ASHBURN — The cards are shuffled and then distributed around the table to each of the four men sitting on the edge of lounge chairs inside the Redskins’ locker room. The players glance at their hands before rapidly throwing their card of choice into the pile. On this particular afternoon, cornerback Quinton Dunbar is fired up — yelling in celebration as he and teammate Jimmy Moreland are cleaning up against Greg Stroman and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
After every practice, the four cornerbacks participate in a competitive game of spades. Money, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t wagered.
But for a rookie like Moreland, it’s a good way to adjust to life in the NFL.
“It’s just being around the fellas,” Moreland said. “We need something to do other than just talking about football. We do this instead.”
The fact that Moreland, however, is just now adapting to the NFL isn’t what the seventh-round pick out of James Madison necessarily expected.
Celebrating his 24th birthday Monday, Moreland admitted to reporters he didn’t imagine spending this day this way. Sure, Moreland is living a childhood dream. But for this to be his first birthday in the league? At this age?
“I thought I would be here much quicker,” Moreland said.
Moreland may not have had an ideal path to the NFL, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback is making up for lost time. Entering Washington’s fourth preseason game, Moreland is already a lock to make the 53-man roster. And with third-year corner Fabian Moreau out for the time being with an ankle injury, Moreland has a chance to make his case as the starting nickel corner.
The Redskins have not revealed how much time Moreau could miss, but the UCLA product is using a medical scooter and has a cast around his leg. Moreau, too, is set to visit a specialist Tuesday to determine if he’ll be available for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
If he’s not able to suit up, Moreland could get the nod — given he played in Moreau’s spot in last week’s win at Atlanta. And if he impresses, would the Redskins stick with the change?
Moreland, though, tried to downplay the idea of taking over his teammate’s role.
“It’s really just what he left off, I pick up,” Moreland said. “We all expect each other to be great. We all expect to do what’s right to when we get in the game.”
For Moreland to be seriously considered with the first team, he’ll have to prove he can cover from the inside. At James Madison, Moreland was primarily an outside corner. Moreland said the biggest difference is being aware of having more help from the near-by safety.
Because of his size, most draft experts thought Moreland would be best-suited on the inside. The Redskins viewed Moreland as capable of playing either spot, but initially had wondered if he could be physical enough in games. In the preseason, Moreland has addressed those concerns — using his physicality to make series-changing hits.
In Washington’s first preseason game, for instance, Moreland forced two fumbles, defended three passes and had six tackles. More recently, he had two tackles in Atlanta.
“You can talk about his size all you want to, but at the end of the day he’s proven to be one of our most physical defensive backs,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He plays the run very well. Very good tackler, very physical tackler, forced two fumbles already.
“We’ve just got to get him the reps. He’s young.”
Despite potentially being an opening week starter, Moreland still expects to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens.
If he does, Moreland has one specific goal in mind: Grab an interception.
Moreland prides himself in being able to make plays. He set a school-record with 18 career interceptions and impressed throughout OTAs and training camp by picking off Washington’s quarterbacks consistently. But he has yet to do so in a game.
“Every game, everyone keeps (saying), ‘You gonna get a pick? You gonna get a pick?’” Moreland said with a smile. “Hopefully, I can get a pick this game.”