The Washington Times - May 24, 2013, 12:09PM

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Here are few observations and thoughts from Thursday’s practice, which was the Redskins’ third of 10 organized team activities this spring.

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Please keep in mind OTAs focus on learning and installation, and 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 (right knee) appeared relatively spry when throwing on the side to receivers. He wore a bulky plastic brace similar to the one he wore after injuring his lateral collateral ligament against Baltimore last December. (It might have been the exact same brace, but I’m not sure.)

He planted on his right leg and drove the ball well, considering he’s only four months and two weeks out of surgery. He smoothly decelerated and accelerated on dropbacks that simulated the staggered timing required to throw to receivers running double move routes. After several handoffs, he rolled to the sideline to simulate a bootleg, and he strode fairly smoothly.

“As far as running and cutting, you guys saw me handing the ball off and doing boots and running out of that,” he said. “That’s kind of running and cutting, so Larry [Hess, head athletic trainer] kind of tells me not to do that. I keep it limited so that I’m not putting him in jeopardy, putting myself in jeopardy or the team in jeopardy. It’s more of just organized, ‘Hey, I want you to sprint here. I want you to run to the right, cut to the left’—those types of things. That’s those next milestones that when he feels comfortable and Dr. Andrews clears me and the docs clear me to do that stuff, I’ll be fine.”

The comparison that came to my mind watching Griffin practice was he appeared similar to how he did in practices last December after the LCL injury. He looked well enough to play, but you could tell he’s not 100 percent. But considering how he’s barely more than halfway into the eight-month recovery period, it’s no surprise he is now targeting training camp for his return.

Make no mistake: The Redskins intended for Griffin’s 20-minute throwing session Thursday to be a showcase. They allowed reporters to live tweet it. They wanted all the cameras on him. They wanted ESPN to show it live on SportsCenter. Griffin obviously is progressing well, and they want fans and the rest of the league to know it. The outside world now understands why the Redskins are so optimistic about Griffin’s recovery and immediate future. And after seeing Griffin work, I’m buying in even more.

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Griffin faced all the necessary questions in his press conference. For a recap of the highlights, click here.

For me, the greatest revelation was his hope to be cleared for the start of training camp July 25. In the winter, I believed Griffin likely would begin camp on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list. That seems significantly less likely now.

As Griffin said, he doesn’t need to practice every day this summer. But it would help him and the team for him to be present on the field and, at the very least, practicing on the side as he did Thursday. He wouldn’t be able to do that if he’s on the PUP list.

The benefit to putting Griffin on PUP would be to open up another roster spot, but whatever player filled that spot would not be more valuable than having Griffin at practice.

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The most interesting portion of Griffin’s press conference centered on his feelings about how he was used last year.

Here was Griffin’s exchange with a reporter:

Q: “Were you happy with the way they used you last year?”

RG3: “I was happy with the wins that we had, the way we came out through the season and the adversity that we faced being 3-6, finishing 10-6, getting to the playoffs, winning the division. I think all those things are the building blocks, and now it’s just about continuing to make that relationship grow together so we can sprout up into a nice beautiful tree.”

Q: “So, to answer the question about the way you were used, did you have a problem with it?”

RG3: “Nah, I didn’t have a problem with it.”

….as you can see, Griffin did not answer affirmatively at first. The question was straightforward and did not require clarification. He chose to dodge it. Griffin is very smart, so that didn’t happen by accident.

Considering that and a few other indications, it’s apparent Griffin and Shanahan had some level of discord, however minor, to resolve at the end of last season. Would that have been the case if Griffin finished the season healthy and without what he called the “bad taste” left by the knee injury? We’ll never know.

In discussing possible changes to the offense, Griffin said: “It’s more we’ve just got to go out there and be united as a team and united as a staff to go out there and be successful.” He brought up unity without being solicited.

Griffin also said Thursday: “Me and Mike hashed everything out.” Although I hesitate to read into his use of the term “hash out” because a reporter fed that to him in the question, and it’s possible Griffin just regurgitated it.

Ultimately, Griffin went on to say his relationship with the coaching staff is not in need of repair. I believe that. Griffin and coach Mike Shanahan share the same goal: winning. And they both know Griffin must be healthy and on the field to achieve that goal.

Both sides can do more to ensure Griffin’s health. He must be more inclined to slide and throw the ball away, and Shanahan can protect him with play calling and game planning. But the zone read should be part of the Redskins’ offense because it slows defenses.

“The zone read probably gave Robert more time in the pocket than anything else you can do in the National Football League,” Shanahan said. “Where Robert did get hurt was dropping back and doing a couple of scrambles. That’s probably one of the toughest situations for a quarterback is to drop back, look downfield, know when to scramble, know when to slide. It’s just tough. I think every year you get better and better. But we’re going to try to protect Robert as much as we can. We’re going to let him do the things that we think he does the best and hopefully it will be as productive.”

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Let’s move on to the actual practice. Reed Doughty and Jordan Pugh played strong and free safety, respectively, with the first unit while SS Brandon Meriweather continued his rehabilitation from right ACL surgery. I’m interested to see whether defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will rotate those three to start the regular season, perhaps pairing Doughty with Meriweather in running situations and using Pugh with Meriweather against sub packages.

Pugh’s speed provides more value in the deep secondary in pass defense, but he has to prove he can tackle and take proper angles, as all the safeties must in their competition for playing time. Pugh was noticeably hard on himself during Thursday’s practice when he took too narrow of an angle coming down toward the line of scrimmage on a running play and lost contain.

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Roddrick Muckelroy, not Bryan Kehl, replaced London Fletcher (elbow, ankle) at inside linebacker with the first string. He broke up a short seam pass QB Kirk Cousins intended for FB Darrel Young by reading it and jumping it. The timing wasn’t right for an interception, but he batted it down.

The Redskins don’t have much established depth at ILB. Second-year ILB Keenan Robinson, who’s working back from pectoral surgery, has only 11 games of NFL experience and even fewer on defense. Monitoring the undrafted free agent ILBs in camp will be worthwhile.

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Free agent CB E.J. Biggers played fast with nimble feet in the slot on one passing play. He jammed WR Leonard Hankerson, riding him toward the sideline for two steps, then quickly stopped his feet, opened his hips and drove back inside to cover WR Santana Moss, who lined up stacked behind Hankerson. Biggers was physical and smooth. He appears fast for a 6-foot-0 corner.

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CB David Amerson intercepted QB Rex Grossman. The play was strung out, and I’m not convinced Grossman would’ve attempted the pass in a game situation. But this was practice, and the Rex let it rip.

Amerson did what he did best at N.C. State: drive on balls in front of him that he can anticipate. He jumped in front of the intended receiver and caught the ball at eye level, showing off his good hands and ball skills.

WR Aldrick Robinson ran past Amerson deep a couple plays later, and Grossman got his revenge with a long completion. Robinson is one of the fastest players on the team. Amerson will have to prove he can run with such speedy receivers and defend with his back to the line of scrimmage.

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Brian Orakpo’s return to ROLB from his left pectoral injury previewed one of my favorite parts of training camp: watching him rush the passer against LT Trent Williams. The one pass play on which I watched the two Pro Bowlers match up, Orakpo stepped hard outside and tried to rush inside. Williams redirected smoothly, as he usually does when his knees/ankles are healthy, and prevented Orakpo from getting inside.

Orakpo sported a new, rugged facemask. There were more horizontal bars than usual, and they were spaced closely together. It looked a lot this one Stephen Bowen wears. I believe Orakpo also wore a visor shield.

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Speaking of injuries, we learned WR Pierre Garcon and CB Josh Wilson each had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in one of his shoulders. More on that here.

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Rookie S Phillip Thomas lasted until the fourth round partly because he lacks elite speed. TE Niles Paul outran him down the seam on a wheel route that resulted in a long completion. Later, WR Leonard Hankerson ran past Thomas on a deep post as Thomas opened up, turned his back to the line of scrimmage and tried to accelerate.

Thomas’ instincts helped compensate for speed in college, and that should become more apparent as he learns the Redskins defense and doesn’t have to think so much.

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QB Pat White must drive his throws more strongly if he’s going to succeed in returning to the NFL as a quarterback.

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My two favorite moments from practice involved quarterbacks.

1. Rex Grossman kept the ball on a read option play. He turned the corner and got into the secondary. Keep in mind there was no contact permitted. So Grossman juked and faked on the second level, then started high stepping and spiked the ball. Classic.

2. Later, Kirk Cousins scrambled to the left sideline on a passing play. S Phillip Thomas chased him down at the boundary. After Cousins got out of bounds, he muttered to himself: “That was scary.”

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Music bumped from speakers throughout the entire practice. The mix featured Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Wayne, Birdman, Wale, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and more. The music was almost exclusively hip-hop.

As players trickled off the field, Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” played. When a reporter told Trent Williams they were playing his request, he quipped it was Robert Griffin III’s weak playlist.