Signed as a needed piece in the secondary, then nearly forgotten with the additions of Josh Norman and Kendall Fuller, Greg Toler is making a name for himself at training camp so far.
When cornerback Greg Toler signed with the Redskins in March, the team's roster stood at a much different place than it currently does four days into training camp.
Then, DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon were transitioning to safety, leaving Bashaud Breeland, entering his third year, as the veteran of the group. Toler's signing brought starting experience and depth to a unit that was in desperate need of more talent and leadership.
Now, cornerback appears to be one of the strongest position groups on the practice field thanks to the addition of Josh Norman, rookie Kendall Fuller and the growth of Quinton Dunbar, a wide receiver at this time last year. Dashaun Phillips, who played on the practice squad for the majority of last season, has also emerged as a potential starter at the nickel position. Among the list of names, Toler's presence has sometimes felt forgotten.
"He has been the 'forgotten man,' in fact I forgot to mention him the other day when we were talking about corners," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden admitted on Monday." He's been outstanding out here. You know, he keeps showing up and making plays. Had a big interception yesterday or two days ago and a veteran guy who knows routes and can run still. Got great burst for the ball and great ball skills so, he's been, I think, one of the bigger surprises."
While his role has significantly changed in the last several months, Toler's outlook has remained team-oriented. The apparent need to make an impression in front of coaches during the first week of training camp hasn't trumped his own need to help solidify a secondary he believes can do big things.
The Washington Redskins defense and special teams conducted their fourth day of training camp practice Monday, August 1, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
"I play my game, and any way I can contribute I am going to do so," Toler said. "Football is football. Since I was six I've been playing this game, so the grass is green, pigskin is still pigskin, so I think we just have make each other better. One person makes a play, we all make a play."
Even with that mentality, Toler has stood out so far in four practices. He's deflected three passes and made two interceptions, the most recent one coming against Colt McCoy deep down the sideline in which he gained solid leverage against wide receiver Rashad Ross and hauled in the pass as he fell to the ground.
"You can always get better," said Toler, who didn't place too much emphasis on his early success. "We can always go back to the drawing board and the film room and correct your mistakes because there's always things for corrections. Just critique one another, on and off the field. Definitely a lot more improvements have been made."
By now Toler's origin story is well-known – a Hyattsville, Md., native who stocked shelves at J.C. Penny after high school before walking on at St. Paul's College – and his humble beginnings have helped shape his perspective in the NFL, especially now, on a team in which he will likely fight for a backup role.
Last year with the Colts, Toler started in 10 games and totaled 47 tackles, a forced fumble and 10 passes defensed, finishing three games with at least seven tackles. His last two interceptions came in 2014 as he helped lead Indianapolis to the AFC Championship berth.
"We knew him coming in, played well at Indianapolis, but with the addition of Josh Norman and [Bashaud] Breeland and all that, he kind of got lost in the shuffle a little bit but he's really shown up in a big way," Gruden said. "And he's making that defensive back room a lot stronger, a lot more depth in the defensive back room is unlike we've ever had since I've been here obviously so, the more the merrier back there. Throw [Quinton] Dunbar in the mix, that's four pretty good corners. [Jeremy] Harris has done some good things. And then the nickels [Kendall] Fuller and [Dashaun] Phillips, they've been outstanding, so it's a lot of good players back there."
That amount of depth and camaraderie in Washington, Toler said, has made the team "family-oriented," which makes it easy to come to the facility each day.
"Honestly, here, it makes you want to come to work, you want to come to practice, it's not even work because these guys out here are giving it their all, just like you are giving it your all," Toler said. "It's just like a tad bit more fun coming to training camp."
Not the high-priced free agent pickup, not the homegrown burgeoning star, not the former wide receiver breakout, not the local promising rookie, Toler isn't worried about carving his own niche so long as he continues to improve the defensive unit as a whole.
"My mom always told me, 'it's like a linked chain.' It's all connected to one," Toler said. "So I feel all of us are leaning on each other."