After watching five Training camp practices, one must be careful not to draw too many conclusions. However, I think it’s perfectly sensible to consider observations with a grain of salt. I’m sure most of you have been gathering information from various beat reporters, but I thought I’d share my observations of practice.
First off, there seemed to be a different attitude surrounding the team. I don’t know if the ‘Bama players are rubbing off, or the loss of players like D.J. Swearinger has helped the culture, but this team is noticeably more business-like, with less fooling around on the sidelines and more nose-to-the-grind attitude. Now, if you’re rolling your eyes at this observation, consider this; I have attended training camp in Richmond for the last four years and the team has signed autographs after each and every practice, with seemingly no time limit to the players. This year? The players only signed autographs on Fan Appreciation Day, and as the horn was blown 30 minutes into the signing session, every player turned immediately and jogged to the facility. Might be a small difference, but it’s certainly a change.
Overall on offense, the team struggled. Colt McCoy was the only quarterback that ran the offense smoothly, but he turned the ball over at an alarming rate, something that has plagued him throughout his career. Add in the fact that he still isn’t fully healthy and won’t play preseason game one against the Browns, and this offense might struggle. Case Keenum is not picking up the offense as quickly as the team would like and is not moving the ball much better than rookie Dwayne Haskins. Speaking of Haskins, it’s clear that he is a cut above the other two quarterbacks physically. He’s a head taller and is about as wide as Colt and Case put together, while he throws with (almost) as much velocity and arm talent than the two combined as well. In addition, Haskins is saying all the right things in camp about being humble and patient, which is a welcome difference from that #10 guy we had a few years ago. If the team is patient with Haskins and plays him only when he is mentally ready, the young man has all the tools.
Last play of practice, Haskins TD. He might’ve been the 3rd QB to take reps, but he got an extra set of reps after his first drive while the other two QBs just got one drive. Should pay off in the long term. pic.twitter.com/6m7ZdIJZ9q— Kennedy Paynter (@Kennedy_Paynter) August 3, 2019
The team also ran a lot more motion before the snap, something that has been employed by more offensively creative teams like the Eagles, Colts, Rams, and Chiefs. I would expect more pre-snap motion from this offense with new Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell getting involved. This will not only help with breaking tendencies and confusing the defense, but it will help Haskins identify blitzes, ‘backer assignments, and in differentiating between man and zone coverage pre-snap.
As far as the offensive line goes, losing Trent Williams is obviously a big blow. However, this team has more depth on the line than they have had in years. Geron Christian Sr. stood out to me as a completely different player in comparison to last year. He’s obviously stronger and he held his own against rushers on the left side. Having said that, I don’t think he will start at LT, I think Donald Penn will, and Penn looked like the dependable starter he has been throughout his career.
At LG, Ereck Flowers was given most of the reps with the first team, but I don’t think it’s coincidence that Wes Martin is playing alongside Penn with the second team. By the end of the preseason, I expect Penn and Martin to start on the left side. Martin has surprised coaches with his better-than-anticipated mobility, as his pulling has shown off movement skills that were not used in Indiana’s power run scheme. Ross Pierschbacher has good technique but he needs to get stronger.
Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses look better than I can remember on the right side. Lastly on the offensive line, I really liked what I saw from guard Hugh Thornton. He has a nasty streak in him and he plays whistle-to-whistle, and sometimes after. He was seen repeatedly running defenders off the field before he stopped blocking.
The skill-positions remain a mystery. The backfield is crowded, with a healthy Chris Thompson and Derrius Guice and future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson back for 2019. Add in an even more cut-up Samaje Perine (who looked fantastic in camp), and that backfield is busy.
Guice TD in red zone drills pic.twitter.com/pEleIG1epa— Kennedy Paynter (@Kennedy_Paynter) August 3, 2019
At TE, Vernon Davis still has his speed and Gruden was getting into him about lazy route-running throughout camp. He made Vernon re-run multiple routes that I saw (which is a stark contrast to Gruden in previous years). Jordan Reed looks like he did years ago before his foot problems, and if he can truly stay healthy, this offense will run through him.
Reed having himself a day, much to fans’ delight. Another catch in 11v11 work pic.twitter.com/2JPSpA1MFV— Kennedy Paynter (@Kennedy_Paynter) August 3, 2019
Wide receiver is the biggest mystery though, as Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson Jr, Trey Quinn, Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims, and Robert Davis will be fighting for (likely) 6 spots on the roster. For my money, I thought McLaurin (speed and attention to technique) and Davis (size/speed freak who made several jump-ball grabs) had the best camps at receiver, but I also don’t doubt that Trey Quinn will lead this team in receptions; the dude is just always open. I would not be surprised if Doctson is the odd man out…he just doesn’t make enough plays and his health is too unreliable when there is so much raw talent around him. One more quick anecdote; Haskins two favorite targets were his college teammate McLaurin and fellow rookie Harmon, who was thrown more than a few back-shoulder balls throughout camp.
While the offense did not look good in camp, it was likely because of the dominant defensive front the Redskins will deploy this season. Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne, Matt Ioannidis, and Caleb Brantley were virtually unstoppable in both one-on-ones and team drills, getting penetration and/or pushing offensive lineman back on almost every snap. Not to be forgotten, Tim Settle has trimmed down and looks like he will be a strong rotation player along the line. The linebackers are the only unsettled part of this defense, as Jon Bostic and Shaun Dion Hamilton ran with the ones and Cole Holcomb and Josh Harvey-Clemons ran with the twos. Holcomb looked great in camp. He’s fast and he diagnoses and gets downhill quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started on passing downs by season’s end. The losses of Mason Foster, Zach Brown, and Reuben Foster seemed to doom this defense. After seeing the ILBs in camp, I think there is some real talent there that could surprise people.
I am a bit worried about the secondary, as I wonder how the unit will gel after a disastrous 2018. One thing is for sure though; Landon Collins excels when he is closer to the ball and can make plays. Ray Horton, who will hopefully help fix the communication and scheme issues, used Collins in a ‘robber’ role fairly often in camp, which resulted in three interceptions over the middle. Collins and Montae Nicholson were also often used on blitzes, something I think we can expect in the fall.
Speaking of Nicholson, I wasn’t impressed with his overall performance. He was late on too many throws to the outside and he wasn’t breaking early enough on throws. He drew the ire of Gruden and Horton repeatedly for arriving late to boundary throws.
Montae late getting to the sideline, reprimanded multiple times by Gruden...”Gotta break Montae!!” pic.twitter.com/VKA7Z1UBTE— Kennedy Paynter (@Kennedy_Paynter) August 4, 2019
Quinton Dunbar looks like the best CB on this team, as his length and athleticism really stood out in camp. I wonder about Josh Norman’s ability in man coverage, but the hope is that Horton will employ more zone coverage, as it would suit his star corner far more than man, where quick in-breaking routes are too easy for opposing receivers. I really like Fabian Moreau and I think he has shown steady improvement, but he is certainly better on the boundary than in the slot. Long, fast corners are usually meant to play on the outside, and I feel he is miscast on the interior. Looking toward the future, I think this team envisions Moreau and Dunbar on the outside with Jimmy Moreland manning the nickel role. Moreland looked very good at times, as his quick feet help him stay pinned on receivers. He isn’t ready yet though. He guesses far too often and loses leverage, giving up wide open plays to his assigned receiver.
The edge players are not forgotten by me, it’s just hard to get a true look at them in camp, as they aren’t allowed to hit the quarterback and can really only ever go 3/4 speed. Ryan Anderson is noticeably slimmer and was playing opposite Ryan Kerrigan, who we can chalk up for 10-14 sacks again this year. Montez Sweat certainly looks the part, and he has a shock in his hands that we haven’t seen in an edge-rusher in Washington in decades, but he’s a rookie and he missed all but one day of practice that I saw. It would behoove the team, and fans, to temper expectations.
That’s it for my observations. Be on the lookout for my 53-man rosters throughout the preseason. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @Kennedy_Paynter!