The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
Training camp isn’t the same as playing real NFL games, and sometimes players can shine on the practice field only to wilt when the whistle blows on Sunday. Troy Apke caught the eye of coaches in training camp last season, and without the benefit of preseason games, won the starting free safety job, but the skills he showed in camp didn’t translate into his play on the field.
After three days of training camp, some players are starting to separate from their teammates, but I want to focus on three veterans who may have answered some questions about their roles by demonstrating health, leadership and veteran savvy on the field that has their needles pointing up as the team closes out its first week of training camp in Richmond on Saturday.
I’ve been amazed that a large chunk of the Washington fan base has been not just critical of Landon Collins, and not just calling for him to be cut, but actively assuming that he would be gone from the team the minute it was feasible to do so from a salary cap standpoint. This seems to have begun with dissatisfaction at the size of his contract, developed into a narrative due to the fact that Collins is not an excellent coverage safety, and grown into a certainty when Collins gave up some plays early last season by being out of position or missing tackles. When he suffered an Achilles injury and Kam Curl played well in relief, fan dissatisfaction morphed into the certainty that the safety was a bum who was already gone.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When Collins made some bad plays last season, Ron Rivera ascribed it to the veteran safety trying too hard to make plays, saying that sometimes that it had paid off, but other times it had resulted in him being out of position. The head coach said at the time that he was confident that Collins would settle into playing his role as his understanding of Jack Del Rio’s defense and trust in his teammates to do their jobs both grew.
For his part, Jack Del Rio said in a draft weekend interview in no uncertain terms that Landon Collins was a defensive starter.
Now that Collins has showed up to training camp healthy and on-schedule (it’s been 9 months since his injury), it’s becoming obvious that the coaches see him as a key part of the defense, and Ron Rivera’s remarks on Friday indicate that Collins’ understanding of the defense has, indeed, improved during the past several months, and that the coaches are seeing the improvement on the field during camp.
“He’s playing fast right now; you’ve seen him make some plays the last couple of days, and I think part of it is [having been] able to stand back there behind the defense with [DB coach] Chris [Harris] and watch the rest of the guys go through it. I think that’s helped him. Sometimes, when players stand back there and get the coaching perspective, you see a little bit more, and that probably helped him.
He looks great; he’s in great shape. He’s working really well right now. He’s getting a lot of reps and just mixing it up; we’ve got him playing a couple of different spots and he’s done a really nice job with all that.”
I don’t think there should be any doubt at all that Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio see the now-healthy Landon Collins as a key component of their defense, and, at just 27 years of age, he should be around for a few more seasons yet.
The drafting of Jamin Davis has created among some the feeling that the 30-year-old journeyman linebacker has reached the end of his useful life in Washington. But anyone who believes that there’s no role for Bostic on a Ron Rivera team hasn’t been paying attention to what the coach keeps saying.
Back in May, Ron Rivera spent time talking to reporters about his cancer treatments and how it affected his coaching. He said something of real importance at that time about what he saw when he was physically limited by the effects of his cancer treatment:
That, I think, was one of the residual effects that happened with this team — when they saw me not being able to do it, the guys that were in leadership roles, they stepped up and did it, and that’s something that stuck with me as I kind of went through this. I was watching: who were the leaders? who were the guys that were helping to push each other?
Well, [because of my cancer treatments] I couldn’t get out of the cart and do that. But my guys were doing that! You know, Brandon Scherff, Terry McLaurin, Chase Young, Jon Bostic; those guys were urging each other to practice and play with tempo.
Rivera mentioned Jon Bostic by name when he talked about team leadership back in May, and he’s still saying the same things about the veteran linebacker now. Washington coaches — and Ron Rivera in particular — see Bostic as being very intelligent and a great leader. Teammates and coaches have long praised Bostic for his ability to diagnose what the opponent is doing and help his teammates get in position. The evidence shows that coaches believe his limitations in terms of individual athleticism are made up for by what he adds as a leader.
Ron Rivera brought up Jon Bostic’s name unprompted again on Friday at training camp. Rivera was giving examples of players who are team leaders and he broke off in the middle of a sentence and said, “Jon Bostic! You know Jon Bostic is probably as good an example as there is in our group right now.”
Rivera went on to discuss the benefits of a veteran player who is able and willing to teach younger players how to be professionals and how to get better on the field. The coach gave an example of Logan Thomas explaining to John Bates how to run a better route, and then said to “watch Jon Bostic with Jamin and Cole; that’s what you’re looking for. Good leaders raise everybody around them, and that’s what you’re seeing.”
Bostic’s contributions to the defense go beyond what he does individually on the field. While he may be athletically limited compared to a guy like Jamin Davis, Bostic seems to have a future coach’s understanding of what’s happening on a football field combined with the willingness to teach and develop his teammates. Bostic may see more limited snaps this season than the 1,039 he played in 2020, but Washington’s veteran middle linebacker has the confidence of the coaches and plays a valuable role on the Washington lteam.
There was a lot of excitement about Humphries when he was initially signed, but as the offseason progressed, fans seemed less confident that Humphries’ name was written in ink as the starting slot receiver, pointing to his injury history and his modest one-year, $1.1m contract with no guaranteed base salary. Of course, his name was still on the roster sheet in pencil, but the competition seemed a bit more open than most assumed it would be when he first joined the team.
Training camp so far has proven the worth of Humphries’ veteran experience and the fact that he has history with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from their days of playing together in Tampa Bay. On Friday, Ron Rivera spoke about another receiver, Steven Sims, who is competing with Humphries for the slot receiver spot. While the head coach praised Sims for his explosiveness so far in camp, his praise for Humphries centered on the veteran’s understanding of how to exploit a defense, which seems the more valuable commodity for the offense, similar to the contribution that Jon Bostic makes to the defense.
“You see a very savvy receiver,” head coach Ron Rivera yesterday. ”One thing you’re looking for is that when a guy is out there and he recognizes coverages. You know, you don’t run the route the way it’s drawn; when you watch him and his releases, he sees certain things. He makes those adjustments quickly cause he’s a veteran guy.
If you’re on the same page as your quarterback, the ball will get to you and we’ll find ways to advance it down the field. You see that from [Adam]. That’s why we went out and got a guy like that.”
Ron Rivera clearly values veteran leadership and understanding for what he continually describes as a ‘young’ football team, and that’s something he gets from Adam Humphries that the other slot receiver specialists can’t offer.
Which of these three players will play the most valuable role for Washington this season?
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