- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011


And so it began, another set of voluntary workouts for Washington Redskins players who were inclined to show up. Roughly 30 did so Tuesday morning, dressed in assorted T-shirts and shorts as they straggled onto a field in Northern Virginia. Inside linebacker London Fletcher was a conspicuous latecomer, arriving after the players had gone through warm-ups and split into their position groups.

But as a team leader and one of the main organizers, Fletcher wasted little time in running the defense through its drills.

With a play sheet in his hand, pointing and gesturing as he called out coverages, Fletcher looked very much like a coach-in-waiting. Entering his 14th season — assuming there’ll be one this year — he gives more than he gets from these informal gatherings. The same is true for outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Though he doesn’t have nearly Fletcher’s length of service, Orakpo isn’t benefiting as much someone like first-round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan.

“It’s something to do,” Orakpo said while walking toward the field. “Get together with the guys and get used to calling plays. It’s mental as much as anything.”

That’s easy for him say after making the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons. But for players such as Lorenzo Alexander, the workouts provide a valuable opportunity to learn the new position (inside linebacker) he might move to, which would make room for Kerrigan.

“This is getting me live reps outside of looking at the playbook,” Alexander said. “It’s totally different when you get on the field and have people moving, and you have to make adjustments on the run. And it’s definitely good for knocking off all the mental rust as far as playing outside linebacker as well.”

On the physical side, there’s a clear benefit in the quarterbacks and wide receivers getting used to each other. John Beck and Rex Grossman took turns throwing to targets that included Malcolm Kelly, Brandon Banks and rookies Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson. During position drills, Kelly made a sweet one-handed grab on an out pattern. In 11-on-11 work, Robinson outwrestled cornerback Kevin Barnes for a ball on a crossing route before turning upfield.

But there were problems in identifying eligible receivers when the offense and defense came together. As Kelly made his way back to the huddle after one play, Beck apologized for not getting him the ball. “There are a lot of black shirts out there,” he explained.

Maybe they should go shirts and skins next time.

That won’t be a problem once the NFL lockout ends and the players return to working out in different-colored jerseys. Another benefit will be a bevy of coaches and filmed practice sessions to be critiqued afterward. Showing more of his impressive initiative, Beck got a head start on the last item by securing some video equipment and someone to use it Tuesday.

“I just have to see if the thing recorded,” he said when the session ended, about 80 minutes after it began. “Hopefully it worked.”

It’s hard to tell exactly how beneficial these gatherings are, although doing something as a unit has to beat doing nothing at all. Building camaraderie and team chemistry certainly can’t hurt … as long as no one gets hurt in the process. While the risk is always present, the players try to minimize it by going — according to Orakpo — “about 60 percent of full speed.”

“Guys don’t want to be injured out here,” Alexander said. “Nobody’s covered. You’re competitive, but you’re smart at the same time. You’re not going to win a starting job out here.”

Don’t tell that to Beck. If the first steps to being a starter are looking, acting and playing like one, he gets check marks on all three. Now he just has to carry it over to official workouts, drills and practices, which will be a far cry from these affairs.

“You can’t fake something that’s real, that you’ve been doing your entire life,” Banks said. “But you still try to come out here and imitate it and get as close as you can to a real-life situation at the facility or on the football field. I think we’re moving forward and getting some of kind progress.”

Great, although the only type of progress that concerns at the moment is in the negotiating room.

Unfortunately, until that situation is resolved, these voluntary workouts are all we’ve got.

Whatever they’re worth.

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