Thoughts and observations from the Redskins' 10th and final OTA

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Here are a few thoughts and observations from the Redskins’ 10th and final voluntary spring practice, which occurred Thursday at Redskins Park.

Please keep in mind OTAs focus on learning, installation and conditioning. No pads or contact is allowed, so the pace of play is a step slower than in training camp. And with several injured/recovering players not cleared to practice, depth charts are out of whack.

Having said that, let’s go:

QB Robert Griffin III“without a doubt” believes his goal to return to practice by the start of training camp on July 25 is realistic. Coach Mike Shanahan credited Griffin for setting the goal, but he reminded the assembled media that Griffin will practice only after doctors clear him. That’s quite clear at this point, regardless of when Griffin targets.

“From the beginning they talked about a recovery time being anywhere from seven months to nine months,” Shanahan said. “I think Aug. 9 is seven months. And so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Shanahan has been cautious this spring with players coming off surgery. CB Chase Minnifield (right knee ACL) practiced Wednesday but was held out Thursday. TE Fred Davis (left Achilles tendon) could practice at next week’s minicamp but will not be permitted to. Shanahan won’t decide on Griffin’s workload until after Griffin is cleared and Shanahan consults with team doctors. Here’s thinking it would be wise to continue that cautious approach.

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Griffin limped slightly but noticeably after Thursday’s workout. More on that in this blog with the other injury updates.

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QB Kirk Cousins made some exceptional throws during team drills and a few others he’d like to have back. That’s about right for a second-year quarterback with one career start. He at least appears to be in command of the offense, which will help him this preseason to harness his instincts as part of making good decisions, something he didn’t always do as a rookie.

First, the good. Cousins connected with TE Logan Paulsen for a touchdown on an out-and-up route during red-zone work. He pump-faked rookie S Bacarri Rambo out of position. Cousins locked on to Rambo, sold a full arm fake, and the rookie was cooked.

Later, Cousins threw a beautiful ball over CB E.J. Biggers near the sideline to WR Santana Moss, who ran a flag route. Cousins had perfect touch on the ball and was accurate. He put it out in front where only Moss could catch it. Moss got both feet in for a long gain.

Now, the bad. Cousins threw two interceptions; one during red-zone drills and another during 4-minute end-of-game situations.

S DeJon Gomes picked Cousins off inside the 20 on Cousins’ second read. Cousins first looked to FB Darrel Young in the right flat but checked away from him and threw back across the field to a receiver near the left sideline. Cousins came back to the left very quickly—perhaps he rushed the throw—and Gomes undercut it for an easy pick-6. I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to Cousins after practice, so I can’t be sure what he saw or what he was thinking. Last season, though, he got in trouble at times either by forcing throws or throwing off of feel/instincts instead of going through the proper reads.

Cousins’ other interception occurred against a blitz by CB Richard Crawford, who came unblocked from the right side of the offense. Cousins flicked a weak throw to the right flat, and ILB London Fletcher dove to intercept it. Cousins might simply have tried the throw in practice to see if it’s one he could make in a game. I say that because it’s hard to believe he’d make such a risky flick given the practice situation: offense protecting a lead in the final 4 minutes.

Overall, Cousins continues to prove he is physically capable of quarterbacking the offense. Growing mentally is an ongoing process, as expected. He faces high expectations for his preseason play after what he accomplished as a rookie.

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ILB London Fletcher’s diving interception was a fantastic read and display of athleticism for any player, let alone a 38-year-old, 15-year veteran at a voluntary practice. This is why Fletcher is elite, and it’s a big part of why he made it as an undrafted free agent. Statistics and game accomplishments will never, ever, ever fully depict his contributions to this team. His tireless passion in practice makes those around him better.

“Staying in great shape, understanding the defense inside and out, leading by example—that’s why you want guys like that on your football team,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “If they don’t do that in the offseason, that means they’re probably going downhill very quickly. The great ones I’ve been around, Jerry Rice was there at 40 years old and he was the first guy there and last guy to leave, one of the reasons why he played so long.”

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Veteran RB Keiland Williams, to me, is one of the more intriguing unsung players competing for a roster spot because he can play special teams and catch the ball.

Mike Shanahan signed him in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of LSU and then brought him back last October. Williams played for Washington in nine games mostly on special teams last season. His greatest highlight might have been a key block on CB Richard Crawford’s overtime punt return in the comeback victory over Baltimore last December. 

The running backs depth chart is crowded. Alfred Morris is a lock to make the team. Beyond him, there’s Evan Royster, Roy Helu Jr. and draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. The Redskins like Helu and Thompson’s big play ability, but Williams is the best special teams contributor of the bunch. It’ll be interesting to see what type of opportunity he gets to run the ball during the preseason.

During team drills Thursday, he made an elusive, quick lateral move in the hole on one run. He also picked up CB David Amerson’s blitz on a passing play. Blitz pick-up is significantly less compelling during OTAs when players aren’t hitting, but Williams at least knew his responsibility, which is a major element of that aspect of the game.

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CB DeAngelo Hall sported a tinted visor on his facemask. Those look so cool, but I thought the league banned them because they can prevent trainers from seeing the pupils of players being checked for a concussion. I’ll have to ask him about such critical matters at minicamp.

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CB E.J. Biggers’ length helps him be physical against slot receivers and slow their dreaded two-way go. He jammed WR Santana Moss on one pass play and disrupted the timing of Moss’ out route. Biggers is 6-0; Moss is listed at 5-10.

I focus more on the skill players during OTAs because they’re in space, and there’s only so much one can glean from linemen who aren’t in pads. With that in mind, my biggest takeaway from the three practices media attended is how Biggers and CB Richard Crawford are combining physicality and speed. They’re affecting routes by disrupting timing and sometimes getting in front of passes. Those two, CBs DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and second-round rookie David Amerson seem to me like a solid quintet of corners. We’ll see whether they can all play the run.

I was down on Wilson at the end of last season (too many back-shoulder throws surrendered with him at only 5-9), but I’m eager to see how a healthy left pectoral muscle and labrum helps him.

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QB Pat White bounced a 15-yard throw intended for a receiver outside the numbers. WR Aldrick Robinson bailed him out on a high throw over the middle by jumping high to catch it. White later threw off balance into the back of a linemen against a blitz during 4-minute, end-of-game situations. Accuracy and arm strength will continue to be critical areas to monitor this preseason.

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RB Eric Kettani backed up what RBs coach Bobby Turner said Monday about his good hands. He caught a pass over his back shoulder in the flat and smoothly turned upfield for more yards.

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I praised WR Leonard Hankersonin this space last week for completing a catch before making a move for additional yards. Well, he dropped a touchdown from QB Kirk Cousins during end-game situation drills.

Cousins made a great secondary read of Hankerson slanting open to the goal post from the left. The throw into the end zone was chest high. Hankerson backhanded it and dropped it. I’m not sure if he would have caught it with his hands turned to the forehand. Either way, no excuse. For Hankerson, consistency will lead to opportunities.

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It’s often frustrating to watch practice in which players aren’t wearing pads because it’s not a true indication of how the game will be played. That was the case on one particular pass play.

TE Niles Paul jumped to catch a high pass in the end zone (I didn’t note who threw it). It was a brilliant catch, no doubt. Paul used his body to shield S Bacarri Rambo. I wonder, though, if Rambo were wearing pads and allowed to hit, if he would have broken Paul in half. Paul’s ribs were completely exposed on the high throw. We’ll have to wait until preseason games to see whether Rambo can separate the receiver from the ball on such plays.

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K Kai Forbath kicked the one kickoff I saw at least five yards deep in the end zone. He has vowed to improve on his short kickoffs from last season.

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My favorite moment of practice was a diving catch WR Aldrick Robinson made in the back of the end zone over CB Richard Crawford. It was a bit of a broken play (possibly a sack in a game situation), but the quarterback heaved the ball up, and Robinson dove to catch it in the back of the end zone near the group of defensive backs who were watching practice.

I couldn’t tell whether Robinson was in bounds, but Robinson had three referees—S Brandon Meriweather, CB Josh Wilson and CB Chase Minnifield—who, in no uncertain terms, told him he was out. The three injured DBs waved incomplete, rubbed it in and laughed as Robinson picked himself off the ground. Eventually, CB DeAngelo Hall came over to congratulate him for his effort, but he did not concede the completion.

…that’s it for voluntary spring practices. The Redskins have a four-day mandatory minicamp next week before their extended vacation.

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