ASHBURN — Terry McLaurin sprinted over from the sideline, almost as fast as running back J.D. McKissic had just burned defensive end Chase Young on a 30-yard wheel route that caused both units to erupt.
The Washington wide receiver gleefully took joy that Young, one of the team’s biggest trash talkers, couldn’t back up his words. For once, anyway.
“I thought you said you were faster, Chase!” McLaurin said. “I thought you said you were faster!”
McLaurin’s taunt isn’t a sign of bad blood between teammates. Rather, that exchange has been the norm for a spirited training camp — one that was particularly energized Tuesday, when the Burgundy-and-Gold put on pads for the first time.
Coaches and players have tended to downplay the theatrics, but the verbal sparring has been a constant over the first week of practices. It has even the normally mild-mannered McLaurin eager to engage.
And for the uninitiated, for those not quite used to Washington’s swagger, it normally starts with the dudes upfront: Young and Montez Sweat.
“They talk a little bit,” cornerback William Jackson III said. “And I love that.”
A little bit?
“I’m exaggerating,” he said. “They talk a lot.”
The tauntings come before and after plays. When Sweat broke up a pass Tuesday targeted for McKissic, the third-year pass rusher yelled “the [expletive] you talking about!” and shook his head toward the running back. No one should confuse Sweat’s barbs for Muhammad Ali — they aren’t particularly creative — but they seem to fire up the rest of the defense.
Young has the same impact. Known for roaming the sideline when he’s not in on a play, Young barks can be heard all throughout practice. He celebrates would-be sacks, even though contact with the quarterback is not permitted in practice. He’s just as vocal about the sacks he doesn’t get, or in Tuesday’s case, the ones that specifically aren’t called.
During a heated two-minute drill, the defense had backed up the first-team offense all the way to fourth-and 20 — only for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to launch a rocket to the end zone for tight Logan Thomas to box out Jackson and come down with it.
The terrific catch, celebrated by the offense, was protested by Young: He argued that he “sacked” Fitzpatrick, who was touched before scrambling outside to keep the play alive.
“I touched him!” Young yelled. “It was a sack. A sack!”
Alas, Young’s pleas went nowhere.
The defense, though, could have one last laugh. Later in the same drill, with the third team on the field, cornerback Danny Johnson picked off quarterback Steven Montez in the end zone to cap off the morning. The defenders rushed over to pile on Johnson, who was swarmed the way walk-off home run hitters are greeted at the mound.
Coach Ron Rivera said he doesn’t mind the trash talk as long as it doesn’t cross a line. Earlier this week, he had to speak to Sweat after the defensive end pushed McKissic to the ground after a play; Sweat was frustrated he had just been beaten on a play. He said the banter, however, is in an NFL’s player “nature” — and has been part of every team he’s been on.
“If it gets under a guy’s skin, that gets me concerned because now all of a sudden, you’re out there in the heat of battle and a guy is getting into your head,” Rivera said. “It becomes a personal battle as opposed to a team battle. That’s kind of what happens. That’s them. You’ve got to be careful with that fine line as well.”
Sweat, that McKissic play aside, hasn’t seemed to lose his cool. In fact, a funny thing happened when Fitzpatrick completed his bomb down the field to Thomas — Sweat joined the offense in celebration. He grabbed and hugged the parade of offensive players who stormed over, jumping up and down with them.
“We’re all on the same team,” Sweat was overheard saying.