It wasn't pretty, but through a sloppy game in Washington, this offense is starting to take shape.
Early on, Washington had issues moving the ball, which resulted in the team putting up just seven points at halftime. There were no spectacular Johnny Manziel vs. Robert Griffin III moments. Instead, the majority of snaps we saw from each of the first-team offenses were lethargic and uninspired.
Though the Redskins hit a nice stride and wound up winning the game 24-23, three names in particular stood out: DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts—the two guys who nabbed big contracts earlier this offseason—and rookie Ryan Grant.
Those three wide receivers appear to have found their respective fits within head coach Jay Gruden's scheme.
Working mainly with backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, Grant was consistently able to create space against the Browns' secondary. He finished the game with four receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown on a generous seven targets.
Grant's route-running was crisp and the amount of separation he created stood out. That's important to note considering those were two major concerns for him coming out of college.
Leading up to the draft, Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) wrote Grant "lacks ideal speed to be a consistent vertical threat or gain consistent separation with quickness." Against the Browns, he looked fluid and didn't appear to have any issues breaking free from the grasps of opposing cornerbacks.
Grant's performance on Monday Night Football shouldn't come as a surprise. The young man has been impressive since training camp kicked off. "Some rookies are basket cases, some are cool, calm and collected. Ryan Grant looks like he’s been here for 10 years. He’s handled it perfectly," Coach Gruden told Brandon Parker of The Washington Post.
On a final note, the amount of targets he received was a testament to the chemistry he's apparently developed with Cousins. Those two guys were on the same page all evening.
As Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports first reported, the team signed him to a four-year deal worth $16 million—$8 million of that sum being guaranteed.
Andre Roberts's deal with Skins will end up 4yrs around $16M, with half of that guaranteed. Very nice haul for him— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 11, 2014
He'll still see plenty of snaps this season, but with Jackson there the volume of targets he receives should dwindle.
Even though he caught a long 49-yard deep ball from Griffin against the Browns early on in the contest, Roberts isn't a downfield threat. John Keim of ESPN.com asked his colleague, Matt Williamson, to share what he believes the ex-Cardinal does best on the field:
Roberts is best in the slot. He's really good after the catch. He's pretty physical. He can take a pounding and break tackles. He'll block for you and he has good speed. Size will always be an issue because he's not 6-foot-3. But he's a quality player coming off a down statistical year. Corners won't push him around through his routes or when competing for balls in the air. He has an aggressiveness to him and plays hard.
In limited action against the Browns, he looked good. Griffin struggled, and Roberts—along with the entire first-team offense—fell victim to that. But in spurts, he found a way to slip through the coverage and caught both passes that were thrown his way.
"I thought we moved the ball well. I thought there was a lot of good execution. Andre Roberts caught a nice seam ball down the sideline, we were just unable to finish that drive," Coach Gruden said during the postgame press conference about the 26-year-old wide receiver's performance.
A 54-yard receiving performance was limited by not only Griffin's struggles, but also the time he was out there on the field. It will be interesting to see how Gruden works him in during the team's "dress rehearsal" game next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Gruden's West Coast scheme is complex. But at its core, there are still "nickel-and-dime" principles that should make a tough pass-catcher like Roberts valuable. He will be able to help move the chains and serve almost as a safety valve for Griffin—or Cousins—this season.
The Grand Puba of all the free-agent signings Washington made during the 2014 offseason was scooping up DeSean Jackson after Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles released him.
Give credit to Washington general manager Bruce Allen. Anytime you land a playmaker who can stretch the field and scorch just about every defensive back in the NFL, it's a cause for celebration. Anytime you can land said playmaker for $24 million on a three-year deal, that celebration should be on the same grandiose scale as Chinese New Years.
Jackson finished his night against the Browns with four targets. Hauling in two of those for 34 yards, his crowning moment was a 23-yard catch, when he dipped past two Browns defenders and tiptoed up the sideline.
He—like the rest of the first-team offense—saw limited action. However, even in that time frame, Jackson looked fast and explosive.
Moving forward, we can expect to see Jackson do what he does best: go after defenses vertically. He also potentially could be used in a decoy role as well. Anytime you have a player who can get downfield in a hurry, defenses automatically have to pay attention. Jackson's presence in Gruden's scheme should free up Garcon and Roberts to work their way up the middle of the field.
It's doubtful he will reach the same statistical plateau he did in Kelly's "open" scheme. But Gruden has worked with fantastic wide receivers before, and he will come up with innovative ways to get the ball in the hands of the 27-year-old.
Clearly, this wasn't the prettiest affair for Washington. There are a ton of kinks Gruden and his staff have to work out before the regular season gets underway. That being said, it was nice to see these three wide receivers get into a groove and show signs of life.