*Entering his fifth year, the team's starting quarterback shares more about his life off the field, gets philosophical about "The Office" and how he dealt with his rapid fame last season. *
Your wife, Julie, gave me some things to ask you about.
The first thing she mentioned was your dog, Bentley. You finally adopted one. Why do you love this dog so much?
We adopted Bentley after fostering him for a few weeks and we just love him. He's well-behaved, got a great personality, doesn't shed at all, the right size, and it just goes to show that when you foster, there's a lot of good dogs out there.
Why was fostering dogs a passion of yours for so many years?
It was really my wife. She had done it in college, long before we met. I grew up as a dog person, loved dogs, never knew about fostering, but she made me aware of it. We started out right after getting married with a foster dog and it worked really well. She did all the hard work. I just got to enjoy having it around. Gradually they would find permanent homes so we would move on to the next one and it was tough to see him go, but it was always fun to get a new dog. Really, we've had positive experience. We've probably fostered eight and liked all of them.
Bentley is a Golden-doodle?
Yep, he's turning five this week.
I would imagine it's nice having a dog to come home to, win or lose, because it will always be happy to see you. Is that why dogs are a good pet to have as a quarterback?**
I think so. Julie and I are hoping to have kids some day, but until then, having a dog is a great thing. Around the house it's very calming, relaxing, and I look forward to getting home and having it sit on my lap as I read or watch TV or relax.
Speaking of your place, former Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels is your landlord. Was it destiny that you rented this house?
[That] may be. When Chris was drafted in 2000, he bought the townhouse and lived in it for a while. As his family grew, he moved out of it, but he kept it all these years and rented it out to different Redskins people. When Julie and I were getting married we were looking for a little bit of space, more than my apartment that I was sharing with some guys on the team. So, I asked around and it came back to me that Chris was looking for someone to rent out the space. It's perfect for us. It's really close to the practice facility, got a lot of space, my wife loves it there, and that's all that matters. We'll probably keep renting there as long as we're here.
Yeah. It's so much space and it fits our needs. We really don't have much of a need to move to anything more. As long as I'm a Redskin, I'll probably be there, if Chris will let me.
How's the backyard for Bentley?
It works. There's a good sidewalk and walking path. There's a pond behind us that has a walking path around it, so my wife and I will walk the dog in the evenings, but it works for us and it's close to everything.
She says you guys have a Monday Sabbath after every game.
Did you always want to have that, dating back to college?
You know, I didn't start taking it seriously until last summer , but I go back to the Bible about how the Lord talks about taking a Sabbath. I don't want to be overly religious, because the Bible says that the Sabbath was meant for man, not man for the Sabbath, so I don't get really religious, but I do think it helps me look forward every week to have a 24 hour window where I can just relax and spend time with my wife, spend time with my dog, go for a walk, really whatever we want to go do that would breathe life into us, we go and do. It starts Monday at 11 a.m. and it ends Tuesday at 11 a.m. and I go back to work and get ready for the next game. But that 24-hour window is a real blessing and I look forward to it every week. I think it helped me a lot last season to make it through a long season, it was something that I think helped me sustain, and I think a big part of the reason I played so well at the end of the year.
What's a typical 24-hour window like for you? What really gets you out of the football world?
After a Sunday game I like to come in Monday morning and review everything, and then at about 11 I try to wrap everything up and head out the door and get home. One week my wife and I drove out to Shenandoah National Park and drove through the mountains. Another time we'll go to Middleburg for dinner at the Red Fox Inn. We'll drive into Georgetown and walk around the city. I like to read so I'll oftentimes just grab a book, whatever I'm reading at the time in the afternoon and kick my feet up.
What are you currently reading?
Currently reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. I've got about a chapter left. My next will probably be…well, my wife wants me to read this book called "Exemplary Husband" [laughing], which I've been delaying. But I need to read it. Another one I want to read is called "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon McDonald, so I just find, as people recommend books, I stack them up on my desk. I've got a pile about a foot high of books, and I try to blow through the pile and I have a shelf of books I've read. So I take them from the pile to the shelf and just keep reading until the pile is gone. Inevitably it keeps filling up.
Were you always a reader as a kid?
Yeah, I always loved to read, but for me what's unique is I like to read non-fiction and biographies, so I know there's a lot of coverage on "Lord of the Rings" and things like that, but for fantasy, that's not what I really love to read. I actually like to read the true stories.
So do you stick with fantasy in just movies and TV then?
[Laughing] You know, it's much more fun I think in movies. Although there are some people who would argue that books are so much better than the movies. For me, I just like to read autobiographies, biographies, true stories, and for some reason when I know it really happened, or I know it took place, I get excited to see how people overcame adversity or accomplished their goals. That's always fun for me to read about.
You mentioned last year about keeping a regimented schedule that's color-coded to map out each day. How did that start?
Before the season, my wife suggested I do something like that. The real reason I did it was is because oftentimes I would come home from work, but feel like I was still at work, because I felt like I needed to go over a blitz or a coverage that the Steelers might be playing, and I was constantly churning. Did I do enough? Am I prepared? We found it would be helpful if I just blocked out when I need to be at the building and studying football, and once I accomplished that, then I can truly go home and relax. That's why we scheduled everything out, so I could be at work when I was at work, but be at home when I was at home.
Do you schedule your home life, too?
Nothing religiously, but it just helped me plan out when I need to be focused at work, and then maximizing time at work so I'm not wasting time if you get stuck maybe sitting at the cafeteria talking to guys for a while, you may let a half hour slip by.
So you're very conscious now of how you manage your time.
Yeah, and there's not enough hours in the day for me to be fully prepared for a game with only six days to prepare. There's really not enough hours in the day to go play ping-pong, to go sit in the cafeteria, so I've got to be smart with that and make sure I'm getting everything done by the time it gets to 5 or 6 p.m. , so I can get my rest.
Julie also mentioned you've been watching a lot of "The Office" and "Parks and Rec." Do you fit those into your home schedule?
During the season not as much. That may be something we do on a Sabbath day, just watch some Netflix and it's always for me been "The Office," but recently discovered "Parks and Rec," so I'm still in the first season, but I like it a lot. It's from the same creator. It's fun to have a show going that you can watch. Much more in the offseason do I binge-watch, but we may catch a couple of episodes of "Parks and Rec" on an off day.
I think the second season of "The Office" is by far its most creative and genius.
I've heard people say they didn't like when Michael [Scott] left, that Season 2 was their favorite and they didn't like how characters developed. Honestly, I have zero complaints about "The Office." I love Season 1, I love Season 9. I loved it when Michael was there, I loved it when Steve Carrell left. I loved it when Will Ferrell came on for those few episodes. I love the way they ended, the fact that they tied it all together, the fact that Steve Carrell came back on for a small role. I just thought it was so well done. It was a perfect blend of comedy with some actual depth, and I'm still waiting for another show like it to come out.
I guess you're fortunate you don't have a typical office environment like those characters.
There's no doubt. When I watch it, and you get a feel for Jim Halpert's sense of boredom, or thinking there's got to be more -- I've never felt that at my work. I'm in about as dynamic and engaging job as there is for a guy like me. But I think the fact there's so many different personalities. You've got Creed and Jim and Pam and Dwight and Toby and Michael and you've got all these dynamics working, I think the same can be said of our facility. You've got players from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all different schools, all different backgrounds, we're all united by this game football. And many of us aren't the same athletes. Some guys are fast, some guys are powerful, some guys have powerful legs, some guys have powerful arms. Everybody's got some skill they can bring to the table, but they're all different and all have different backgrounds and family situations. So we all have those differences like in "The Office," and yet we're united under one common goal, which is the case with any company.
You just reminded me when you said Creed -- is that band a real musical love of yours or was it put on by the media?
Yeah, somehow it got misconstrued a little bit. I was jokingly tweeting it because I think Creed, at a time when I was in middle school, was a popular band.
I bought a CD of theirs as a kid.
I think we all did. But for whatever reason, as time passed other bands came to the forefront. But when they came on that one day in the weight room, it kind of brought me back to the middle school days, 2000, 2001. I felt I had to tweet about it just for nostalgia sake. People got pretty fired up about it. They assumed I was very passionately a fan of Creed. I think that would be an overreaction. But now, just like with "Lord of the Rings," it's been credited to me as though it's my biggest passion in life. And both of those things, while I have a great appreciation for them, I don't know it's quite as big of a deal as people think it is.
Does it make you want to post more or less on Twitter knowing people will make a big deal about whatever you post?
I think you do have to be careful, but at the same time, a part of me just is going to be myself. However it gets portrayed or covered so be it. I'll just be myself and let the chips fall where they may.
You talked a lot about your dad's role in your life last year, but I haven't heard much about your mom. What role did she play as you grew up?
My mom has been a huge support to me and nobody has a tougher job in that stadium than the mother of the quarterback. It's been a great ride for her, but it can also be a challenging one through the years. She came from a football family. Loves the game , loves the traditions. I think it was partly her love for football when I was young that kind of opened the door for me to love the game so much and have so many great memories now.
What was growing up in Michigan like?
I had a phenomenal experience. I grew up in my hometown of Holland, Mich., small town, outside of Grand Rapids on the lake shore, and my closest friends are from there. Love going back there in the summers. Just have the best of memories. Had a great high school football experience. I'm so glad I grew up where I did. When it's all said and done, and I'm done playing, that's probably where I'd go back to.
To retire, or for another profession?
Yeah, I think for at least part of year, if not more than that, I'd love to go back there and make that home. Lot of great memories there, lot of people who have supported me and prayed or me for a long time. It means a lot for me to be back there and see those people.
How long have you been thinking about this Monday Football game?
Since they released the schedule, I've been thinking about. That's all you can think about is that first game. We've had a lot of time to prepare and talk about Sept. 12. The fact that we play on a Monday makes it go that much longer until the game. We're excited and it's going to be a great atmosphere and it's going to be a tough test going against a team that's as good as the Steelers.
Offensive coordinator Sean McVay was telling me about your growth to being an extension of the coaching staff. How has that helped you as a leader of the offense?
In order to do be able to do that you have to have played and have experience and be able to understand the offense well enough to communicate to other players. It's great to get to that point but I couldn't just walk in here my first year, or first year under Coach Gruden and be able to do that. Now having played a full season, I'm much more capable of being an extension of the coaching staff and I'd like to think that another year even more so. It does help. Coaches don't always have to be the ones on the field having an eye on things. I can take the guys and go through some drills and tell them what I'm looking for, what works and what doesn't. Not just me, but there's continuity now with the receivers, with Jordan Reed and DeSean and Pierre. So we all have that ability to be an extension of the coaching staff. We like to think that that will help our offense be even better but it's all talk until you go out and do it.
Most receivers have a natural selfish identity or persona, and as quarterback you have to be selfless, especially with this talented group. How much more comfortable have you gotten in that role?
I see every one of these guys as very, very talented. I want to get them all the football as much as possible. They know they can help us. Every single one of them is asking for the ball, not to be selfish but because they know they can help the team. I'll be the first one to agree that every one of them, when they get the ball in their hands, they can do special things for our offense, for our team. It's my job to make good decisions, maximize the opportunities we get and be the best distributor possible. And if I do that, I trust that every one of those guys will be able to shine, will show that they can do, and I want to see all of them have tremendous success, go to Pro Bowls, get a great contract and I take great responsibility in being a big part of making sure that happens for every single one of them.
I'm curious what you went through personally last year. As a backup for three years and then quickly thrust into the spotlight and at the top of headlines, did you have to learn to see your name out there a lot more?
During the season, we're so insulated. I come to work early in the morning, stay here until six at night. At home don't really turn on the TV too much. If I do it's not really SportsCenter, it's "Parks and Rec." Get up the next morning and do it again and you find seven days go by, a month goes by, and you haven't really read what's out there. There's a little bit of ignorance or naiveté there that I don't know what's being said or what's going on, whether it's positive or negative, a lot or a little. I'm pretty naïve. I like to keep it that way the best I can. Sometimes it's hard to avoid but I think ignorance is bliss at times, whether I'm in a starter's role in the spotlight or in a backup role, behind the scenes. I don't know that I would know any difference as far as the how the outside is perceiving things.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park.
A lot of eyes will be on you this year with the franchise tag and the hype from last year. When you look at this game and this season, is it hard to compartmentalize that and your job on the field? **
I know that I have a job to do. I know that it's a results-based business. But this isn't anything new. This is Year 5. I've got to fight every year, every day to prove myself that I belong in this league. Nobody has higher expectations for me than I do. Nobody's going to put more pressure on me to succeed than I am. Whether there's chatter on the outside, that's fine. If there is, great, if there isn't, great. I'm asking just as much inside of myself to go out and perform. Coach [Mark] Dantonio said at Michigan State that they all count one, whether it's Monday night, prime time or Saturday afternoon. Don't try to make it a bigger deal than it is, don't try to make it a smaller deal than it is. We've got to go out and win and we've got to do it every single week.
You've got your paper out, the game film is on. How have you progressed in your film study since last year?
Coach [Matt] Cavanaugh's been a big help laying out a plan for me, where we have a daily routine and we break up the preparation into different phases. So first and second down, third down emphasis, red zone emphasis, two-minute emphasis, pressure emphasis to study blitzes, study by personnel groupings. We have a few main personnel groupings of the skill players and how they defend each grouping. We organize our preparation in different segments and then that helps break it down and study the game, not as one big defense but break down the defenses into subparts to them as to how they operate in each category, and that's helped me tremendously and I've just continued to try and study the game from that perspective and I can credit Coach Cavanaugh for helping give me that perspective and help me organize that way.
Before a game do you also plan some celebratory movie lines to shout after a big play, or do those come naturally?
[Laughing] Those come naturally. Those come out the way they do. We'll see what's in store this year, but we've got to make the plays first.
You've got to be thinking about one for Monday night, right?
No, I like to keep it pretty natural and organic, wherever the spirit leads in the moment. Like I said, let's go make the plays first, and if we do that, the rest will be gravy.