ASHBURN, Va. — As the Washington Redskins players ended practice Wednesday, they did something different: They stuck around for more. And that is something they’ll have to get accustomed to under interim coach Bill Callahan.
Callahan took over Monday for fired coach Jay Gruden and made his presence felt on his first day running practice. Captains were stationed in front of their teammates during stretches. Players said they jogged more between drills — and after practice, they ran sprints the width of the field. That’s something they haven’t done since training camp.
“The culture here has to change,” Redskins tackle Morgan Moses said. “We have the players to do it.”
Whether or not this makes a difference on Sundays, it will become the new norm under Callahan. What he didn’t do was name a starting quarterback, preferring to wait until Friday, though one source said it will be Case Keenum. He started the first four games before Colt McCoy started Sunday’s loss to the Patriots.
The offensive linemen who have worked with Callahan the past five years are used to the daily sessions of post-practice work. They stick around for 30 minutes each day — and work 30 minutes before practice — for extra work. On Wednesday, every group stayed with its position coaches for a session Callahan dubbed the developmental period.
They played music during stretching, but it was turned off for individual drills, unlike in most of the previous weeks. At 0-5, the Redskins knew something needed to change. They were 35-49-1 under Gruden in his five-plus seasons. That’s why Monday’s news did not shock the players.
“Once we went to 0-4, everyone thought about it and thought it was going to happen,” Redskins safety Landon Collins said of Gruden’s firing. “It wasn’t no surprise from that standpoint. [Callahan] has to take what he’s going to do and go with it and see if it works or if it don’t work.”
Said Moses, “Obviously, when you’re 0-5 change is coming. But you’ve got to roll with it. You don’t want to see a coach that drafted you and believed in you [fired] … it’s hard.”
The players have already had multiple meetings with Callahan since he was named interim coach. On Wednesday, he laid out what was expected of them in practice. They had two local officials who were NFL-certified working practice. That isn’t a bad idea for a team with the third-most accepted penalties in the NFL.
“It’s really again the focus of fundamental football,” Callahan said. “I thought we got through a lot of good physicality and a lot of good fundamental drilling. I think that’s the key. I think that’s the name of the game. If you’re not good in your fundamentals, you’re not going to have them later in the game. That mental toughness about fundamentals is important, and if you don’t practice them every day — it’s just like a golfer when he’s on the tour. If he’s not on the driving range hitting balls, he’s not going to get better.”
Collins said other differences were the tempo and planning for situational football. Callahan also spent time focusing on the first play of a drive, both offensively and defensively.
“Putting more focus into details, making people more aware,” Collins said. “Just being more focused. It was definitely needed to be more focused on what we need to do, whether route running or the defense knowing the scheme. The special teams understanding what we need, making everybody aware.”
The Redskins have been an undisciplined team. They’ve committed the second-most penalties and too often blew coverages on defense. Because of the penalties, Callahan wanted to bring in the officials. But he is also known as a stickler for details with the line, stressing the exact placement of their hands for example.
“He’s not going to come in here and have all the answers,” Keenum said. “He wants to work with us and make sure we stay together and make sure we all stay accountable. … I’ve been in a lot of different situations, and nothing surprises me anymore. As a professional, you have to come in each day and work.”
Then there were the post-practice sprints. The Redskins have been outscored 77-33 in the second half of games. Then again, they’ve been outscored nearly the same in the first half: 78-40.
“Conditioning is important,” Callahan said. “As you get into the month of October — later month of October, early November — that kind of erodes a little bit. Teams get away from that. I just want to make sure that we stay on top of our conditioning and that players are cardiovascularly in good shape that can endure longer drives, and so hopefully, we’re on the field longer on offense as well.”
The Redskins know the onus is no longer on Gruden; it’s on them. They also know a turnaround won’t happen based on a single practice.
“This thing is not going to get fixed in one day,” Moses said. “An 0-5 start for this franchise is embarrassing. We have to put a better product out there.”