Entering his fourth year in the league, Matt Hazel has enjoyed reconvening with his former college teammate Josh Norman and working with wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard.
It is reasonable to think that wide receiver Matt Hazel would have envisioned a slightly different place than the low end of the Redskins wide receiver depth chart when he was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2014.
He played his first two seasons there, but only saw action in five games, and was waived at the start of the 2016 season. He latched onto the Bills practice squad and then the Redskins', where he's been ever since.
Check out images from the Washington Redskins' offense during their sixth day of OTAs at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Instead of bemoaning his position, trying to make an impression among another talented crop of receivers ahead of him, Hazel has taken advantage of his situation. He's continuing to grasp the playbook, enhancing his technique and gaining confidence from wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard.
"He has been coaching a lot of guys. He even played in the league," Hazel said. "So I just try to pick his brain a little bit or whatever he has to offer, I try to incorporate it in my game. I think I now took another step and I think I can take another step as well."
Hilliard, he said, has made him more aware of the details in his game – bent knees, hand placement and comfortability in his own cleats. Normally, this is an anxious time for Hazel and receivers in his position, but Hilliard has created an environment with little stress.
"Here, everything is just real cool," Hazel said. "So there is no pressure."
That can also be attributed to Hazel's familiarity with several of his teammates. Most notably that includes cornerback Josh Norman and safety D.J. Swearinger, both of whom Hazel faced off with when his North Augusta High School [S.C.] would play neighboring Greenwood.
"They used to beat us so bad," Hazel said with a smile.
Hazel then joined Norman as a teammate at Coastal Carolina, where he set school records for career receptions (183) and single season receptions (70) in 2013, matching up with him in practice for two years prior to Norman leaving for the NFL Draft.
"We used to battle every day in 1-on-1's with the teams, in scrimmages," Hazel said. "Scrimmages, man we just lined it up against each other. That's what I liked about him. Anybody with a competitive edge, you know, me as well. So everything he does now is normal to me."
Hazel then reflected on a matchup with Norman during Thursday's OTA session.
"I went against him [Thursday]," Hazel said. "I had a route out open against him, but he said he had me covered, but we got to go check the tape, I don't know for sure, definitely don't know for sure. I'm pretty sure sooner or later we will start getting some work together. We train together in Atlanta so he knows how we are bickering. I know he what he likes to do and he knows what I like to do."
That kind of friendly competition has made Hazel's first set of OTAs with the Redskins extremely valuable.
After working out at Core Fitness in Miami this offseason, and continuing to learn from wide receivers Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Jamison Crowder, Hazel is only concerned with making improvements each day, and hoping those come to fruition at training camp.
"Take it day by day," Hazel said. "Just focus on and control what I can control. So that's the big thing and you're trying to go out and get better. Just really try to do whatever we can for this team as well. So no matter what that is, it is just building the foundation now. So when training camp rolls around, we will be good and when the season rolls around, we just become stronger too."