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'It's Practice:' Why 1-On-1 Drills Aren't Just About Winners And Losers


Cornerback Josh Norman received negative attention when wide receiver DeSean Jackson beat him during 1-on-1's last week. But teammates say the drills don't define a player's worth one week into training camp.

Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson wasn't downplaying his recent, and largely overblown, success against cornerback Josh Norman in 1-on-1 drills. He was just speaking about the realities of the drills themselves.

"I really look at it for wide receivers," Jackson said on Thursday, "it's really for a wide receiver to win."

Over the last week at Redskins training camp, social media video of Jackson beating Norman a few times during the team's 1-on-1 portion of practice invited skepticism about the value of Washington's highest paid defensive back. Both an indication of the ravenous need to dissect anything football during the sport's first week back and a treatise on how expectations mix poorly with hot internet takes, the duo's matchups became a nationwide topic.

Never mind that this is the first week of training camp. Never mind that a new player to a new organization is still trying to find a comfort zone within the defense. Never mind that DeSean Jackson is one of the quickest receivers in the league. And never mind that both players love the competition between each other, just as they love their camaraderie after practice passing around the soccer ball.

Norman's lucrative contract attached with the fact that his name is dropped in a new Jay-Z song, at least to those observing from afar, rejects the logic which Jackson calmly asserted at the podium in front of reporters.

With the proper contextualization, however, Jackson claimed what is widely believed to be true – that 1-on-1 drills lean favorably towards wide receivers, lining up solo with a cornerback, and more importantly, without a safety, a linebacker or a pass rush.

"They do have a slight edge," cornerback Quinton Dunbar said. "But there's really no excuse."

The Washington Redskins defense and special teams conducted their fifth day of training camp practice Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.

The competitive nature that seeps into that qualifier is really the raison d'etre of the drills, fostering the best out of both athletes in an isolated arena, helping each to get better.

"Being able to match up with a guy like that each and every time posted 1-on-1 is only going to make me better because if he beats me, he beats me," Norman said of Jackson last week. "[If] he beats me, I'm going to try and figure that thing out until it like draws in my head because for me it's like finding that edge, finding that way to where I win, you know? [If] he beats me on this play, I'm coming back trying to find out how he beat me that first play. So I can come back and look at it like, 'Let me beat him now,' you know?  So, that's just that competition that drives us to both be elite at our level and what we do."  

Norman's attitude towards the drills shouldn't be construed as strictly wanting to "beat" somebody. The desire to face off again and again is about results, sure, but it's predicated on sharpening technique and experimenting with newly taught skills.

For cornerback Greg Toler, this is especially true. Even if he's won a particular matchup against a wide receiver, he'll look back on the tape from the day's practice and notice if he got away with the wrong footwork thanks to a poorly thrown pass.

"I'm very critical on technique so I can make a play and still be upset at myself because of wrong hand placement and you may have just gotten away with this one, and just because you got away with it still means you have to sharpen up on technique," Toler said. "Fans don't usually understand that right now this is our building time. You keep stacking bricks on bricks, so today at practice I tried to soft jam and I tried to quick jam and then I played off."

"That's what practice is for," Dunbar said. "That's what 1-on-1's are for, to work on your different techniques. Tomorrow, 'OK, how can I play this and how can I play that?' So you definitely try new things that you wouldn't try in a live session or in a real game."

Wide receivers have similar, if not higher, expectations of themselves when facing defenders. Nothing is more appetizing than man coverage with no safety help, which is what these drills emulate.  

As wide receiver Jamison Crowder notes, "when it comes down to it, that's the coverage that most defenses are going to play when they want to shut down a receiver or when they want to make a play."

Crowder said he doesn't try too many new stunts off the ball, preferring to perfect what has made him comfortable. He'll tell quarterback Kirk Cousins what route he wants to run but might change up his release off a defender, moving outside or inside depending on the leverage a cornerback has in front of him.

"Sometimes you change it up to get a feel for it," Crowder said. "Some routes that we have, it's better off to get an outside release, because when I'm going outside I want to have that leverage. But sometimes a defender may jump outside and you may have to go inside and you have to give him a little something to go out."

Especially before a preseason game, when second and third string quarterbacks will receive snaps with second and third string receivers, 1-on-1's play a helpful role in establishing chemistry on timing and tendencies.

For wide receiver Rashad Ross, one of the fastest players on the team, this is crucial. Ross wants to make sure he's running the routes with the same speed and sharpness that he'll exhibit during a game, making the transition easier for whomever is throwing him the football.

"I want to make sure I catch the ball. I want to make sure I beat them. I want to make sure I ran the route correctly off of how he's playing so the result is actually catching the ball, running the route exactly how you're supposed to or how he's playing," Ross said. "When it's man to man, I know he's going to be here by this time because I know how he's going to work it."

From afar, head coach Jay Gruden believes these drills are a natural place to enhance competition between two players in which "the cream will rise to the top."

In other words, give these matchups some time. "You know, it's practice," Jackson said, a simple fact that is easy to forget in the hyperbolic chamber that is the NFL preseason. Facing the best, players try to find new ways to beat the best, which is a process of trial and error.

"He's in a new environment, he's trying to figure out what it is, how he's going to play certain things, so it's just part of practice, part of training camp," Jackson said of Norman. "But I definitely think, going into the season, going against me and Pierre [Garçon], I think he will be ready for the season. He will be ready to go versus whoever he has to match up against."

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