Here are some observations and thoughts from Wednesday’s practice, the last of minicamp and the last of the offseason. The Redskins will next convene for the start of training camp in late July. It’ll be here before you know it.
QB Robert Griffin III threw a couple of incompletions off his back foot during team drills late in practice. The pass rush, which is not allowed to contact RG3, had him moving away from the target. If he does that in games, it would be a problem. In practice, he can experiment to see what he can get away with. (How’s that for giving him the benefit of the doubt?)
One of his ill-advised passes was intercepted by CB DeAngelo Hall on a keeper to the right. Overall, Griffin was sharper in other practices open to media than he was Wednesday.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is pleased by Griffin’s offseason.
“I think he’s done a real good job,” Shanahan said. “He came in being in a totally different offense, learning totally new terminology, trying new plays he hasn’t done before. It’s been a work in progress. He’s gotten better each day. He works as hard as anyone can at it, both on the field and off the field. And it’s been a really good camp for him.”
“He has picked it up faster than I expected,” Shanahan continued. “Anytime a guy doesn’t do a lot of drop-back stuff and things like that for really his whole career, it’s going to take time. And with him, he’s really showing improvement each day. He can comprehend what he needs to do and what he needs to get better at, and it’s all about giving him reps. He needs reps. He’s got to let his body go through the muscle memory and everything, but from a mental standpoint and just his vision and grasping what he needs to work on, it’s been very good.”
CB DeAngelo Hall made several good plays in the slot. With CB Josh Wilson (thigh) sitting out minicamp, Hall played extensively inside. I’m not entirely sold on having Hall as the slot corner. He didn’t thrive in Oakland’s man-to-man scheme when he was there. Also, he admittedly likes to play with vision, and that won’t always work well with the amount of man required in the slot. But I agree it’s probably the Redskins’ best option, and they can scheme it to suit Hall’s abilities. Even though Hall’s three interceptions last season were his lowest total since his rookie year, he is a playmaker.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett explained why Hall’s skill set suits the slot (say that five times fast, haha).
“He’s got the best skills I’ve probably ever seen,” Haslett said. “That’s the big thing. I think it’s something new for him, so he’s kind of energized. He really likes it. He’s the kind of guy that can go in there and get sacks. That position should make a lot of plays. When you look at the Charles Woodsons, the guys that play in that scheme, you know you get four or five sacks every year. You get four or five interceptions. You get big plays. And hopefully we can get that out of him.”
CB Kevin Barnes had ZERO sacks last year, and I don’t believe his total of quarterback hits was much higher. (Redskins coaches credited him with six quarterback pressures.) That was a significant factor in the Redskins making this change.
As for Hall’s practice, I mentioned his interception of RG3. He lurked underneath while Griffin rolled out and then undercut a lobbed throw. I didn’t see to whom the pass was intended. Earlier, Hall positioned himself for an interception by preventing WR Santana Moss from getting an inside release on an intermediate post route. Hall had inside position but dropped the ball, which was a little bit behind him. Hall punished himself for the drop with 10 push-ups.
Oh, and about Haslett saying Hall is “kind of energized,” Hall did a round-off backflip after his interception.
Return specialist Brandon Banks played receiver often during OTAs and minicamp. Turns out that’s not just because WRs Leonard Hankerson (hip) and Josh Morgan (leg) were out and limited, respectively.
“We’ve got a good look at Brandon,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s done a very good job at coming in in-shape. He gained about 10 pounds. You could tell that he’s been working out extremely hard in the offseason. And I think he understands how competitive our situation is right now on the football team Not only does he have to do a great job as the return man, but he’s got to help us at the wide receiver position, as well, if he wants to make our football team.
“I called him in early, and I told him that he was going to have to help us at the wide receiver position, as well, if he wanted to make this football team, and he accepted a challenge and came in in excellent shape, and it’s really positive what he’s done. Hopefully he can continue to do it.”
That’s an interesting revelation, no? After failing to reach the end zone on a return last season, Banks now has to scrap and claw to make the team. And his stature (he’s listed at 5-7, 155 pounds) puts him at a disadvantage compared to receivers such as Anthony Armstrong and Aldrick Robinson.
Banks will have to prove he’s a versatile route runner, not just a speedster who can go deep and catch screens. He’s off to a decent start. He caught several passes over the middle during OTAs. One reception that stands out is a deep out from QB Rex Grossman during hurry-up team drills in OTAs. The timing and touch on Grossman’s throw was perfect, but Banks was open on the sideline and stayed in bounds. The receiver competition will be one of the most compelling of training camp.
Another quick point about Banks: My colleague Dan Daly notes that the return specialist roster spot might now belong to the third quarterback. Shanahan didn’t keep three passers in either of his first two seasons, but he plans to this year. If Banks doesn’t make the team, he could look to Kirk Cousins as one who took his spot.
Let’s stick with the receivers. WR Terrence Austin caught a long touchdown from QB Rex Grossman down the left seam. He outran CBs Richard Crawford and Morgan Trent. Grossman did a superb job stepping up in the pocket as the rush formed around him. The throw hit Austin, who was two yards clear of the defenders, in stride.
After the touchdown, Austin, Brandon Banks, Anthony Armstrong and Pierre Garcon gathered in the end zone and did a group high five reminiscent of the Fun Bunch. We’ll have to see whether they’re gonna try to bring that back this season. Of course, celebration rules would require them to do that on the sideline instead of in the end zone.
Moving on…Armstrong’s one-on-one matchups with CB Chase Minnifield were fun to watch. During one series of 11-on-11, Armstrong beat Minnifield’s jam and caught a slant. Remember, beating bump coverage is one of the coaching staff’s sticking points with Armstrong.
On the next play, however, Minnifield successfully jammed Armstrong. Armstrong managed to release inside on the slant, but the jam prevented separation. Minnifield batted down the pass upon arrival.
One nice play by rookie QB Kirk Cousins stood out: Facing a pass rush from his front side, he backpedaled away from trouble while keeping his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. His footwork was very good. That kept him in position to zip a 15-yard completion over the middle to TE Niles Paul.
Cousins later lobbed a 40-yard touchdown pass to WR Aldrick Robinson on a broken play. If contact against the quarterback were allowed, though, Cousins would have been sacked.
Cousins clearly is the third-best quarterback on the roster at this point.
Offensive linemen did some agility work during positional drills. They shuffled between cones as opposing linemen tried to get past them. RT Jammal Brown’s lateral agility was better than many of the less experienced players. For example, fifth-round rookie G Adam Gettis’ feet were not as quick. OL coach Chris Foerster chastised T James Lee once for leaning.
Speaking of Brown, he and LOLB Ryan Kerrigan matched up on consecutive plays during one of the first series of team drills. Kerrigan beat him once with an outside speed rush. The next play, Brown rode him out.
Kerrigan had a quiet spring, which fits such a quiet dude. His progress in the second year playing linebacker figures to be a storyline next month.
Kicker competition update: Neil Rackers hit from 54 yards Wednesday, while Graham Gano missed wide left from 50. Apparently Gano aimed left because of a crosswind, which stopped just before the snap. Whatever. Gotta make the kick.
Special teams coach Danny Smith said afterward the kicking competition will come down to preseason games, which is obvious. Spring practices serve as the prologue.
ILB Lorenzo Alexander generated a significant push up the middle on one pass rush during team drills and batted down a pass. While he continues to work on his coverage, he can make an impact rushing on the rare occasions the Redskins’ inside backers do it. Alexander’s strong suit, like Perry Riley’s, is closing on ballcarriers.
Speaking of Riley, he closely shadowed TE Niles Paul on an out route in man-to-man coverage. Riley didn’t have to make any decision about whom to cover, so you expect him to be in position when it’s that simple.
Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris let the offense hear it after one play on which the quarterback and receiver were not on the same page.
“We got a miscommunication!” he repeatedly yelled.
“He gets on my nerves a little bit,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told reporters to a round of laughs. “No, I’ve known Raheem for a while. He’s one of my boys. He’s funny. We go back and forth, and he’s a little louder out there than myself but I’m very used to it. I think it’s fun. It adds competition. It makes us enjoy practice a little bit more and not to mention he’s as good a coach as I’ve been around.”