The Redskins are looking to rebound from an injury-ravaged season, and are hoping that the return of Jordan Reed and progression of Josh Doctson will achieve the team's offensive vision.
For the better part of the last two years, the Redskins' offensive vision – prolific as it's been – has remained incomplete.
Wide receiver Josh Doctson nearly missed the entirety of his rookie season in 2016 with an Achilles injury, unable to provide the kind of tall, deep threat missing from a wide receiver corps that included DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. When both of those receivers left the following offseason, he returned healthy and played in all 16 games in his sophomore season. But others found the injury bug instead.
Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. was eventually placed on the Injured Reserve list after playing through nine games, as was tight end Jordan Reed, who managed through a career-low six games until he was shelved with a lingering hamstring injury. In the last six months, Reed has had surgery on both of his toes and won't be available during OTAs.
All of which is to say, the Redskins are hoping that 2018 will be the year when all of their offensive weapons align, healthy and productive, for a full season. After an injury-ravaged year, that optimism shouldn't be too unwarranted, right?
The Redskins certainly think so, and with the addition of speedy wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr., a player they feel can fill some of the void left by Jackson that wasn't replaced last year, the options for quarterback Alex Smith will be plentiful and not all unlike the ones he had at his disposal in Kansas City, where he had a career year in 2017.
At this year's Owners Meetings, Gruden expressed that Reed would likely be healthy and ready to go for training camp, and is understandably a big piece to the team's offensive puzzle.
"Jordan Reed is important," Gruden said. "I mean, I think in his absence last year, Vernon Davis did some good things and [Jeremy] Sprinkle got a lot of work there towards the end of the year, which will be helpful to his progression as a player. So that's good news. But Jordan is a special guy. There's not many tight ends in pro football that can do what he can do as far as running the option routes across the middle and breaking people down and then lining up on the outside and beating people deep, across the middle. He's a special talent. He makes us better, without a doubt."
His talent is only enhanced when defenses have other priorities, namely playmakers on the outside. Doctson showed last year, in flashes, what kind of athleticism he has – jumping to catch equal opportunity footballs, and diving to make game-changing plays – that his progression from, what was essentially his first season in the league, is particularly exciting.
Doctson caught 35 passes for 502 yards and six touchdowns, and will likely be featured as the top wide receiver this season.
"The route tree, the ability to line up in different spots, I think Josh will get more opportunities to make plays on 50-50 type balls, which is Josh's strength," Gruden said. "Josh is not a guy, and we knew that coming in, that's going to get five or six yards of separation right away. He's a guy that builds up his speed; he can run, he can adjust to the ball like no other, 42-inch vertical was documented, 41, whatever it is. So that's where he gets the separation, by leaping and adjusting to the ball."
Gaining separation at the line, however, is Richardson's specialty and will help diversify the threats the Redskins have. As team president Bruce Allen noted of Richardson, "he's very young, he's 25 years old, his playmaking skills are evident when given the opportunity and we think he adds a great element to our team."
Gruden noted that last season, with the numerous offensive line combinations and changes due to injury, quarterback Kirk Cousins didn't have the time to find receivers that had created early separation. With better fortune and Richardson's addition – plus the return of wide receiver Jamison Crowder and running back Chris Thompson – all the parts should come together.
"We're going to improve, we'll get our guys back out there," Gruden said. "We'll get Jordan back out there and Chris out there, add Paul and Josh will be another full year under his belt, will help his progression, Crowder's always going to get better and better. [Maurice] Harris and obviously the rest of the group should come in here and do well for us."