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On a team now focused on great relationships, some Redskins rookies have a head start

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People let me tell you ‘bout my best friend....

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Ron Rivera has stressed the importance of building a “family” among the Redskins players and coaches.

We’ve got to stay true to what I believe is a little bit of a philosophy and that is the best team has a great sense of family, the best family has great culture and within that culture there’s tremendous character, and that’s what we’ve got to build. We’ve got to build that. We’ve got to build character, we’ve got to build culture, we’ve got to build team, we’ve got to build family. If we can do that, we can win.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Head Coach Ron Rivera Press Conference Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I was on three straight NFC Championship games and that was tremendous. It was a heck of a feeling to be involved in those kinds of games. That’s what we want to get to, but the only way we can do it is if we truly do become a family.

As fans, we sometimes are aware of relationships between specific players, and other times the relationships may sneak up on us. For example, last season, a lot of people were very excited from the draft onward by the fact that Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin, who had been teammates at Ohio State, would be playing together. Most people didn’t realize, until Haskins talked about it in a press conference, that his closest friendship on the team was actually with a different receiver, Kelvin Harmon.

In the post-game press conference following last year’s victory over the Panthers (“Happy Thanksgiving”) a reporter asked about Dwayne’s growing connection with Harmon, contrasting it with the existing relationship Haskins had with Terry McLaurin. Haskins’ answer was a little surprising:

Well, I’ve known Kelvin a little bit more than Terry; I’ve known Kelvin since I was in high school, so we have camaraderie together because he’s run routes [with me]. We train together in the off-season. Of course, Terry was a college teammate, so, having both those guys on the outside, I can trust them with any route they’re gonna run.

Washington Redskins Rookie Camp Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

He added to those comments at his Wednesday press conference the same week:

Kelvin and I are both from Jersey and we played each other in some tournaments back in the day, so we’ve known each other for a while – camps and stuff like that, and having trained together for the pre-draft. Me and him, we have a great connection together. He’s someone I like throwing to just because of his physical presence and his willingness to get better. We throw routes everyday after practice and things like that. So, having him and having Terry and even Steven – me and Steven are really close as well. So, all three of those guys, we have a great connection.”

I’ve become increasingly aware over the past couple of years that pro football players often have long histories together. Obviously, some players went to the same college and were teammates or, even if they didn’t play together, are connected through the coach or the program. But the connections are often less obvious. Sometimes players are connected through competing against each other in the same conference in college or for other reasons, but the two things I hear again and again are (i) that the relationship goes back to high school or even earlier if the players are from the same area, or (ii) that they trained together before the Combine or met via the Combine or one of the Bowl games for Seniors. Haskins talked about he and Harmon both growing up in New Jersey. Desean Jackson and Richard Sherman have been friends since they were kids in Southern California. A number of young Redskins players have relationships that began before they became teammates in the burgundy and gold.

The Antonios - Gibson and Gandy-Golden

Immediately after the draft, Antonio Gibson talked about his relationship with his new teammate, Gandy-Golden:

We were always around each other at the Combine because our names are so similar. We got to follow each other around most of the time throughout that process.

I got to know him a little bit throughout the process. Great kid, talented. I had to watch his highlights. Amazing athlete.

When I heard he got drafted, it was funny because right before he got drafted, we were talking about him. I was like, ‘it’s the guy from Georgia — he’s almost got the same name as me.’ I was talking to my parents; I think somebody was like he just got drafted to the Redskins. I was like: ‘that’s crazy’!

I knew his phone was blowing up, so I waited until a little later to hit him up. He was just talking about [how] he was ready to go to work. I feel like it’s going to be exciting with me and him.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Gandy-Golden, talking to the same reporters on the same day, added:

When everything gets together, I feel like me and him will talk a little bit more and things like that, but we have definitely communicated a good bit.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So, something as simple as spending a day next to each other at the Combine because of the vagaries of alphabetization can be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

But some rookies on the 2020 Redskins roster have relationships that pre-date the Combine.

Saahdiq Charles and Keith Ismael

Charles and Ismael are two offensive linemen who were drafted in successive rounds by the Redskins - Charles in the 4th and Ismael in the 5th. Both players have the opportunity to earn playing time in Washington.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Being the two rookies on the offensive line, these two are getting a lot of work together via Zoom, but their friendship blossomed months before the draft, and well before the Combine. Here’s Ismael talking about it:

We actually trained together pre-Combine in Dallas, so we’ve known each other since January. We became close friends through our training, so we’re excited to get to work together going forward.

NFL Combine - Day 4 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Unable to work on the field with coaches, Ismael is investing in personal training and development.

I’m going to Texas to go train with Duke Manyweather, offensive line consultant, coach, trainer, developer, whatever you want to call him. He’s one of the best in the business, and so I train with him. Me and Saahdiq trained with him before the Combine. If you want to be the best you’ve got to train with the best.

Keith Ismael and Antonio Gibson

And it turns out that even Antonio Gibson has a connection to Ismael.

I know Antonio Gibson because he trained with me out there as well;...I met [him] at the Senior Bowl. I just think it’s only going to make us stronger if anything. I think that’s really cool. I think that it’s only going to benefit the team, we know each other.... I think it’s going to build a really good culture in the locker room. We’re all ready to go out there and get to work. It makes it easier when you’ve got your brothers to your left and your right, and you’ve got people depending on you that you care about. So that’s the way it’s all about, just putting it all out there.

Saahdiq Charles and Thaddeus Moss

These guys were, of course, teammates at LSU, but to hear both of them tell it, they were best friends.

Charles:

Me and Keith [Ismael] trained with each other for the pre-Combine training. Me and Thaddeus, we just best friends. We came into LSU together.

While a sentence or so from Charles may not overwhelm you with the depth of the relationship, Thaddeus Moss talked about their friendship in much more detail.

It was great when I found out that Washington contacted me and they also drafted [Saahdiq]. We’re not only teammates, but that’s one of my best friends off the field, so it’s a blessing to still be on the same team, still be teammates chasing our dreams and everything together.

Have I been able to talk to him?

Absolutely. I talk to him almost every day.

On top of that, not only us being teammates and being best friends, we also play next to each other. It’s not like he’s the quarterback and I’m the receiver. With him being the left tackle, we have such a good chemistry with us being best friends and having so many reps and stuff next to each other.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

He’s a reliable teammate; he’s a great teammate first - a dependable teammate. I could always rely on him to get the job done, always rely on him to always have the answers and give it his all.

As a teammate that’s really all I could ask for is, having a teammate that knows what he’s doing, and giving it all he’s got. He’s going to do great here in his first year at Washington. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays.

The incredible enthusiasm from Thaddeus Moss when he talks about Saahdiq Charles makes me think that he (Moss) may have been sandbagging a little bit when reporters asked him why he chose Washington over the other two teams that tried to sign him post-draft (Bengals and Patriots). Moss said that the Redskins called first, so he went with them, but I can’t help but think that the opportunity to go to camp and play next to his best friend is a more likely motivation. It could also help explain why the Redskins didn’t use a draft pick to get Moss on the team if they felt confident that having drafted Charles, they had the inside track on signing Moss as a UDFA. That’s just speculation on my part, but I think both Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes would be impressed with my impeccable logic.

It doesn’t end there

The relationships between players will run deep. Chase Young will be joining a few of his Ohio State teammates here in Washington, but, living in the DMV already, he didn’t hesitate to reach out to create new relationships right away when he was drafted.

I actually went over to Jonathan [Allen]’s house the day after the draft. Chopped it up with him. Just wanted to meet one of the leaders of the defense. I felt like it was right to do that. I’m reaching out to all of my teammates and trying to get to know them — Montez [Sweat], I am supposed to be getting with him. I’m fired up, man.

The Redskins are a young team, but even now, with Zoom and social distancing, the Redskins rookies have a foundation laid for the ‘family’ that Ron Rivera is trying to build.