Redskins Training Camp Observations: Offense-Is this team ready to (finally) turn the page?
The first few days of Redskins training camp showcased a new-look Redskins team. A revamped wide receiver corps, new toys on a young defensive line, young and energetic secondary members becoming the leaders of a young and talented (on paper) defense, and, oh yeah, a new starting quarterback in Alex Smith. While I will outline some of the less stark contrasts from years past in the offensive position breakdowns below, the overall vibe from this training camp is significant in my opinion.
To start, it’s clear that Alex Smith has been quickly embraced by his teammates. From post-practice comments to the media about Alex’s tendency to talk to receivers after each and every throw, to his team-centered personality (Chris Thompson has illustrated the contrast between his new quarterback and his last), it’s clear that Smith is less about talking about how…‘process-oriented’…he is and more about ball on the field and communicating the minutiae of football with his teammates.
This leads me to the next contrast, which is a lack of a schism between the offensive and defense players. While this is a subtle point, offensive and defensive guys interacted on a more personal level these past few days, with defensive players even heckling playfully, ‘It ain’t Kirk throwin’ the ball no more JNo! He gone!’
Norman a step late on the pick with players later saying ‘It ain’t Kirk throwin the ball no more JNo! He gone!’ Kirk bashing a theme here on the players’ sideline at #Redskins training camp. https://t.co/d6hLTHB884— Kennedy Paynter (@Kennedy_Paynter) July 26, 2018
Overall, the team seems to be both loose/enjoying themselves and focused on the minute details their talented coaches continually preach.
Now…on to the positional breakdowns. For this article, I’ll focus on the offensive side of the ball. I’ll detail my defensive observations and give my 53-man roster projection in future articles.
QB: It’s clear Jay Gruden is smitten with Alex Smith at QB. Gruden made his frustration loud and clear during camp last year with Kirk Cousins checking down most of practice, to which #8 basically said tough luck-that’s how I work. As the 2017 season continued, Gruden reportedly bristled more and more at the thought of paying Cousins $25m/year. Smith is great on the move; he squares his shoulders on each and every throw, sets his feet like clockwork, and he possesses underrated speed and athletic ability. He gets to the edge quickly and decisively. As a result, he’s going to be great off-schedule. He has a slow throwing motion, but the ball hops off his hand and he throws some absolute ropes. Colt McCoy looked like Colt McCoy. He’s a gunslinger without the arm to be one, but he’s a gamer and he makes things happen keeping the play alive. His teammates love him. Hogan was consistently late in his reads and underthrew a plethora of balls. He just isn’t good enough to warrant a roster spot.
RB: Derrius Guice has the fans, and more importantly the team, absolutely buzzing. His attitude off the field is exudes childlike positivity and his on-field performance in practice is certainly not helping dampen the ever-growing titillation over the rookie. A couple things struck me about the LSU product. First off, he fumbled on his very first carry in 11 on 11 work. He was NOT happy, but came back onto the field and ran a linebacker over on the next play. Ironically, it was a non-contact practice and the young fella heard it from his teammates and coaches, but I love that fire. Secondly, he has natural hands. He catches the ball away from his body and is always looking up-field the moment the ball hits his hands. This isn’t an Alfred Morris situation. Chris Thompson has gained a good 10 lbs in his upper body, but he isn’t fully healthy, and you can tell. He admitted he is avoiding contact with that left fibula because it’s sensitive to the touch. Hopefully he will be ready for the start of the regular season.
Samaje Perine looked as he looked last training camp; exciting. Described as a ‘bowling ball of butcher knives’ by famous scout Nolan Nawrocki, Perine’s short, thick build looks as if he’d be hard to bring down, but will it translate to games? The fourth back to make this team needs to have a skillset to match Thompson’s, as insurance, and Gruden has been clear in his praise of Byron Marshall. He isn’t as talented as CT, but he showed well in camp, making a few nice contested grabs and making at least one cut-back that had Gruden chasing him down the field in excitement. That leaves Rob Kelley, a favorite of mine, on the outside looking in. He finished every single run with a 20 yard sprint to the endzone during training camp, and his improved fitness is evident, but he simply is too similar to Guice and Perine in his running style and he isn’t as talented as those two (nor is he a recent draft pick investment).
WR: This position group left the most to be desired in camp. When I say that, I’m being nice, because I am not confident at all in this group. Let’s start with the bright spots: Jamison Crowder, Brian Quick, and Robert Davis. It’s abundantly clear that Jamison Crowder is Alex Smith’s favorite target. While he isn’t Tyreek Hill, he will represent something Smith actually didn’t have in KC; a receiver that gets open at all levels of the field without depending on scheme. Crowder caught everything thrown his way at every level of the field. Quick was a pleasant surprise. He’s a physical receiver that plays the ball well in the air and found consistent success on intermediate posts, outs, and digs. He made several spectacular catches. Robert Davis looks like he’s gained significant weight when he has, in fact, lost 15 pounds. Either way, it’s clear he’s in much better shape and he looked good this week. He wasn’t just a one-trick pony running 9-routes on every play; he ran solid routes (though some of his breaks are too choppy) and caught passes on multiple routes at multiple levels of the field.
Who disappointed? Most notably, Josh Doctson. His nonchalance HAS to get on the coaches’ nerves and he drew more than one passive-aggressive ‘it’s the little things’ comment from a coach. It may just be his personality, but his effort appeared to be significantly lacking in comparison to his teammates. For a player in his position, with such an important year on the horizon, you’d hope he’d show some fire. Even when DJ Swearinger forced, and then scooped, a Doctson fumble in an 11-on-11 session, the receiver didn’t even pretend to chase/atone for his mistake. Slow walks back to the sideline after drops and weak effort in and out of his routes were all too apparent for most of the weekend. Again, it’s possible Doctson is a Marvin Harrison type; a guy that can show very little passion and produce on the field. Time will tell.
I know you all want to hear about Mr. (Ir)relevant, Trey Quinn. What I love about Quinn is how sharp he is. He takes every single route seriously and makes some pretty silly cuts on the field. I don’t think he’ll ever be a world-beater, but I see him as having a Crowder-like career once he settles in. As for the newcomer, Paul Richardson; he had mixed results. He was targeted throughout training camp and it’s clear Gruden wanted to feed him the ball. He showed that he wasn’t afraid to go over the middle and try to make contested catches. While I liked that he wasn’t just a deep threat, I only noted 1 catch out of his 9 targets in 11-on-11. Richardson is also incredibly slight for an NFL player, I mean it’s as if he got on the wrong school bus with the big kids, can he survive 16 games?
Maurice Harris is a favorite of Jay Gruden, but he dropped multiple balls and just isn’t as talented as the 6 guys I just outlined. Simmie Cobbs Jr. got some run with the first team when they were practicing bubble screens, but otherwise dropped more than a few passes in team sessions. Cam Sims looks like a tight end and had a few nice catches, but I don’t see him making this team. Shay Fields is Colt McCoy’s best friend, and he catches everything, but the value of being a backup quarterback’s best friend maxes out in the preseason.
TE: The most important development in camp concerning tight ends is the health of Jordan Reed. From talking to a few people at camp, he actually had small bones removed from each of his big toes, something he tried to play through with stim shots last year. He was running full speed, bouncing up from tackles with a smile in team drills, making leaping grabs look easy, and showing off his patented double and triple-stick basketball head fakes on his cuts. If Jordan Reed can stay healthy for 16 games…watch out.
That said, Jeremy Sprinkle is what has me the most excited. He’s a block-first TE, something we haven’t had since the early Cooley days, but he appears to have added the ability to find soft spots in zones underneath. At 6’5” 265 lbs, he doesn’t need to be getting YAC or catching 25-yard passes. If he can be an effective blocker, the run-game will be helped tremendously, and now he can be on the field as a second TE on third downs as a threat to underneath zones. Vernon Davis played quite well. The ageless Terp caught two touchdown passes in the padded portion of training camp on Saturday. Hopefully we see that million-dollar smile a bunch on Sundays this year.
One note that was different from previous camps: the TE group stayed after practice each day to practice drop/kick-steps and hand placement. It appears the Redskins are intent on improving TE blocking on the outside, a noted weakness throughout Jay’s tenure in Washington.
OL: The offensive line group is a tough one to judge in training camp. I’ve based most of my notes on listening carefully to coaches during team portions of practice and watching one-on-ones (with a grain of salt). First off, Trent Williams and Morgan Moses look healthy. Moses only had surgery on one of his ankles this year, deciding to wait until next offseason for the other, so while that doesn’t sound promising, he looks fine for now. The two towering tackles are possibly the best bookends in the league.
Scherff looks dominant. At one point in practice, during one-on-ones, coaches put a resistance band (attached to a resistance machine) around Scherff’s waist while he was taking part in the drill, just to make it a challenge. That man is scary. Chase Roullier drew the ire of coaches on one set of downs during 11-on-11s because he wasn’t getting the ball snapped when Alex Smith wanted it. The team is getting used to a new quarterback and a new cadence, so this isn’t yet a concern. While Roullier looks bigger than he did last year, he still is quite noticeably the smallest of the bunch, so one can only hope he can hold up in protection.
Shawn Lauvao is just a guy. When healthy, he won’t hurt you and he won’t help you. The coaches love him, so for those of you wondering if there is competition at LG, for now, there is not. Ty Nsekhe looks healthy and played with the first team at both tackle spots with exactly ZERO snaps at guard. Geron Christian does not look out of place, and that’s a good thing. I think he could start a few games this year and this team wouldn’t miss a beat.
Kyle Kalis is my next favorite lineman from camp. The man is absolutely massive and looked good in one-on-ones while playing both RG and RT in team drills. Many are assuming TJ Clemmings returns to this roster, but he filled in at RG and RT only after Kalis. Tyler Catalina and Tony Bergstrom are the final two, and one of them will make this team. While Bergstrom is an experienced backup center and that may give him the nod, Jay Gruden LOVES Catalina (cue wine-mixer puns) and praised him throughout practice.
Check back tomorrow for my training camp observations on the defense!