- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2021

ASHBURN — There were so many factors that went into Washington‘s first passing play in last preseason week’s game against the New England Patriots.

There was Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s patience, in letting the play develop for a full three or so seconds so that he could read the coverage.

Then, receiver Terry McLaurin‘s release from the line of scrimmage that shook him free from the defender and created separation.

Finally, there was the growing connection between the two players that informed how Fitzpatrick rifled the ball to the middle of the field before McLaurin got there — a chemistry that told the quarterback his receiver would be in the right spot at the right moment to make the catch.

The end result: A 22-yard gain. 

“Some of it is hard to put into words because it’s so second nature at this point,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “We practice out here so much and throw him so many of those balls that it just becomes second nature between me and him, putting it in the right spot and knowing where he’s going to be.”

That sort of innate connection has quickly formed between Fitzpatrick and McLaurin — a promising sign for Washington, which looked to revamp its passing game this offseason by bringing in the 38-year-old gunslinger on a one-year deal. Over the course of offseason workouts and training camp, it’s become clear that Fitzpatrick has established chemistry not only with McLaurin, but with a handful of other receiving targets as well. 

In Thursday’s game, Fitzpatrick completed 5 of 8 passes, and all five completions went to three players: McLaurin, tight end Logan Thomas and slot receiver Adam Humphries. That seemed to track with how Fitzpatrick was performing in practice, with the veteran signal-caller frequently seeming to favor that trio on the field.  

Those connections are a sign that Fitzpatrick’s comfort level is growing in the offense. This will be Fitzpatrick’s 17th season and his ninth team overall, but offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s “Air Coryell”-inspired scheme is brand new for the quarterback. 

Fitzpatrick admittedly had to “play catch up” to learn the terminology, but seemed pleased with his progress ahead of Washington’s second preseason game Friday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“There’s a couple reads and throws the way they do things here that made me scratch my head at first that I totally get them and I’m on board with now,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I guess in that context, without getting too much into like the X’s and O’s, there’s definitely some of these things. 

“They look at football differently than I ever have.”

To study the offense, Fitzpatrick said he watched a lot of film of former quarterback Philip Rivers — the eight-time Pro Bowler who thrived in the same system under Norv Turner, Scott’s father. Fitzpatrick also said he had a lot of conversations with Turner, understanding that to work effectively, the two needed to put “egos to the side.”

McLaurin can tell the difference. He said Fitzpatrick‘s anticipation stands out, citing the back-shoulder throws the quarterback likes to throw to Thomas.  McLaurin noted how on the sidelines, Fitzpatrick will come up to receivers to talk through a play — even if it was a completion.

“You’re always prepared for all the situations when he’s playing quarterback,” McLaurin said, “which is very nice for everybody.” 

The goal now for Washington is for Fitzpatrick to continue to develop chemistry with the team’s other receivers. In camp, Washington prefers to regularly rotate its skill players with Fitzpatrick under center, so the former seventh-rounder can become familiar with a host of players. That means lining up rookies Dyami Brown and Dax Milne out wide, even though the pair aren’t necessarily starting receivers. 

Coach Ron Rivera sees Fitzpatrick’s trust starting to grow. He pointed to the number of plays in which Fitzpatrick will lead the receiver away from the coverage by throwing the ball well before the wideout is where he needs to be. 

Just like Fitzpatrick did with McLaurin.

“It is something that a veteran guy develops quickly and he learns to gauge a guy’s speed,” Rivera said. “He learns to gauge a guy’s ability to reach in terms of his length and that would help. That’s what helps him throw that, make that throw, plus he’s made it probably 25,000 times. So, it’s something that becomes innate after a period of time.”

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

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