The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.
The season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers continues to creep closer as the Washington Football Team began its mandatory minicamp, and there was a feeling of normalcy at Inova Sports Performance Center Tuesday morning.
"It does feel much more normal," head coach Ron Rivera said during his press conference. "We still have some protocols that we do have to follow as far as social distancing and gathering indoors and in crowds and all that kind of stuff. We have to be smart about that. But having what amounted to a four-week program in person...that's pretty cool."
Aside from getting more in-person work this summer, the head coach also gets the chance to get more acquainted with his team, which features several new faces. The face-to-face interaction is an approach that he prefers because he is able to make a better connection than speaking with players during Zoom meetings.
Rivera has been pleased with what he has seen over the past month, and that trend continued during Tuesday's practice. Here are some observations from this morning.
-- Chase Young was on the field with his teammates to start mandatory minicamp, and while contact was kept to a minimum, there were still signs that he has been working to improve in Year 2. Young showed off his quickness on the first pass play of team drills when he blew by two blockers to put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick. He let up at the last second to let Fitzpatrick make the throw, but the play would have likely ended with a sack in a live situation. Rivera still has to look at the tape to get a clearer idea of how Young performed this morning; it was nice for the head coach, however, to see him with his teammates and flying around the field.
-- It did not take long for the defense to get its first interception of minicamp. Fitzpatrick put a little too much arm into a lobbed pass to John Bates, and cornerback William Jackson III was there to haul in the ball for his first pick of the summer, causing Chris Harris to scream, "We got one!" from across the field. Harris spent time praising Jackson during Monday's media availability with the assistant coaches, saying that Jackson has ideal size, length and footwork for the position. This morning's play will obviously not count towards his goal of getting five interceptions, but it is a positive sign for what hopefully will be a productive season.
-- The running backs made several plays that stood out in the passing game during team drills. That is what running backs coach Randy Jordan has come to expect from the group. He mentioned on Monday that Jaret Patterson has been an asset as a pass-catcher, which they did not initially see coming from him while watching his college film. Antonio Gibson, on the other hand, is well-known for being a receiver at Memphis, and Jordan wants him to use that skill more often. Patterson looked natural working in open space downfield, while Gibson was just as effective running routes as he is in the backfield.
-- Rivera sees the receiver position as an intensely competitive group with a wealth of talent. Receivers coach Drew Terrell said there are a lot of players in his group that can make plays with the ball in their hands, and practice was littered with examples of that. The first came on a pass from Taylor Heinicke to Cam Sims, who Terrell heaped praise on during his Monday press conference. He came back into coverage on a route, snagged the ball and turned upfield for a positive gain. The next came near the end of practice when Heinicke was scrambling to keep a play alive. Antonio Gandy-Golden got open in the front corner of the end zone to make the contested catch, which got some praise from Logan Thomas and Sam Cosmi.
-- One might think that the linemen struggle the most with the lack of contact during the offseason, but that is not the way Rivera sees it. Players do not need to be in full contact to work on perfecting their technique, he said. That is why he wants them to have good footwork and make sure their hands are in the right spot. It has also been invaluable to have experienced veterans like Charles Leno Jr. and Cornelius Lucas taking younger players over the side and giving them tips on how to improve.
-- Rivera often walks among the players while they stretch and talks to them about a variety of things, depending on the person. If the player is in a leadership role, he challenges them to give some energy during practice because their teammates feed off of it. If they're younger, he asks them how things are going with learning the system and if they have any questions. Other times, he'll just ask players how they're doing. It's not always about football, he said, and he just wants to check in on them, both mentally and physically.
-- Rivera has seen Logan Thomas take some more strides in his development this offseason. It helps that Thomas has a background as a quarterback, but he also has the tools to be what Pete Hoener calls "complete tight end." His skillset makes him fun to watch, Rivera said, and is a heavy contributor to Washington's offense. Hoener went so far as to say that Thomas is one of Top 7 all-around tight ends in the league and is improving in his understanding of his routes and getting in and out of breaks.
-- Taylor Heinicke has an uncanny ability to salvage a play with his athleticism. He showed that off at various points as he recovered high snaps and adjusted his throws to avoid pressure. He knows how to make things happen, Rivera said, and he guesses that part of that mindset has been developed by having to prove himself early in his career. He also knows when to abandon a play when things are unfolding the right way. He is capable of spectacular moments, but he also knows when to tuck the ball and run with it. Rivera appreciates that and views it as one of his strengths.