ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Jay Gruden could be playing the Cincinnati Bengals on the moon and it wouldn’t matter to him.
The Washington Redskins’ coach will face his former team for the first time Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. The setting doesn’t matter; it’s a special game for Gruden, who was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator from 2011-2013. It’s in Gruden’s makeup to treat it as an important game for the 4-3 Redskins, but he can’t contain his excitement and nostalgia about going up against old boss Marvin Lewis.
“I’m excited, man,” Gruden said. “I mean, I can’t wait. Really, it sounds funny — it’s such a big game for us. I really don’t care where we play them. I just can’t wait to play the game.”
Gruden will be able to look across the field at not only Lewis but his old quarterback, Andy Dalton, and receiver A.J. Green. Two coordinator changes since Gruden have changed plenty around the Bengals to the point Dalton isn’t worried about Gruden knowing too much, but there are lessons from a few years ago that are helping now in Washington.
A big one has to do with Dalton, whom Gruden groomed from a rookie starter into one of the more consistent passers in the NFL.
“Jay taught me a lot and he gave me a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage,” Dalton said Wednesday. “He allowed me to change plays and get into plays that were better-suited for the defenses that we were getting, and so it taught me a lot just through the preparation of it. I feel like he’s got a big part in the reason I’ve been playing the way I have here recently, and he’s got me to be the player I am today.”
Kirk Cousins is Gruden’s challenge now, even after Washington’s starting quarterback threw for 29 touchdowns and a franchise-record 4,166 yards last season. Even though they were only drafted a year apart Dalton (second round, 2011) and Cousins (fourth round, 2012), Gruden said they’re developmental curves are different because of the opportunities they got or didn’t get early in their pro careers.
Dalton was the man from the get-go in Cincinnati, while Cousins had to wait behind Robert Griffin III, who was the second overall pick in 2012. Because Dalton is in his sixth season as an NFL starter, Gruden said he’s “further along” than Cousins at this stage.
Cousins looked at Dalton as a blueprint when Gruden joined the Redskins in 2014 and still considers him a “great example to follow.”
“There was a desire to glean from Coach Gruden whatever he had taught Andy knowing that he’s been able to make a quarterback very successful in this league,” Cousins said. “I’m always studying quarterbacks around the league and he’s included in that. He’s done a great job for them as a quarterback, as a leader, and I really admire his game. I certainly want to continue to take steps to play at his level and to do it consistently year-in and year-out.”
As a Dalton in-training, Cousins has the right guy teaching him in Gruden, a quarterback in his playing days who practices patience with that position. And Lewis thinks Gruden has a Dalton in-the-making in Cousins, who has similar size and can sling it when asked.
“I see a lot of similarities between Kirk and Andy,” Lewis said. “I think they both do an incredible job at the line of scrimmage surveying the defense and getting in and out of the right plays. You see the Redskins doing a lot of play changes at the line of scrimmage, which is what Andy has been so good at for us here.”
Notes: RB Matt Jones missed practice with a knee injury. Jones declined comment, and his status for the Bengals game is unclear. Gruden said if Jones can’t play, undrafted rookie Robert Kelley would start and Chris Thompson would remain the third-down back … TE Jordan Reed and CB Josh Norman partially participated in practice coming off concussions, though Reed said he’s symptom free after missing the past two games. … LT Trent Williams says he expects to play after leaving Washington’s 20-17 loss at the Detroit Lions with a knee injury. … The Redskins practice Thursday before flying to London for a Friday practice.