RICHMOND — The dismantling of the cavernous white merchandise tent began Sunday evening, and shortly after dawn on Monday, all that remained near the public entrance to the fields at the Washington Redskins’ training camp were two large, black tarps folded up neatly in that spot.
Stagehands walked around the premises, lifting the steel barriers that formed the walkways around the field. Two equipment managers rolled a black locker across a 30-foot path of crushed gravel, struggling to push it under the weight of its contents. A flat-bed truck and an empty semi waited outside the front gate, ready to haul all manners of gear two hours north to Redskins Park.
For a little over an hour on Monday morning, the Redskins went through the motions in a subdued practice, making it clear that home is where their hearts were. Once they left the practice fields for the last time, they would shower and change out of their jerseys and shorts and head back to the hotel, finally checking out after 19 days.
“I think guys are ready to get back home, ready to get back and see their families and whatnot and get back to their beds,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said.
The transition back to Ashburn doesn’t mean the work is over. Players are due to report to the team’s recently expanded full-time facility by noon on Tuesday, with a practice scheduled for later that afternoon. The second preseason game, against the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field, will be played on Thursday. A more normal routine will set in the following week.
Washington’s third year of training camp may have been successful in some regards, but it will likely be remembered more for the pitfalls. A series of fights during a scrimmage with the Houston Texans on Aug. 8 culminated in an all-out brawl that became a cable television attraction. Several players sustained injuries that will leave them unavailable to participate in the preseason, and others will miss time during the regular season as well.
Then there were the crowds. An average of 6,222 people attended the Redskins’ training camp practices this year, according to the team — a number that is almost half of what the Redskins drew last year.
The total attendance for the 13 days was 80,888, which was a significant drop-off from the 167,749 fans who attended 15 days of practice in 2014. The Redskins drew 165,571 to their practices in 2013, the first year they moved the camp to Richmond.
Because practices are free to the public, the team counts anyone who walks through the main gate — even if they do so for each session, or multiple times — as an individual attendee.
The scrimmage against the Texans drew 19,450 people for the largest crowd of training camp. The smallest crowd was on the first day, July 30, when 3,341 people were counted. Last year, 3,000 people attended opening day, but it rained steadily through the morning session and the afternoon session was canceled.
“I think the first year we had some great crowds because it was brand new,” president Bruce Allen said on Monday. “We had just drafted Robert [Griffin III]. There was a thrill to see that. When you look at our attendance league-wide, we’re probably in the top five in attendance in the league, but I think it has a little to do with our performance of 4-12 last year.”
That finish meant that the Redskins had a significant amount of work to accomplish during training camp, with the rampant retooling of the defense among the top priorities. Coach Jay Gruden, entering his second season, praised his players’ effort over the past three weeks, noting on Monday that they were always willing to compete and “learned a lot of football.”
“I think overall, it was a great experience, and I think we came together a little bit more as a football team,” Gruden said. “That’s what you want to get out of these camps. You want to get better fundamentally and get your scheme taught and find out your best players, and then, obviously, you want to come together as a football team, and I think we did that.”
In contrast with previous days, the Redskins practiced Monday morning with only a bevy of volunteers who assisted with the team’s operations during training camp in attendance. Once the session ended, marked by four quick yelps of an air horn before a drawn-out fifth blast, the volunteers lined the drill field separating the main practice fields from the facility, and players streamed through, one by one, thanking them for their efforts.
Kerrigan, quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris and outside linebacker Junior Galette, who signed with the team on the second day of training camp, were the last four players signing autographs and taking photos with the volunteers.
Inside the building, the urgency to leave was apparent. Gruden’s post-practice press conference lasted eight minutes, and after the final answer was given, he walked off the platform and turned at the threshold of the media workroom, eager to depart the facility and make his way back home.
“See ya!” Gruden yelled, then darted out of sight.