Notes, quotes and observations from Thursday’s practice:
Having the CBA ratified and the new league year begin about halfway through practice made for a unique session, to be sure. And don’t take my word for it. Shanahan has been in the NFL for 26 seasons.
“Hopefully we never see that again,” he said. “To actually be out on the field like we were [and] for our free agents able to come in 35 to 40 minutes after we got started was a little bit different, but it worked out well.”
Players took the field shortly after 4 p.m. None wore shells or pads; only helmets, jerseys and shorts. Newly-signed free agents gathered to stretch and loosen up on a separate field from the rest of their teammates. When position drills started, the sequestered free agents joined their groups only to watch.
As 5 p.m. approached, the Redskins began team drills without the free agents. The first-string offense ran one or two plays. Then suddenly, the team started buzzing and a few cheers went up. The Redskins had received word that the CBA was ratified, and the first-stringers joined in.
DE Stephen Bowen and NT Barry Cofield joined the defense, and Jarvis Jenkins and Anthony Bryant stepped out. Same thing happened on the offensive line with RT Jammal Brown and RG Chris Chester taking their place with the first unit.
From there, the energy level was noticeably higher. “It was real intense,” Bowen said. “I know that after not playing football since January, you’ve got to get used to the speed of everything.”
QB Rex Grossman took his first reps of camp after that and showed the good and the bad. His first two throws during 11-on-11 were excellent. Both were of intermediate distance with plenty of zip and perfectly on target. You got the sense that he was telling John Beck to step aside, son.
But then Ugly Rex came to the surface. He was rushed during one dropback and had to step up in the pocket. He decided to check down to FB Darrel Young in the right flat, but he didn’t set his feet. Grossman dropped his arm to the side, way below his normal release point, and the ball sailed about four feet beyond Young’s reach.
Grossman is known to look good in 7-on-7 drills when there’s no rush, but his key to success this season—especially behind an offensive line that’s a work in progress—is to play at a high level when the pocket breaks down and he has to improvise. That never has been his strong suit. Keep an eye on that as we go.
Grossman quarterbacked the first team offense when it went against the second-team defense in down-and-distance work at the end of practice. He connected with WR Donte’ Stallworth on a 7-yard comeback to the right sideline for a first down. The timing was perfect and the throw was to Stallworth’s outside shoulder, away from the closing defender. On the final drive, TE Fred Davis dropped a potential touchdown in the end zone on third-and-goal.
“I thought it went pretty well on the field,” Grossman said. “The circumstances of this season have been wild…but all in all it was pretty good.”
Some quick first impressions of the new free agents, keeping in mind this is their first football practice since last season…
DE Stephen Bowen is quick off the ball and has quick hands when engaging a lineman. He likes to use a stutter move when rushing the passer, but he was able to get linemen’s hands off him with quick hands.
I didn’t take much away from NT Barry Cofield’s play. He was off balance leaning too far forward during one-on-one drills, and C Will Montgomery easily shoved him to the ground. He moved laterally against the Redskins’ stretch running plays much better than Ma’ake Kemoeatu did. That’s not difficult, I know. Shanahan has called Cofield the “bell cow” of the Giants’ defensive line, but let’s see how he fares when he doesn’t have Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora next to him to divert blockers’ attention. From watching Cofield today in OL-vs.-DL drills, I get the sense that he is adept at opening pass rushing lanes for other players.
RG Chris Chester was overpowered by DE Jarvis Jenkins during one blocking drill. But I will say that he appears to have the ability to run side to side and get to the second level on combination blocks. That’s a requirement in this offense, as we all know. We’ll learn more about Chester’s ability to anchor and sustain lateral blocks.
ILB Rocky McIntosh replaced Perry Riley on the first string defense. Defensive coordinatorJim Haslett on Wednesday emphasized Riley’s inexperience at the most complex position on the defense, so you can see why the Redskins brought McIntosh back. That said, Riley will have the chance to prove himself in preseason games.
And the Redskins’ courtship of Lofa Tatupu thickens the plot. Shanahan said Tatupu and CB Kelvin Hayden took physicals at Redskins Park on Thursday.
New CB Josh Wilson, Tatupu’s former teammate in Seattle, is helping to recruit the free agent linebacker.
Reed Doughty played strong safety with the first string, and his experience showed right away. He covered TE Fred Davis near the line of scrimmage during team drills, and when Davis slid out the backside after the snap, Doughty blitzed off the edge for a sack.
“You want your core football players—everybody is not a superstart—but Reed is a guy you can count on in special teams,” Shanahan said after practice. “He can start and he can player either safety position. He’s the type of guy you have to have to win championships.” High praise, indeed.
Doughty believes he would have re-signed with the Redskins even if SS LaRon Landry (Achilles) were healthy, but he’s going to seize the opportunity while Landry is on the PUP list.
“I know that the reason they brought me back is exactly what I’m doing right now: Being versatile and also being a backup that can play,” Doughty said.
RB Tim Hightower fumbled during team drills. Ball security is one of the knocks on him.
WR Terrence Austin dropped a third-down pass that would have given the offense a first down in situational drills. He let the ball get into his body instead of catching it with his hands.
Seventh-round rookie OLB Markus White jumped offsides several times during the practice. He did it in one-on-one drills and team work. Coaches are gonna get tired of that real fast.
Fifth-round WR Niles Paul continues to stand out. He made a diving catch on a broken play during team drills. He has good hands and separates from defenders because he’s disciplined in his routes. One he gets more comfortable with the playbook, he should start operating at a faster speed.
RB Ryan Torain and WR Malcolm Kelly are…guess what?…injured. Again. Torain had four screws inserted into the fractured third metacarpal in his left hand. He’s not expected to miss more than 10 days, but we’ll see how the injury affects his ball security, his ability to catch and his willingness to pass block upon his return.
As for Kelly, what can you say? He expects to be back on the field Friday despite his sore right foot, and he better return quickly. He’s on a short leash when it comes to injuries.
P Sav Rocca is expected to arrive by Saturday evening. He has been stuck in Australia with visa issues.