- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2014

RICHMOND -Gabe Miller knew what he had to do before he even heard the whistle.

Lined up 20 yards away from tight end Ted Bolser, the Washington Redskins outside linebacker’s task was simple: Do not let Bolser across the goal line.

As the rookie charged, Miller sized him up. Halfway across the turf, with his fellow defensive special-teamers behind him, the offensive corps on the opposite side and assorted other players craning their necks to witness the carnage, Miller hit Bolser so hard his helmet popped off.

He then dragged Bolser down from behind, pulling on him with his right arm, to prevent the touchdown and win the drill.

“You put the pads on, you expect a physical day,” Miller said later, his lips caked in dried blood and scratches framing his chin. “Coming out right away and waking yourself up with a hit it sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

The Redskins donned full pads Monday for their fifth day of training camp, and, in contrast to four years under previous coach Mike Shanahan, current coach Jay Gruden permitted them to get particularly frisky.

After Miller’s takedown on Bolser, rookie free safety Ross Madison ended the drill with another helmet-jarring hit, this time on rookie wide receiver Cody Hoffman. Later, Bolser and cornerback Chase Minnifield scuffled during 11-on-11s, while wide receiver Andre Roberts and cornerback Peyton Thompson had to be held apart following a shoving match.

There was plenty of trash talk and shouting. And, of course, there were a significant number of hits.

“That’s where the game is won,” Bolser said. “If you don’t like hitting, it’s not for you especially at this level of football.”

Once the Redskins adjusted their practice plan for Monday, dropping the hour-long afternoon walkthrough in advance of their first day off Tuesday, a long, physical practice seemed to be a given. It would be an opportunity for coaches to better evaluate their players, especially at positions where hitting or being hit is a requirement.

Players treated themselves to just that, not so much walking off the field two and a half hours later as they did shuffle toward the cold tubs and the athletic training room. Two did not survive; wide receiver Pierre Garon strained a hamstring and will be day-to-day, Gruden said, while cornerback Courtney Bridget will need an MRI to determine the extent of a shoulder injury.

“There’s a little chippiness, but we want to be a physical football team, offensively and defensively,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who, despite the changes, was still off limits to tacklers. “They know it all starts in the trenches. Everyone’s trying to make this team right now, myself included, so it’s not about, ‘Hey, don’t hit me, don’t hit me.’ Everybody’s out here trying to be physical and make sure they’re going to do everything they can to make that team and show coach that they should be here.”

The adaptation of the new collective bargaining agreement in 2011 essentially put an end to the grueling, smash-mouth two-a-days that became synonymous with the term “training camp.”

Now, players are allowed to practice for a maximum of four hours each day, and if two practices are held, one must be a walkthrough a session that, as its name suggests, is nothing more than players in jerseys and shorts walking through plays.

Free safety Ryan Clark suggested that the greater restrictions on contact during training camp is what has led to the decrease in ability for players to tackle as the preseason rolls on. The 34-year-old Clark, in his 13th season, acknowledged that he played a role in outlawing the practices of yore as Pittsburgh’s player representative in 2011.

“I think it’s good that we get in pads,” Clark said. “Physicality wins football games. We have to get used to being physical. We have to get used to hitting. The guys up front, whether it’s blocking or fitting in blocks, in the secondary, fitting up running backs, fitting up receivers, so it’s good that we get opportunities to be in pads.

“These kids because I can call them kids now they’re spoiled. They were in college systems where you practice one time a day. I remember being in the NFL where we practiced in pads two times a day. And, you know, if you look at the game and the deterioration of tackling now, that may be part of it. But as many times as you can get in pads, as many times Coach Gruden can give us those opportunities to see things from that perspective, that can really help this team.”

After Monday, those opportunities may be few and far between. Gruden said he doesn’t anticipate having the players don full pads until the New England Patriots arrive Aug. 4 for three consecutive days of practice leading to the preseason opener between the teams on Aug. 7.

“When it’s live tackling, you get a good feel for some of these young guys and that’s what it’s all about,” Gruden said.

That was the hope for Minnifield, who had no hard feelings toward Bolser or wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr., another player he scuffled with on Monday. Football, he said, is meant to be competitive. Monday’s practice, he said, was fun.

“As much as we can simulate live and not get hurt and nobody get injured, the better off we’ll be when the live action really comes,” Minnifield said.

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