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Redskins training camp observations - Mon., July 29

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

RICHMOND—Here are a few thoughts and observations from Redskins training camp on Monday:

Practice opened with one-on-one pass protection drills between running backs and linebackers. It’s one of the liveliest drills in all of training camp and considerable fun to watch. Defensive players have a distinct advantage because it’s an all-out rush with more space in which to operate than there usually is in a game.

“It’s really tough on those running backs,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “They’re blocking guys 260-270 pounds and some of these guys are 190-200. But we want to see if guys will hit, people will strike, what type of toughness they have, what type of technique they have.”

Rookie running backs Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison, both of whom are only 5-foot-7, encountered difficulty due to their lack of length. Thompson lost against outside linebacker Darryl Tapp and Jamison lost against outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan largely because their arms simply were too short to effectively engage. Tapp reached Thompson with a right-handed slap before Thompson could punch. Kerrigan got both arms into Jamison’s chest while Jamison was still reaching for air.

Smaller backs often have to resort to cut blocking, which is risky enough that the Redskins won’t do that in practice. But Monday’s drill highlighted Thompson’s and Jamison’s downside, particularly in any third-down back role. A third-down back must be able to pass protect, and being undersized is a significant detriment.

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Right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo bull-rushed running back Evan Royster back and later broke fullback Eric Kettani down with a quick-handed swipe into a rip move. Orakpo should win against those two every time, so he gets high marks for taking care of business.

Running back Roy Helu Jr. slid deftly to his left and kept his shoulders square when linebacker Rob Jackson tried a hesitation move going around the edge. Blocks like that will help him secure the third-down back role.

Fullback Darrel Young loves contact, so this drill suits him well. He squared Ryan Kerrigan up, kept a lower pad level than Kerrigan and initiated the contact. Young won the block.

As Shanahan noted, this drill is super-charged and extremely physical. Emotions run high because adrenaline is pumping. Orakpo, recognizing this, called all the running backs and linebackers together into a huddle when it was over. They each put a hand up in the center and broke down on Orakpo’s call. It was a proper show of leadership by the two-time Pro Bowler.

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Offensive and defensive linemen matched up in one-on-one pass blocking drills again. Right guard Chris Chester won blocks against ends Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker by maintaining a balanced base and not extending too far forward. Defensive end Kedric Golston later pulled Chester forward and off balance. Overall, though, Chester’s athleticism was evident in how well he moved his feet.

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Cornerback Josh Wilson (left shoulder labrum) debuted in team drills. He broke up a deep ball intended for receiver Josh Morgan during one-on-one drills. Wilson employs several techniques to try to compensate for his height. He watches receivers’ eyes to learn when the ball is arriving, and he constantly tries to play the catch point on the receiver’s body. He did the latter against Morgan near the left sideline. Wilson couldn’t outjump Morgan for it, so he raked Morgan’s hands when Morgan came down with the ball. It came loose for an incompletion.

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Cornerback Chase Minnifield intercepted a slant intended for receiver Devery Henderson in one-on-ones. Henderson failed to separate, a trend in the small sample size to date. He tried to set Minnifield up by faking to the outside, but his feet weren’t quick enough back to the inside to leave Minnifield behind. Instead, Minnifield stayed on Henderson’s back shoulder and undercut the pass.

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Rookie cornerback David Amerson’s length emboldens him to use his hands near the line of scrimmage. He must learn what he can get away with. He got a handful of receiver Joshua Morgan’s jersey when Morgan cut in on an intermediate dig route. The holding helped him stay close to Morgan’s hip, but Morgan caught well-placed throw anyway. Amerson dove but came up empty. Morgan let Amerson know he beat his hold by standing over him and glaring at him after the catch.

Later, Amerson jammed Morgan with his left hand, disrupting his release on a drag route.

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My favorite element of camp has become quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman running the read option. What a sight to behold. The point of the zone read, as Mike and Kyle Shanahan have explained, is to create the threat of the quarterback running the ball, not necessarily run the quarterback all game. Cousins and Grossman have working legs, so technically they are threats to run—Cousins more than Rex.

Cousins’ exchange with fullback Darrel Young early in team drills was clumsy. Later, Grossman kept the ball on a zone-read option and cut upfield through a wide hole to the right of the offensive line. That amused the crowd—and me.

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Tight end Jordan Reed trap blocked nose tackle Ron Brace at the line of scrimmage on a running play during team drills. The difference between those two is only 90 pounds.

Reed got low and squared his shoulders, enough to earn a stalemate, which qualifies as a victory because of the size disadvantage. The offense Reed played in at Florida involved more power blocking than zone, so it’s not surprising he was comfortable on that type of block.

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Rookie outside linebacker Brandon Jenkins was pushed back a couple yards by tackle Xavier Nixon in the run game. Jenkins, a defensive end at Florida St., is transitioning to playing the run from a two-point stance, and he’ll have to get lower in order to do so effectively.

That’s it for Monday. The Redskins practice again in pads Tuesday afternoon.

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