- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2016

RICHMOND — The Washington Redskins held their first practice in pads on Saturday and the players were certainly excited to elevate the intensity in the third day of training camp.

The padded practices afford the coaching staff the best opportunity to evaluate players, particularly along the offensive and defensive line. Their progress is always difficult to gauge in organized team activities in the spring when contact is not allowed.

During individual pass rush drills, defensive end Stephen Paea looked explosive on several plays. Paea played in 11 games last year and dealt with back and toe injuries and was placed on injured reserve in December because of turf toe.

“I feel great,” Paea said. “When you have turf toe, it’s never going to be 100 percent. But you know getting treatment and all that, right now it’s close to 100 percent so it’s not bothering me.”

Paea’s strength has always been an asset and it showed on Saturday in the individual drills. Often times, Paea’s first punch was so quick and powerful that his opponent didn’t have time to get his hands extended in time to neutralize it.

“I’ve always envisioned myself and always been a pass rusher,” Paea said. “Gotta just use my god-given talent. It felt great to get back to that.”

The sixth-year veteran has also gained weight from last season and is listed at 310 pounds after being listed at 300.

“He’s strong and he’s quick,” said second-year tackle Takoby Cofield. “It was like he got shot out of a cannon.”

When asked for the best way to stop Paea, Cofield came up with a logical solution.

“Keep watching Trent Williams,” Cofield said.

Here are more observations from Saturday:

** There were plenty of exciting defensive plays, but perhaps none more than Trent Murphy’s interception in the first full team drill. Murphy, lined up as a defensive end in the team’s nickel package, recognized the screen pass that was intended for Jamison Crowder. Murphy slowed himself down and made an athletic play on the ball to intercept Cousins and returned it for a touchdown.

Also, Murphy gained nearly 30 pounds in the offseason to make the switch from outside linebacker to defensive end and said the “threat of power” has helped disguise his other go-to pass rush moves.

** Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has had a strong showing in training camp. Toward the end of practice, Jackson beat the secondary toward the inside during a two-minute drill and got past the safeties for a touchdown. DeAngelo Hall said that as a defense overall, they could’ve played it better. Hall added that when Jackson is on the field, the defense always has to be ready for the threat of his speed.

** The Redskins focused on special teams tackling in the early portion of practice. In one drill, coach Ben Kotwica had two players line up about 15 yards from each other. A ball carrier would run toward a defender, who had to square his body toward the ball carrier as if he was wrapping to make the tackle. Rookie Su’a Cravens showed good footwork on one attempt. In another, inside linebacker Martrell Spaight launched himself at outside linebacker Houston Bates. Kotwica emphasized the fundamentals, but Spaight and Bates both seemed to enjoy the contact.

** The first “fight” broke out midway through practice. Tight end Niles Paul caught a pass in tight coverage against Spaight and stiff-armed him to the ground. Spaight wasn’t too happy and exchanged words with Paul before the two tussled. It was pretty minor and a few minutes later, the two met on the sideline and made peace.

** One thing that’s been fun to watch the last few days: Every time kicker Dustin Hopkins attempts field goals, defensive end Chris Baker stands directly next to him and talks trash. On Saturday, Baker was particularly loud and began yelling, but Hopkins wasn’t rattled and drilled all of his tries.

“I was all in his ear screaming, but he locked in and made all of his field goals,” Baker said. “I think I get under his skin a little bit.”

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