Here are some thoughts and observations from the final practice of training camp and the last practice open to reporters:
How coach Mike Shanahan utilizes QB Robert Griffin III’s dual-threat ability inside the 10-yard line each week will be fascinating. Griffin’s value will be clearest in that part of the field. Backed up defenses with no margin for error will struggle to defend against Griffin’s ability to run and/or throw and his ability to attack all areas of the field. He is so fast that he’ll force defenses to sell out to defend one thing or another.
I posted these numbers earlier in camp, but they’re worth mentioning again. Cam Newton, one of two dual-threat quarterbacks to whom Griffin will be most often compared (Michael Vick being the other), helped the Carolina Panthers go from dead last in red zone efficiency in 2010 to seventh last season (57.89 percent). The Redskins scored touchdowns on only 41.18 percent of their red zone trips in 2011. Only three teams were worse. I expect a significant improvement this season.
Goal line work during team drills is always intense and colorful, and that was the case Tuesday with high energy on the last day of camp. When WR Santana Moss caught Griffin’s pass short of the goal line, DE Kedric Golston hollered at Griffin: “He didn’t get in! You’re worried about celebrating!”
Later, ILB London Fletcher stopped a draw play, and the defensive players in the drill and on the sideline went bonkers.
FS Tanard Jackson practiced with the first-string defense during a portion of team drills. He has noticeably improved since he began practicing full-time. He missed most of the offseason program while recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and he missed the first six practices of camp with a strained left calf.
Jackson started 10 games last season in Tampa Bay for current Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, so don’t be surprised if he wins the starting job from Madieu Williams at some point.
“Everything has slowed down,” Jackson said. “I’m moving better. My conditioning is better, and I’m learning the defense more. It’s progressing every day.”
Jackson would have decapitated WR Aldrick Robinson after Robinson caught a pass sprinting down the seam. Jackson was in coverage over the top, and he lined Robinson up perfectly.
“I would have prayed for him right there in the middle of the field,” Jackson said. “That’s the thing: We want to protect our guys because we’re on the same team, but we all know what would have happened on that.”
There’s also a noticeable difference between how fast WR Dezmon Briscoe is playing now and when he first joined the team two weeks ago. Initially he was not explosive in his routes and didn’t finish his run blocks, but he’s had a string of solid practices. On Tuesday, he broke open across the field early in team drills and caught a pass for a long gain.
“I feel very confident going to the huddle now,” he said after practice. “I got real deep in the playbook and dedicated myself to know everything, so the coaches can trust me and depend on me when they have to put me in.
”I notice myself making more plays,” he continued. “The quarterback has more confidence in me. First couple days I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now that I’m into the groove, they’re trying to give me more balls.”
Briscoe believes three more preseason games is enough time to earn a spot. Perhaps he’ll begin facing better competition soon, now that he’s showing his readiness to succeed.
Just before WR Leonard Hankerson left practice with heat illness, he caught a pass across the middle, using his body to shield CB Josh Wilson behind him. QB Robert Griffin III hit him in stride; no need for Hankerson to showcase his wide catching radius.
Josh Morgan replaced Hankerson with the first string. It was his opportunity to get back in with that group after missing practice time earlier in camp with a strained left hamstring, but he, too, fell ill at the end of practice.
WR Brandon Banks failed to catch a throw that hit him in the helmet. QB Rex Grossman threw on time and accurately to Banks on an out route near the left sideline. The ball went through Banks’ hands and hit him in the head.
Whatever the football equivalent of a hitting slump is, Banks is going through that now. His frustration is clear in his facial expressions after some of these drops and negative plays. He offers straight line speed, but he’s inconsistent in other areas. His size was a liability against Buffalo, and he has started to drop passes. It’s a losing formula.
Banks has to make the team as a receiver, coach Mike Shanahan said during the spring. If Banks does make it, he could be the last receiver active on game days, so he might never need to play on offense. That said, Shanahan is out to pick the to 53 players, and if a player such as Aldrick Robinson could contribute more on offense and maintain the status quo in the return game, the choice between them would be easy.
P Sav Rocca has been using a sideways end-over-end punt on some attempts that land inside the 20, and it has been very effective. The ball hits the ground and, because of the spin, shoots diagonally toward the sideline. I don’t remember Rocca using this type of punt last season. Something to follow up on.
Rocca punted eight times for an average of only 40.6 yards against Buffalo, and his longest punt was only 44 yards. He averaged 43.1 yards per punt last season. Rocca had a quality punting session Tuesday, drilling long-hanging spirals that turned over. Special teams coach Danny Smith complemented him for all to hear.
RT Tyler Polumbus anchored against LOLB Ryan Kerrigan and stopped his bull rush on a play-action pass that required a deep quarterback drop. It was training camp’s version of ‘Dog Bites Man.’
Polumbus kept Kerrigan at bay with his long reach. That’s a major asset when Polumbus sets with a good base, doesn’t lean and moves his feet. That must happen more frequently.
CB DeAngelo Hall blanketed WR Terrence Austin on a pass play on which Austin tried to run Hall inside and break out. Hall stayed very low and was able to match Austin’s quick-twitch movements. If Hall consistently plays man coverage like that, his move inside will be a great success.