Washington fans haven't seen much of Saahdiq Charles and the potential the coaches have raved about over the past year, but he hasn't been idle, either.
Charles' NFL debut encompassed all of two plays before he suffered a knee injury that put him out for the rest of the year. It was an unfortunate end to Charles' rookie year, as head coach Ron Rivera and his assistant coaches had been impressed with his progress.
Now Charles has recovered, and he was back on the field during OTAs and minicamp spending time at guard and tackle. It would be easy to think that the rehab time would take away from his development, but his coaches, and Charles himself, are back to sounding off about his progress.
"I think the game really slowed down for him as a rookie going through what we went through last year," said assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton. "I've seen him grow so much."
That last part could be taken literally, because Charles has put on about 20 pounds since his college career ended. Once he wrapped up his surgery, he hired a chef and paid more attention to his diet. His breakfast stayed on the lighter side -- he starts the day with fruit and maybe a biscuit or some grits -- but then his plate is filled with fish, rice and vegetables for lunch and dinner.
Charles spent most of his time at Inova Sports Performance Center going through his rehab with Ryan Vermillion and working in the weight room with Brett Nenaber. They helped get him right, he said, and he feels like he's gotten stronger. But that hasn't come as a trade-off for his agility. In fact, he said he is just as fast and quick as he ever was at LSU.
"I wouldn't say I'm the same player," Charles said, "but I still have things from my game from the last time you guys saw me. And I've added some new things now."
Adding more tools to his skillset has been a priority for Charles over the past six months. He played coy on giving out too many explicit details, but he did say that he has focused more on the smaller details of his game like fine-tuning his stance, using his hands, being more physical and perfecting his footwork.
Charles also dedicated much of his recovery time to studying his playbook. He studied film and broke down some of his opponents, giving him a better understanding of NFL-style defenses. It's exciting, Wharton said, to see a player like Charles soak everything in and be eager to use all he's learned in the past year.
"Saahdiq's a tremendous athlete," Wharton said. "He's strong, he has all the tools, the explosiveness, the strength. He can play any of the spots that's asked of him."
Now that he is back on the field, the next step is to find Charles a permanent spot on a reworked offensive line. The team signed longtime Bears' starter Charles Leno Jr. and drafted Sam Cosmi, so he will see more competition at the tackle position. That's partly why he is seeing some time at guard; the other reason is that he actually has the skills to play either position.
"He has the quickness to play on the outside and he has the strength to play on the inside," Wharton said. "He's a big asset to us."
Charles doesn't care too much where the coaches decide to put him. At the end of the day, he said, but there are some key differences to the position. Playing tackle involved being quicker and using his patience, but he described guard as requiring more "pinball" actions in that he is helping the guard and the center on blocks. And because he's been studying every position on the offensive line, he has a good foundation to work with at both spots.
When asked where he feels more at home, Charles smiled and said, "I feel at home on the football field."
Charles has experienced a steady progression since his surgery. He started by getting his full range of motion back to regaining his strength and getting his feet back underneath him. The process has been going well, and he promises to be a more polished player in training camp. The only thing left to do now is prove it.
"You'll see," Charles said. "You guys will see."