underneath those guys.
"So when we're in the room together, whether those guys are in there are not, I'm relying on them as much as I think they rely on me to kind of hold up our end as a staff to put those guys in the right situations. And that's what it is. All these guys care about at the end of the day is are you helping them, are you giving them the best possible situations and are you preparing them every single day? And if you're doing that, I think they will respond to you no matter what."
Ironically, this isn't the first time that O'Connell will be working with a quarterback that is older than him.
During his time coaching in Cleveland, Josh McCown, the team's starting quarterback at the time, had six years on the San Diego native. O'Connell said he enjoys working with experienced players like Smith and Davis because they can recognize a play on the film from their previous playing days in San Francisco and see how they reacted to it back then.The former San Diego State quarterback says it allows the coaching staff to really put a system together that they know will make the offense feel comfortable.
O'Connell's journey as both a player and coach has given him plenty of samples from some of the best minds in all of football.
"I wanted a guy that would help coach quarterbacks that had a little bit of a different background," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He [O'Connell] was with New England as a player a little bit, he was with Chip Kelly, and now he's brought some of that knowledge here. So it's good to have a different set of ideas. He's done a good job of embracing ours but also adding some new concepts to our system that we already have, and quarterbacks all look up to him despite his age. Very smart, articulate, obviously. All his points are well-thought-out and make sense, which is important, and he does a good job in that room."