RICHMOND, Va. — He’s entering Year 6 on the job.
His team hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2005 season.
His star cornerback made headlines when he recently jumped over a bull in Spain.
His roster has four quarterbacks and no clear Week 1 starter.
His most explosive running back has yet to play a snap in the regular season.
And his 34-year-old workhorse is allegedly more than $5 million in debt a few short years after riding in on a camel for his 30th birthday party.
Welcome to Washington Redskins training camp, ladies and gentlemen!
And at the epicenter of all this uncertainty is Jay Gruden.
The head coach fielded a slew of questions on Wednesday about the state of the team — and the disarray that continues to plague it, starting with the well-publicized absence of offensive lineman Trent Williams, the sudden release of linebacker Mason Foster and the mounting pressure of an unspoken playoff mandate. Through it all, Gruden remained as affable as ever, a genial counter to the curmudgeonly coaches who litter the NFL. The stress of a 13 season-long playoff victory drought is not visible, at least not on the surface. Nor does Gruden appear panicked by Williams’ apparent discontent over his contract and the team's medical staff.
The start of training camp is a time for new beginnings and renewed optimism.
And, apparently, well-timed zingers about Josh Norman’s extra-curricular activities.
Asked for his reaction to seeing his cornerback jump over a bull during the Running of the Bulls in Spain earlier this month, Gruden quipped: “Well, I knew the bull wouldn’t hit him. He avoids contact. Just kidding, Josh! Just kidding.”
Gruden was quick to do damage control, of course, adding: “No, no. Josh is a man of the world, man. He’s experienced more things in his life at his young age than most people have in their whole life. So, obviously, we wouldn’t recommend that for our players. We want to keep them out of harm’s way. Josh is a unique man, and he has done a lot of great work other than jumping over bulls. He has done a lot of charitable work that people don’t know about and great things for the community. I applaud Josh for the way he lives his life.”
All kidding aside, though, the Redskins have a lot of question marks heading into the 2019 season. And the biggest red flag could be their offense, which is thin at offensive line, lacks consistently healthy playmakers at wide receiver and has an unsettled quarterback situation. And even Gruden knows he’s running out of time to prove he’s the right man to get the Redskins back to postseason glory.
They have finished 7-9 the past two years.
They haven’t won a playoff game in over a decade.
“I think this is the greatest coaching job in pro sports and it is an honor to be the head coach of the Redskins,” Gruden said. “And with that comes great expectations and we haven’t lived up to them the past couple of years. Performance is king … In the National Football League, you’ve got to win to keep your job and we have to get it turned around. … I have every reason to believe we have a great football team and we’re onto something special here.”
There’s still the question of who will be protecting his quarterbacks during camp.
Gruden tried his best to offer insight into the impasse surrounding Williams’ contract, but the truth is, the coach has no answers. All he can do is expect to have his seven-time Pro Bowl tackle on the field at some point.
Although Williams, 31, did not report for camp on Wednesday, Gruden said he’s optimistic the veteran lineman will arrive “soon.”
“I love Trent,” Gruden said. “I love what he has done for this franchise and this team, but we expect him back soon.”
Williams, who has battled injuries over the past two seasons, is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract extension that will pay him a base salary of $11 million in 2019 and $12.5 million in 2020.
“I don’t take anything personally,” Gruden added. “You can’t take anything personal in this line of work. It’s not personal right now. It is the first day of training camp and there are some things we have to go through. It’s business at this point.
“Like I said, I expect him to come back. ‘Hope’ is not a word I would use. I expect him to come back. He understands what this franchise has done for him and he understand what he’s done for this franchise.”
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