The Washington Redskins hype train? I don't think it's a thing. And what differences exist in terms of leadership between Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins? Good question. It's all part of this week's mailbag.
#jkmailbag ; Been throwing this out on twitter over the past couple weeks. Is this the most hyped Redskins team that you covered? If not; Who would rank ahead?— Skins_GaB (@Gabbing_Skins) June 1, 2018
John Keim: Oh, man, heck no. It’s not even close to being the most hyped. Social media just makes everything louder. I think there’s a lot of intrigue with this team because of the change at quarterback -- what difference can Alex Smith make? (I think he’ll be a good pickup) -- and because of the addition of Derrius Guice. And the return of some injured players such as Jonathan Allen, now paired with Da'Ron Payne. I think the investment in the defensive line has people excited, with good reason. But nobody is picking them to win the NFC East and I’m guessing not a lot will pick them to make the playoffs.
But imagine if Twitter had been around in 2000 -- when the Redskins went on their shopping spree to land Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Mark Carrier? That team was coming off a 10-6 season, too. That was an Acela-like hype train. There were Super Bowl predictions, and the Redskins went 8-8 and fired their coach with three games left. There was Super Bowl talk after they added Dan Wilkinson and Dana Stubblefield to the defensive front in 1998 (when they lost their first seven). There was a ton of hype after Joe Gibbs returned, especially after their 2005 playoff season (and they finished 5-11 in 2006).
There was a massive hype train, too, in 2013 with Robert Griffin III’s second season -- even coming off a knee injury. Again, predictions of deep playoff runs, and the Redskins went 3-13. I could be wrong, but I think some of the current vibes stem from having what seems to be a good draft -- after such low expectations following a quiet period of free agency.
I do like what the Redskins did this offseason. They made the best of the situation at quarterback and added an every-down back in Guice. If Payne helps against the pass, that’ll be a good pick, too. If not, then they might have passed on better all-around talent, and that’s what you win with. But time will tell.
The Redskins' best teams since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season have come when the hype hasn’t been big. I do think this team can be good.
#JKMailbag: You've mentioned it a bit before, but could you touch on the kind of locker room changes that come with Alex Smith vs. Kirk Cousins and how, if at all, positive internal culture shapes on-field performance?— Brandon Katz (@Great_Katzby) June 1, 2018
Keim: I think we’ll learn more about the different leadership styles once the games get underway and how Smith handles the huddle in contrast to Cousins. I also want to see how he interacts with others in the locker room; we haven’t seen that yet. I do believe Smith being a veteran helps. A lot of players here were with Cousins when he first became a starter. And he went through growing pains, including being a leader in late-game situations, etc. He had to learn to command a huddle of veterans with powerful personalities, such as Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. I know some coaches who really like Cousins who felt like he needed to be more firm with fellow players, especially when they’d do things like throw their arms up after an errant pass or one that went elsewhere.
Smith has a different persona that will play well across the locker room. It has in previous stops. Maybe it stems from having been through so much and being older. He has a mindset of just being there to play ball. That will go over well, regardless of who was there before him. That’s not necessarily a statement on anyone but Smith. Keep in mind that two years ago the narrative was about how Cousins was becoming a stronger leader and taking ownership of the offense.
As for the culture and the impact, it can be big. Players are human, so if the workplace is a good one, there’s a positive vibe that brings out your best qualities. Yes, guys should be self-motivated, but that should be true no matter where you work. They’re no different. When it’s a better place to work, they typically find players who fit a certain mindset. A guy like D.J. Swearinger comes to mind. He’s someone who has been far different from what I imagined in terms of leadership and what he brings.
And that leads to stronger leadership, more desire to play for the guy next to you, etc. This isn’t about whether or not they like a certain guy in charge; typically if someone signs you, you’re probably going to like him. Wouldn’t you?
In a good culture, players and coaches hold each other accountable. That means in terms of handling their business in terms of preparation, etc. It makes a big difference. In a bad culture, guys don’t hang out as much at the facility, or maybe some become lackadaisical toward getting their work done. Every player will tell you this: The tone is set at the top of an organization. If you don’t have strong leadership outside the locker room, you’d better have it inside.