The media and select few who were allowed to attend the first day of the Washington Commanders' mandatory minicamp might not have known it, but there was a Hall of Famer walking around the team facility.
Former defensive tackle and seven-time Pro Bowler Warren Sapp blended in well with the rest of the Commanders' coaching staff, as he donned a team t-shirt and bucket hat. Sapp, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, was invited by the coaching staff to spend some time with the young defensive linemen to provide tips and pass on some knowledge he acquired over his decorated career.
And, after spending a few days with the group packed with first-round talent, Sapp likes what he sees.
"They're big, mobile, agile, hostile," Sapp said after Wednesday's practice. "They go at each other, they learn. They do everything that you're supposed to do."
It isn't the first time members of the Commanders' staff have gone to Sapp to provide guidance for defensive linemen. Sapp was asked to do the same thing when assistant defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina and general manager Martin Mayhew were with the San Francisco 49ers.
Ron Rivera also played and coached against Sapp, so when Mayhew discussed the opportunity with him, it was an easy decision.
"He's the right kind of guy," Rivera said of Sapp. "The really neat thing about watching it too, is there are some things that guys that have done it. It gives them a little something extra in terms of when you can get guy's attention. I think that's been really good for us."
The Washington Commanders wrapped up the first day of mandatory minicamp. Check out the top shot from Tuesday's practice. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Sapp doesn't envision himself as a coach; the hours are too intense for him. However, he does enjoy helping point players in the right direction.
"A couple guys told me, 'The message you gave me yesterday really rang in my head,'" Sapp said. "They said, 'I'm in the rush and I still hear you.' I said, 'Good. I like it that way.' Maybe it's getting through, and we'll see what they got. But they got a real nice group. Reminds me of me and my boys."
That's certainly high praise from Sapp. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense had 11 Top 10 finishes in his 13 seasons, including the No. 1 unit during the 2022 Super Bowl run. They finished in the Top 10 in terms of sacks four times.
"They're a bowling ball of butcher knives," Sapp said. "Now, I'm just trying to get them out of that two-gap. Let's go forward. Let's build a camp in the backfield. Three yards, deep penetration. Let's kill all running plays."
That philosophy falls in line with how Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio want the defensive line to play. They want the position group to be disruptive on the way to the quarterback, and the group of first-round picks has shown they can do that. Back in 2020, they had nearly half (21.5) of the team's 47 sacks.
Those numbers took a dip in 2021, although injuries kept the group from being on the field at the same time. Now, as they try to reclaim some of the dominance from two years ago, Sapp wants them to emphasize working as a complete unit.
"It's always a pack. That's what I told them," Sapp said. "If y'all hunt together, then y'all are gonna eat good. I'm just telling them what I know the game to be. It's a simple game. It's a hundred years old, but it's never gonna change."
Sapp believes the defensive line can continue to progress, but they have to be consistent in their development. Based on his experience, there's only one way to do that.
"When the sun's out and [the media] aren't around," Sapp said. "You gotta put in work. This game is nothing but work. And when you work at it, it will come out. Your work will show on a Sunday afternoon."
Not that there's any doubt from Sapp, but he feels strongly about the group's potential if they continue to grow.
"There is no ceiling," Sapp said.