Bill Callahan is running the show... differently

Chris Lingebach
October 09, 2019 - 7:24 pm
Bill Callahan is running the show... differently

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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The Redskins began and ended their first practice under interim head coach Bill Callahan differently than any previous Jay Gruden-led practices.

Callahan put his touch on almost every aspect, from start to finish, on down to the way he conducts stretches. Wednesday's warm-up brought the team captains to the forefront to lead the stretch.

"I always think that's a positive when your leadership is up there on a daily basis, and players can emulate that they know who they are," Callahan told reporters afterward. "We can potentially draw more from them. I think it was a good start in that respect."

Callahan had the team run sprints to end practice.

"Yeah. Conditioning to me is important," he said. "We're talking about the second-half football, improving that aspect of our play, so what comes to mind for me and for us as a team is our stamina and our energy late. Heading down to Miami, it'll be a little warm down there and I think conditioning is important.

"And as you get into the month of October and the 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, that the players cardiovascularly are in good shape and they can endure longer drives. So hopefully we're on the field longer on offense as well."

Almost any complaints you'd heard of Gruden in the past – too little discipline, too relaxed of a practice environment, too detailed about injuries – Callahan had a response. Different, seemingly with a purpose.

Here are some takeaways we feel confident enough in to put in bold:

Atmosphere

There was talk beforehand that Callahan may get rid of the soundtrack to practice. Callahan had frequently complained about the music and, under Gruden, had to settle for it being turned down at times when more intense focus was required.

Callahan did not outright cancel the music in his first practice, although there was less music.

Practice Officials

The Redskins had real, live officials overseeing practice, interjecting themselves where necessary as if it were an actual game. This is not a one-time thing.

"Yeah, we'll see 'em again," said Callahan. "I think it's great to have 'em. We made a phone call to the league office and talked to (NFL VP of Officiating) Al Riveron about signing a pool of officials that are in the local area here in Northern Virginia that have interest, that are being groomed for the NFL, that are college officials right now that want to get better and improve their craft."

"And we also wanted to bring them in so that they could really focus in on what we're doing, right, wrong or indifferent," he said. "We want them to really focus in on the alignments and the formations that we're in to make sure we're properly aligned. We wanted to get them to lock in on our hands, at the point of attack and on the edge, and also on the back end, and also on the perimeter, so that we can get a more fine-line evaluation and assessment of where that's at. And I think what it does, it heightens the awareness of the players on the field, and with that, our officials have the ability to communicate to that player as to what they did, what they did wrong.

"It's something that takes the burden off the coach and makes the player more aware of what he should do, and having the proper leverage and the proper hand placement to prevent a penalty. That's a huge focus for us as we work hard to try to eliminate penalties within the unit and on each side of the ball."

Back to Basics

Asked what message he's trying to send his team, Callahan said, "Really get in the focus of fundamental football and just really trying to get back to some really hardcore fundamentals. And really straddle the line, it's kind of a fine line of the health of your team and also pushing them physically to improve their fundamentals, and I think we accomplished both today."

Callahan met with the team first thing in the morning to go over the structural changes he would be implementing to their normal routine.

How the players responded: "They seemed receptive to it. I think they just want to get back to playing good, solid, foundational, fundamental football, and that gives us a chance."

"Schemes are great. I mean, we've got plenty of schemes," Callahan added. "We've got plenty of plays. But right now it's about execution. We don't need another play, we just need better execution, and if we can nail that down and refine our systems, that gives us a chance. It doesn't give us a guarantee, it just gives us a better chance."

Run-first Offense

It sounds like Callahan plans to run the ball a lot, at least if his public comments are any indicator. The Redskins are 27th in the league at 68.8 rushing yards per game (344 total rushing yards). But more important, perhaps, they're 30th in rushing attempts, with 88 on the season.

"I think it's about rush attempts, one of the goals of our program while we were in New York with Rex Ryan, and we were running the ball pretty well there and we had very good success running the football," Callahan said. "We had a really good offensive line and running backs, and we had an outstanding unit of players and talent and scheme. It was great."

"But what I learned from Rex was it wasn't really about what you average per carry. It was really about rush attempts and pass completions," he said. "So that's one of the league statistics that we all look at, is rush attempts. And a lot of times, your rush attempts and completions, if you have more than an opponent, really you're in good shape to win a football game. You know, it's a very high percentage. I think it's over 80 percent.

"So it's about rush attempts and it's about pass completions, and it's not always perfect and it's not always right, but it's just an identity that I believe in. So if we can combine those two and create big plays off of it, I think we'll be successful."

Mum's The Word

The Redskins wanted Gruden to be more tight-lipped about injuries, which led to this confusing mess about who would be starting in Week 4. Here's Craig Hoffman sorting through all the red tape ahead of the Giants game:

"The coyness and convolution of Gruden explaining the situation is purposeful. Gruden has made a habit of giving away injury information too easily in the past, and there has been a concerted effort this season to not give opponents any kind of tip via his press availability.

"He's been very effective with that through three weeks, which is frustrating for fans and media who want clarity, but does keep opponents guessing on who will and won't be available."

Callahan was very upfront about how he plans to address injuries through the media moving forward.

"I'm not really big on talking about injuries. I have never been that way," he said. "I'll be more than happy to try to give you as much information as I have, but I just, I'm not a doctor, so I'm just gonna really hold back on the injury status of our players and just let you basically read off the report.

"And then secondly, relative to the quarterback situation going into this game, we're just really assessing and evaluating the health of our position, where we're at. We'll know a little bit more towards the end of the week, so I'm gonna wait towards the end of the week – probably Friday – to make the announcement of who will start the game."

Asked if he's mostly looking to see where Case Keenum's at with his foot, Callahan pulled his response out of a blender: "All three of 'em. I've been taking a look at all three quarterbacks, where they're at from a health perspective, how they're moving and basically going from there, John."

Related:

"Is there a health situation with Dwayne, when you say all three of them?" a reporter asked.

"Well, I'm just looking at all three, JP. So he won't be on the list at all, I don't think, but we'll just see how he did after practice today," Callahan replied. "We'll just find out from Larry and see what he'll put up on the injury list on the report, and then we'll go from there."

Time Share

"We distributed the reps pretty well today," Callahan said of the QBs. "I think they all got exposure at different points in the practice with the first group. So that was a real positive. Everybody got work. And when you get that, they all benefit. Not only with the first O, but also with the scout team as well. I like the format that we had, and the way that we distributed those reps and how we assigned them, so that I think they all got equal work in some respect."

Haskins' Development

"Well I think he's improved, in the sense that he's seen more," said Callahan. "I mean, when you go back to the Giant game, that was a huge exposure for him. And any time that those guys are on the field, that's invaluable. I mean, he learned quite a bit from that experience and I had a good discussion with him yesterday, just talking about how he can get better as a player and how that experience will help him down the line.

"A lot of rookies in this league don't have that type of success early on in their career, especially in their first start. It's always hectic in some sense. So just kind of graduating him into the process and getting his learning curve swinging up a little bit higher. I think that's really the focus that we're trying to get for him."

Either these wholesale changes to practice will lead to a different result, or they'll have changed everything for nothing. Time will tell. But for now, everything's different.

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