- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Don’t cheer all at once: the NFL offseason has entered “Phase 3.”

The Washington Redskins began Tuesday the next portion of OTAs — where teams can go beyond conditioning to finally start participating in 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

In other words, football — minus the contact — can happen.

The Redskins will have three sessions of OTAs, or organized team activities, before the team’s veteran minicamp on June 12. Wednesday’s session is open to the media, providing a first look at the 2018 Redskins.

Here are things to look out for:

Alex Smith’s connection with his receivers

After being traded from the Kansas City Chiefs in March, new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith will need time to build chemistry with his wideouts. Practicing against a defense will help. Smith, especially, will have to get used to wide receivers Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson, the latter of whom signed a five-year, $40 million deal in free agency.

Running back rotation:

Yes, “depth charts” during OTAs are meaningless, but the Redskins have so many running backs that it will be interesting to see how coach Jay Gruden divides reps. There will, rightfully, be a lot of attention on second-rounder Derrius Guice, but Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Kapri Bibbs will look to improve their stock. Washington’s run game ranked 28th in 2017.

No shows:

It’s important to remember these workouts are voluntary. That being said, around the NFL, there’s extra attention on the players who don’t show up. Look at the circus around Tom Brady’s absence in New England.

Attendance will be taken Wednesday, and the Redskins will already be without names like Jordan Reed, Trent Williams and Morgan Moses — who are all recovering from injuries suffered last season.

Can the defense continue to make strides:

The Redskins defense improved around a young core in 2017, surprisingly finishing 11th in defensive DVOA, a metric that judges efficiency. A lot of those pieces are back, and they added first-rounder Daron Payne and fifth-rounder Tim Settle to bolster the defensive line. Guys aren’t allowed to hit this time of year, though guys can show flashes of what they’ll become. For example, cornerback Kendall Fuller, who was traded to the Chiefs in the Smith deal, constantly stood out during OTAs and went on to have an excellent season.

Still, beware of the offseason stars:

For every Kendall Fuller, there’s a Terrelle Pryor: a star in the making until he underwhelmed on game days. It can become easy to fall for guys who shine without pads. Don’t give into the hype. Remember, practically every player will say they are in the best shape of their lives. Be cautious of the dazzling highlights uploaded on Twitter (shameless self-plug: @Matthew_Paras).

It’s okay to have fun — just keep those expectations measured. These are the Redskins, after all.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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