RICHMOND — After nearly three weeks of training camp and hours spent standing on the sidelines in between the two main practice fields at the Redskins facility in Richmond, Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel, felt satisfied with his product.
“You know,” Williams said. “I still feel the same way as when I came here that this roster is still the best roster that I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And I know some people that [were] here last year are not here, but I do feel like we helped ourselves in a lot of different areas.”
When the Redskins and Williams went down to Richmond in late July, that roster was just a piece of paper. Now, the names on that piece of paper have a body of work from this summer to go along with it. Several questions have been answered, though some important ones remain.
Defense was the main question at the start of camp but, surprisingly, injuries and some rust prevented the offense from providing a clear picture of what the Redskins will look like in September. Tight end Jordan Reed (toe), receiver Jamison Crowder (hamstring) and receiver Josh Doctson (hamstring) have all missed significant time, denying quarterback Kirk Cousins three of his top targets.
The expectation was that, with more reps, Cousins could use that time to develop a rapport with receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. The two have made tantalizing progress, but still have a ways to go.
“They’re still in that process really,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Sunday. “It’s not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination.”
Pryor had the highlight catch of training camp, a one-handed, back-of-the-endzone, how-did-he-do that grab which he followed up with a flex of his muscles and a bow to the awestruck crowd. The pass Pryor caught, though, was from backup Colt McCoy.
The wide receiver who made plays most consistently in Richmond was Ryan Grant. Had Doctson stayed healthy, it would have been him.
Pryor is still developing as a receiver after making the switch from quarterback last season. Overall, he’s remarkably polished for someone so new at a position. One of the areas Pryor says he’s still working on is staying tighter to his defenders. Pryor is so physically gifted that cornerbacks often have more success against him by gambling and trying to guess his routes. They can’t beat him one-on-one without starting in an advantaged position, so it’s better to guess right sometimes and wrong other times than try to stay with him and lose every time.
The longer Pryor waits on a route before trying to get separation, though, the more precise his timing with Cousins must be. That timing wasn’t crisp on the first play from scrimmage in the first preseason game, where Cousins threw too high over the middle and Pryor wasn’t able to go up and get it. It’s just one play, but the two have acknowledged that they have a ways to go.
The Redskins defense, conversely, has done enough to show it should be better this year than it was last year.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky continues to shuffle his preferred alignments, since several players proved themselves during training camp. Linebacker Zach Brown has the Redskins trying to figure out how to get him on the field as much as possible, given that they also have established inside linebackers Will Compton and Mason Foster to find time for. D.J. Swearinger has made a clear impact at safety.
Draft picks, too, have made good impressions. It’s far too early to anoint any of the 2017 picks, except to say that they’re giving the coaching staff and personnel people some difficult decisions to make.
First-round pick Jonathan Allen and second-round pick Ryan Anderson both look like they can be impact players on defense this year, but the later-round picks have also made sure coaches noticed them. Fifth-round tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, sixth-round center Chase Roullier, sixth-round receiver Robert Davis, seventh-round cornerback Joshua Holsey and seventh-round linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons are all in the conversation to make the team. (Third- and fourth-round picks Fabian Moreau and Montae Nicholson just started practicing fully on Saturday.)
The question comes down to the numbers. Davis could find a roster spot over free agent acquisition Brian Quick, but could also land on the practice squad. Davis came from Georgia State and was scouted by Kyle Smith, the Redskins newly-promoted college scouting director, who handled players from the Southeast last year. One of the things Smith loved in Davis was his special teams potential, which should help him.
“He has shown the ability to play big,” Gruden said.
Right now, the Redskins just want to see more polish from Davis. He needs more precision in his route-running, having broken off his routes a little too early on a couple plays in Baltimore. He’s a willing blocker, though, and did well enough at X receiver, where the Redskins started him off, that Davis has been able to take on more responsibility by moving around.
“I think he’s a guy that is just going to steadily progress and get better and better,” Gruden said.
Roullier should make the team as the backup center. It seems as though Sprinkle has done enough to convince the Redskins to keep him as a fourth tight end on the roster, along with Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul, who has had an excellent training camp showing and benefits from his versatility.
“He’s got deceptive speed,” Gruden said of Sprinkle, “but you really like him as an in-line blocker.”
Tight end wasn’t a need heading into the draft, but the Redskins had a good grade on Sprinkle, good enough so that when he was still available with the No. 17 pick in the fifth round, they pounced.
“Being that he was there and that position is hard to find, I thought it was important to grab one,” Gruden said. “So we made a good call there and he’s going to be around for a while.”
The Redskins still have three preseason games to go before Week 1 against Philadelphia. More will become clear before then. For now, though, the team leaves Richmond with a better understanding of its defense and some of its young talent than it had several weeks ago, but is still waiting to see the starting offense work on the field.