Ninety players are reporting to training camp in Richmond, Virginia, with one goal in mind: to earn a role on Washington's 53-man roster.
The competition is what head coach Ron Rivera wants to see; it's a point he's stressed to his players since joining the team. But there are stages, he told Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson, for Washington to work its way to the final cuts, and he wants to let the situation play itself out over the next month.
"If you overreact when it's early, I think you gotta be careful because what happens is when the pads get on, when the fatigue starts to set in, now you see guys that can show you, 'Hey, I can focus. I can push myself through those things.'"
Washington is in the process of slowly building itself up to holding those fully-padded practices. For the next five days, players will be in helmets and shoulder pads, which will essentially serve as a time for the players to focus on technique and getting their legs loose after taking the past month off.
It's similar to what Washington did during OTAs and minicamp, and Rivera stressed then that players can improve without "slamming into each other."
"Now is the time to work on your technique and footwork," Rivera said in June. "Some guys may do something else but what you want to see is guys moving properly using good technique staying in a good football position. Those things are important."
Once the pads come on, players will be eager to have standout moments that get all the eyes looking in their direction. Those moments are important, but they aren't the only things Rivera considers when evaluating roster decisions. Working together as a team, he said, is a factor that is always on his mind.
Rivera went on to explain how Andrew Norwell, a guard who was on the Panthers' roster from 2014-17, struggled when participating in 1-on-1 drills. But once the Panthers moved into team drills, "boy, he was awesome," Rivera said. That's what he means by finding players who fit with the team.
"Does he fit into what you want to do?" Rivera said. "Does he fit in with that unit? Does he fit in with that team? That's the important thing."
Like every year, Washington had the goal to improve its roster after winning the NFC East in 2020. It has done that by shoring up several positions, including receiver, tight end, safety and linebacker.
The hard truth, though, is that not everyone will make the roster. Washington will have to make some tough decision on who to keep and who to cut. The players are certainly aware of that, and Rivera expects every position to be competitive. He and his coaches will put more emphasis on that as camp progresses.
"What you're going to find out is whether guys are going to react to it and how they come out of it," Rivera said. "And that, I think, will really help our team."
Players will have different standings on the roster; some will be starters, others will be backups or need to prove they deserve to get off the bubble. When it comes to the message Rivera relays to them, it doesn't matter where they are on the depth chart. All they need to focus on is competing and getting better.
Rivera said he'll get a feel for where players are at around the third or fourth week of camp. But for now, he doesn't want to make any assumptions on what he has until the players get a chance to earn their roles.
"Let's find out," Rivera said. "I asked the guys when we got started with OTAs this year: 'Now what?' Everybody wants to get to the top. We got to the top of our division. Now what? What is our plan to go from here? What is your plan now that you're here? I think 'now what' is really what we have to answer."
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