Washington Redskins: What does the Smith signing mean for the offense?
By Ian Cummings
Jay Gruden is going to love Alex Smith.
He probably already loves the veteran quarterback. After all, Smith will look to provide stability to the Washington Redskins at quarterback. That stability has proved to be elusive in recent years, and the wear on Jay Gruden was starting to show. Keeping Cousins didn’t matter anymore. It was about moving on, or moving forward.
Now, the Washington Redskins will move on from Cousins, and move forward with Alex Smith. And in terms of scheme fit, Smith projects to play very well in Jay Gruden’s west coast scheme, provided the team can provide him with a few more healthy playmakers (sorry, Jordan Reed).
So what will Gruden’s offense ask Smith to do? Let’s take a quick look.
Gruden’s offense is tailor-made to support the quarterback. With plentiful check down options, and a diverse allotment of intermediate and deep routes at one’s disposal, Smith will be allowed to use his smarts and situational awareness on every play.
Smith loves his tight ends, as his time in Kansas City showed. He’s incredibly proficient when throwing down the middle, but it ultimately helps to have Travis Kelce catching the ball and running with it.
Luckily, Smith has an exceptional pair of tight ends in D.C. that, when healthy, can be a dangerous duo. Jordan Reed’s status makes it hard to rely on him, but Smith has previous experience with Vernon Davis in San Francisco, so many years ago.
The two should find it easy to rekindle their rapport early, and with the ageless Davis serving as a safety blanket in the box, Smith has one option readily available on every play. Gruden also uses multiple tight end sets frequently, both in the running game and on play action, giving Smith big bodies to target on a consistent basis.
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Also not to be understated is the presence and role of one more key playmaker: Third down running back Chris Thompson. Smith used running back Kareem Hunt extensively in Kansas City, but Hunt was used for everything. With Thompson serving a specific purpose, he can be fresh for use on passing downs, with all of his energy reserved specifically for catch and runs. Gruden occasionally uses Thompson as a change-of-pace back in the running game, but he’s most valuable taking a screen pass and swerving past his blockers. And, just as a reminder, the Washington Redskins have very, very aggressive screen blockers.
Thompson gives the check down a dangerous verve. And while Smith seems to have kicked his habit of deferring to the running back on every other pass, at least now we know that in D.C., the check down won’t cause the drive to check out.
Furthermore, Gruden’s offense also factors in a quarterback’s ability to run. While Kirk Cousins could run, and did run often, he wasn’t known as a particularly mobile quarterback. Alex Smith, however, is more athletic than Cousins, and he serves as a legitimate running threat under center. With Smith, the read option becomes just a little more dangerous, and if all his options are taken on passing downs, he can easily tuck in and take off. The frequent use of bootlegs and play option rollouts will help with that, and it will keep the offense moving.
But again, balance is key in Gruden’s offense, and that takes us back to the need for a No. 1 running back, not a one-dimensional role player and a scat back. Playing in this offense without a running game is like driving a car with three tires. You’re not going to be as effective, as versatile, or as malleable when change is required. Smith, as a player, fits well. But more work must be done for the personnel unit to fit him.