Over the course of an NFL offseason, there are lulls interrupted by even bigger lulls, periods of time that condone laziness and vacation and bad eating habits. For professional football players, these are necessary but dangerous times, where temptation lurks more frequently as the team fractures and goes its separate ways.
That time is now for the Redskins, as they determine how to kill the dead window between late June and the start of training camp. No longer surrounded by teammates and coaches, or organized practices, which breed a healthy dose of competitive juice even in late spring, they are now left to fend for themselves -- to find motivation and inspiration, to stay mentally strong during a month that induces weakness.
At least, in the physical, interpersonal sense.
Because, even when players are surrounded by their peers for months at a time, finding ulterior methods – namely, social media -- to get them up in the morning and claim their inner drive is now commonplace. If you've followed any number of Redskins players on Twitter, you'll know at least a hefty percentage of their tweets aren't necessarily about what they're doing, they're about getting them motivated for the doing, or about reflecting on what they've already done.
Sometimes it's a simple rap lyric. Sometimes it's an inspirational quote or biblical passage. Sometimes it's a player just venting. Most of the time, it's just wanting to stay positive, if only to receive some of that positivity back in the form of a reply or a retweet.
"I'm really big on energy and I'm very cognizant of the energy I put out," said safety Duke Ihenacho, one of the several players that frequently uses his social platform to share his frequent thoughts. "A lot of people think that their happiness and the way their life shapes out is dependent on other people, [but it's] completely dependent on themselves. It's taken me a while to realize that, but my approach just is, 'I control my own happiness, my energy.'"
So attracted to good vibes. Smiling, laughing, fluent conversation, affection, chemistry, balance, rationale...good vibes! — Duke Ihenacho (@NachoLyfe) June 13, 2016
In Ihenacho's world, one often shown through his Snapchat, the negativity that creeps around all corners of the internet, and especially in the comments section of Instagram, turns him off. Not every day is an easy day, so why make it any more stressful, especially when he has a bigger audience and platform?
"I'm always trying to push positive, make somebody's day, make somebody smile, make somebody laugh," he said. "You never know who's watching or who's listening to you that could change their day."
Defensive end Chris Baker's Twitter and Instagram feeds echo the same kind of positivity, when he's not tweeting about live sports. As someone guided by his faith, Baker is prone to posting gospel lyrics as spiritual motivation, knowing that his words may have an impact on his followers, too.
One of his football idols, Brian Dawkins, who he played with during his rookie year, carried the same belief. Baker watched the way he operated and expressed his faith and wants to express it in the same helpful manner.
"I just try to give people a little more motivation for something that helps me get through my hard times or get through my good times," Baker said. "Sometimes it can be a song, like I'm listening to a gospel song and I can just tweet something that I heard, that really clicked with me…sometimes you can see something that another person posted and repost it or give that person some credit.
"It feels good when you send something inspirational and someone tweets you back, 'That's exactly what I needed. I needed that type of motivation.' It always helps."
That's how linebacker Junior Galette, maybe the most prolific on the team in terms of using his Twitter to connect with fans, has eased his transition to Washington.
Throughout his struggles, from his childhood to becoming a football player, Galette has realized the importance in returning a message of gratitude and positivity. As an athlete ingratiating himself to a new region, social media has become the currency necessary to give fans some of his personality and inspire them along the way, posts that become mutually beneficial.
"If they follow you, they look up to you, and they know they know that I've obviously faced some adverse situations. If I'm positive, then they can be positive about their situations," Galette said. "You're touching however many thousand people that I have that's following me. I get that all the time. You're my role model, you motivate me, and it helps me out."
While Twitter can serve as an idyllic form of charitable giving and hospitality (to people's emotional state, at least), it also serves vanity, which for athletes can be a necessary tool in their mental belt.
Many times, a player's tweets read like a personal diary filled with passive-aggressive attacks on unknowing friends, hoping to spread some larger message and release some pent up frustration. Popular posting choices also include photos of themselves working out on the field, or, a personal favorite, big cats – lions, tigers, panthers – or even wolves as an Instagram post. The captions are short and usually anthropomorphically apt. "Hungry." "Rare." "Savage."
For wide receiver Colt McCoy, the tweets he composes are a window into his personal life and how he's wrestling with the circumstances that consume a young NFL player fighting for a roster spot.
"Most of the time it's either personally, I'm going through something or went through something and I'm thinking to myself," Ross said. "Instead of being mad and being angry, I just post something that I feel. So most of the time it's how I'm feeling or sometimes it can be…something I saw on the internet or something I saw with my friends going through it, and I would just post it, so he can see it. Instead of going directly to him, I can post it because I know people look at my Twitter so they can see it and understand. But sometimes people don't understand where I'm coming from."
That's a roundabout way of explaining that, yes, the personal feelings that jump to Twitter and elsewhere can have implications and consequences elsewhere.
"I had a lot of people that screenshotted me and texted me like, 'Oh so who you talking about now?' and I was just like, 'I'm just talking about people in general, if you think I'm talking about you it's because you feel some type of way, you must have done something, you must have came at me,'" Ross said.
"Sometimes it's good to go directly to the person, sometimes it's not, you know what I'm saying?"
Ross shares the same mindset as Ihenacho when it comes to posting now. He often fed off the negative comments and tweets he received, but he's trying to stay positive in 2016. He'll throw up some Drake lyrics if he likes, or tweet something such as "Focus!" just to have it in writing, performing some kind of therapy for the rest of his day on the field.
Athletes,of course, use Twitter for all kinds of purposes -- from brand awareness to meme sharing -- but it takes a special kind of person to compartmentalize all the ways they use the medium.
"I think it's just a way to engage with people and we get a lot of down time, so obviously it's kind of natural to just pick up your phone," Ihenacho said. "Social media can be entertainment sometimes, social media can be a way to meet people, too, whatever. But I definitely use it as a forum to reach out to people."
It's can be a dangerous proposition, letting strangers use their virtual worlds to potentially destruct real ones. But filling the "down time" means becoming creative. Rookie Su'a Cravens polled Redskins fans about what number he should wear on the field this year, while Galette found satisfaction showing off his explosiveness with a short training room video.
The replies and retweets are reminders that fans care about this team and its players for the entire calendar year. For the social media conscious, any extra way to stay engaged and motivated – and find people who respond to that motivation – can carry an athlete a long way through a career, and far past it.
"As long as my energy is good, as long as I wake up positive every day and I wake up optimistic about life and about what I do, then it doesn't matter what I do in life, I'm going to be happy and other people around me are going to be happy," Ihenacho said. "I just want to spread that."