- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 2, 2021

There’s a scene in the movie “Whiplash” when J.K. Simmons’ character, jazz instructor Terrance Fletcher, throws a chair at Andrew (Miles Teller) and then berates him for not playing drums at the right speed. “Not quite my tempo,” Fletcher says repeatedly, before exploding in anger.

During training camp last season, Ron Rivera might not have thrown any chairs, but there were several moments when the Washington coach would pause practice because he wasn’t — to put it kindly — thrilled with his team’s tempo.

Washington players adjusted as the year went along, but when the offseason hit, it was clear what Rivera wanted: More speed.

Almost all of the 10 players Washington took in the draft over the weekend are known for their ability to fly down the field. Three ran sub-4.5 40-yard dashes. 

Even more than 40 times — which some teams like the Los Angeles Rams disregard almost entirely — Washington’s draft haul popped on film, whether it was first-rounder Jamin Davis sprinting 85 yards to return a pick-six or third-rounder Dyami Brown blowing past defenders in coverage. 

“We want guys to play fast and understand that this is about an up-tempo football team,” Rivera said.

As much as Rivera appears to prioritize speed, this year’s class is also notable because the coach doesn’t seem to be in a rush to cut corners in the team’s rebuilding process.

Washington notably did not draft — or trade up — for a quarterback, even as top prospects Justin Fields and Mac Jones slid out of the top 10. The team also passed on the trio of the Day 2 prospects in Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond and Davis Mills. 

Instead, Washington used the middle rounds to fill out depth. A blocking tight end in Round 4 (John Bates). A potential special teams ace in Round 5 (Darrick Forrest). A long-snapper in Round 6 (Camaron Cheeseman).

In fact, Washington even traded up for Cheeseman — sending a 2022 fifth-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles in return for a sixth and seventh-rounder, used on the Michigan alum and Baylor defensive end William Bradley-King (No. 240).

“I like the long-snapper,” said Rivera, who was in need of one after opting not to re-sign Nick Sundberg.

Among the speed-burners Washington took, Bates is the most notable exception. He ran a 4.84 and was “not the most explosive guy” at Boise State,  general manager Martin Mayhew said. And third-rounder Benjamin St-Juste’s 4.55 ranked relatively low compared to other cornerbacks. 

But there were additions that could change Washington’s makeup on both sides of the ball. Rivera bemoaned last year that the team’s linebackers played with too much hesitation and couldn’t get downhill fast enough. 

Davis, the 19th overall pick, should help fix that. The 22-year-old’s 102 tackles were the third-most in the SEC in 2020 and he flew to the ball. Rivera noted how Davis reacted quickly once the ball was released and how he hurried between plays.

Washington’s defensive line already has game-changing speed in pass-rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Now imagine Davis exploding through the gap.

“Team speed is very important, especially on the defensive side of the ball in terms of shutting other people down, being able to cover ground in the secondary, being about to get guys on the ground,” Mayhew said. “Offensively, explosive plays by guys that have speed.”

The new guys could have the biggest impact on offense, where speedy free-agent Curtis Samuel was signed to a three-year, $34.5 million contract to give the team another deep threat and a quick release option from the slot. 

Now add in Brown — who averaged 20 yards per catch over the last two seasons at North Carolina. The 21-year-old finished his college career with 21 touchdowns: Eight were over 40 yards. 

There’s a strong likelihood that Samuel, Brown and star Terry McLaurin could take the field together. Any one of the three can torch an opposing secondary. 

“It can make us very electric,” Brown said. “I think you can compare it to the (Kansas City) Chiefs with Tyreek Hill, all their speed and all of their guys and compete with those guys and honestly be better.”

Brown might be getting ahead of himself there — Washington’s trio will have to prove itself before anyone compares them to the Chiefs’ pass catchers.

But if they resemble anything close, Washington will be thrilled.

“For us, where we are as a football team right now, we see investing in this group right now with draft picks is going to make us better fast,” Mayhew said. 

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

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