The Washington Redskins finished their final practice of training camp in Richmond, Va., on Monday and players reflected on how the team grew closer over the last couple of weeks.
The excessive heat and humidity that enveloped the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center over the final three days of practice threatened to end training camp on a fatigued (and extremely sweaty) note. But, as is typically the case over the first two and a half weeks of the season, the adverse conditions only strengthened the team's growing unity.
The Washington Redskins offense conducted their thirteenth day of training camp practice, Sunday August 14, 2016 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va
"I think we got closer as a team," defensive end Chris Baker. "It's always great to get away from home a little bit, bond with your teammates and I think we've grown a lot since we've been here in Richmond."
NFL training camps usually provide paradoxes such as this. The grind and the pain of practicing daily under hot conditions also promotes a positive shared experience. The same men that compete, sweat, give interviews, settle in the cold tub, and then do it all again are the same men that return to the hotel, share dinner together, play video games and learn to make family away from their own.
The intrigue surrounding free agent addition Josh Norman – the early negative conversation about his play during 1-on-1 drills against DeSean Jackson that extended into other facets of his life – was an exercise in hyperbole, a desire by certain media to find "drama" that was noticeably absent during this year's training camp.
"For a whole two weeks now it's almost been like a soap opera. Every week, someone has something to say about me," Norman told Redskins.com. "I've been having good support from my GM, my head coach, our President and everyone, so everybody that's hand in hand. Then you get the teammates on board with you, and everything is right, so I'm just loving the atmosphere, and we're happier because we got a good team, we really do."
Norman's intrigue aside, it was suggested that 2016 was off to a "boring" start, because closer attention paid to the Redskins' time in Richmond didn't have the polarizing storylines many had been used to. Norman wasn't really a distraction or perceived as a "bust." Each practice he kicked around a soccer ball, ingratiating himself with his teammates and his fans, becoming closer with a new group of people. Position battles remained, intensity on the field stayed high. Kirk Cousins entered as the starting quarterback and remained the starting quarterback. The Redskins spent their time in Richmond doing what they set out to do -- focus on football.
"It's been non-stop, 24/7 football," head coach Jay Gruden said. "The guys have embraced it. They accept it, they want to learn and they want to do good."
"If you got all kinds of distractions, you can't focus and you're not really gaining anything out of practice," tight end Jordan Reed told Redskins.com. "But when you can strictly lock in on yourself and football and your teammates, then you got space to grow and things like that."
"It was great not to have to deal with the outside distractions with the off the field stuff or quarterback issues," Baker said. "So hopefully we can keep a clean season with no distractions and hopefully everyone stays healthy and we have nothing bad to talk about."
The Redskins entered with question marks at certain positions, some of which have found answers while others remain murky. The first preseason game against Atlanta gave better insight into what areas still needs work, and what will eventually give coaches problems once they're forced to shave down the roster.
Cornerback Greg Toler, defensive end Ziggy Hood and running back Robert Kelley have turned heads. Cousins, Reed and cornerback Bashaud Breeland have maintained the play and confidence they showed and earned last season. In wake of linebacker Junior Galette's untimely injury, younger players – Preston Smith, Houston Bates, and Su'a Cravens -- have stepped in to fill the void and make a bigger name for themselves. And, after a crop of season-ending injuries tarnished the beginning of last year's season, those afflicted – Niles Paul, Duke Ihenacho, Martrell Spaight, Logan Paulsen, Shawn Lauvao – have all looked strong in their returns to the field
Which is all to say that the Redskins leave Richmond with a better sense of the team they will field come September. As players left the practice grounds for the final time Monday, they seemed eager to return to Loudoun County, Va., to get home and continue building off what they established.
"I'm excited, man," linebacker Mason Foster told Redskins.com. "I'm ready to go play and take the things I learned in camp, things that we worked on, and use them in a game."
"We're ready, we miss Ashburn," Cravens said. "It's gonna be fun going back home."
As the attention begins to shift towards the Jets, who come to town this Friday, quarterback Kirk Cousins feels confident in what was accomplished and what will continue to be accomplished as the season progresses.
"I think it was a productive two-and-a-half to three weeks. I think we got a lot of work done," Cousins said. "We covered a lot of situations and got to see so many different players contribute and get a lot of experience and growth. It was a productive camp and hopefully we can finish strong here with the last couple of practices and get geared up for our second preseason game. It's been a great start."