The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
Friday marks the fans' official return to FedExField, as the Washington Football Team will host a "Friday Night Football" practice at the stadium for the burgundy and gold faithful. The team got a small dose of that in Richmond, Virginia last week, and Ron Rivera can't wait to see it on a larger scale tomorrow night.
"It should be a really interesting thing in terms of really seeing it get ramped up," Rivera told reporters after practice.
Rivera and players like Chase Young talked about how high the energy was during the Richmond practices because the fans were able to attend them. That energy has carried over to the practices this week as well. And with Washington dedicated to having fans in the stands this season, it'll be a precursor to the rest of the year.
"That'll be kind of neat," Rivera said.
Here are some other observations from Thursday's practice.
-- Daron Payne and Jon Allen were back on the field together today and their presence could be felt immediately. Rivera said they made things much easier on the linebackers and helped the defense flow better. Payne, who recorded at least 50 tackles for the third-straight season and had a career-high Pro Football Focus tackle grade of 71.4, had an impact on the running game by putting his arm around J.D. McKissic for what would have been a tackle.
-- Thursday might have been one of the best practices for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke. Regardless of who was on the field, the offense looked crisp and efficient. Fitzpatrick had several accurate passes to Terry McLaurin, two of which resulted in touchdowns in red zone and goal line drills, while Heinicke had a nice pair of throws to Steven Sims. In one of the best series for Fitzpatrick, the veteran completed four consecutive passes to Cam Sims, McLaurin, Dyami Brown and Antonio Gibson.
-- Brown seems to be finding his rhythm and has been more active over the past two practices. He nearly had an impressive snag while working against Deshazor Everett but couldn't keep his feet in bounds. On a previous play, though, he showed off his body control by adapting to a pass from Steven Montez. The ball was slightly off target to Brown's right, so the rookie turned around, took a couple steps back and pulled the ball to his chest with one hand. He also worked well with Fitzpatrick and Heinicke, both of whom connected with him on multiple throws.
-- Rivera mentioned after practice that he likes the synergy at linebacker. Jon Bostic has been working well with all the players in the group, including rookie Jamin Davis. That was apparent during goal line drills, when they helped break up a pass from Fitzpatrick to Gibson at the goal line. Cole Holcomb said after practice how fast Davis has been lately, and that speed is going to be a big help to the defense this year.
-- Gibson continues to flash examples of how much he has improved his vision since his rookie year. Washington started red zone drills with a routine run, but Gibson saw the hole wasn't developing, bounced to the outside and ran down the sideline for a good chunk of yardage. Gibson wants to keep heading in the right direction with his development, and the year of experience at the position has helped him get better at seeing plays develop and know how to adjust.
-- Heinicke got the chance to show a little leadership to his teammates today. While the offense was running goal line drills, the secondary had locked down all of Heinicke's options, which forced him to scramble for the touchdown himself. Apparently, Heinicke was hoping to get the ball to Antonio Gandy-Golden, because they had a conversation as they jogged back to the huddle. The moment ended with Heinicke patting Gandy-Golden on the head before calling the next play. Rivera loves the way Heinicke approaches things, and he has a lot of support from his teammates. He commands respect in the huddle, which his teammates gravitate towards.
-- Brandon Scherff is back to being one of the most dominant players on the field again. In case anyone needed reminding, Scherff is one of the best pass protectors Washington has at its disposal and works well with his teammates. That much was clear during 9-on-9 drills, when he worked with Chase Roullier to handle a rush by Payne. Scherff had solid hands while blocking Payne by himself and then seamlessly passed Payne off to Roullier, allowing Fitzpatrick to complete the play. Scherff is coming off the second-best PFF pass-blocking grade of his career (81.1) so it makes sense that the pocket was a little cleaner with him back