Here's six things we learned about the Washington Redskins during the second half of the 2016 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
1. Richmond helped put the Redskins on the right foot to start the season.Without another team joining the Redskins at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center this year, Washington's 14 days of training camp practice allowed for the 90-man roster to bond.
"I think we got closer as a team," defensive end Chris Baker said. "It's always great to get away from home a little bit, bond with your teammates and I think we've grown a lot since we've been here in Richmond. We're communicating a lot better on defense and we're out here competing at a high level."
Going against a lethal Redskins' offensive unit allowed the defense to get better each and every day, too.
"Having to guard J-Reed and Vernon (Davis) and (Chris Thompson) all those guys every day just made us better," linebacker Mason Foster said. "I'm excited, man. I'm ready to go play and take the things I learned in camp, things that we worked on, and use them in a game."
With little outside media attention placed on them, Redskins training camp was all about the team getting better on the field.
"I think the big thing is we have our priorities set," Gruden said. "We know what we need to do out here and that's just to work on football – study the game, work on our fundamentals and try to get better every day. All of the outside stuff takes a backseat when it comes to playing football and sitting in the meeting rooms."
2. The Redskins have a deep cornerbacks group that goes beyond Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman.Yes, if all goes as planned for the Redskins Norman and Breeland will form quite the pairing at cornerback for Washington this season.
Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman has been voted the 11th best player on the NFL's "Top 100 Players of 2016" list.
But as training camp proved, the team has depth at the position. The nickel cornerback spot has yet to be solidified (Kendall Fuller and Dashaun Phillips have been rotating first-team reps), Greg Toler caught multiple interceptions and Quinton Dunbar looks more natural at the one-year mark after his move from wide receiver.
"We've got an exciting group back there," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Toler has really shown up in a big way. He really has. We signed him because of his coverage skills. Indianapolis, Greg Manusky had him as the defensive coordinator there and had a lot of great things to say about him. We're glad we have him. He adds depth to the cornerback room, and great, tight man-to-man coverage skills. At the end of the day, if you can play tight, good man-to-man coverage, it gives your defensive line time to get home against the quarterback, and good things will happen. He's proven to be a very good pickup for us, him and Phillips, and Phillips is learning. He was practice squad a lot last year. We activated him, did some things on special teams, but now he feels really comfortable playing nickel. He's competing with Fuller, and whichever one steps up and earns that right, we have two very good nickels."
Toler caught a pair of interceptions in Richmond while playing good, tight coverage with nearly every wide receiver he faced. Entering camp, he was a forgotten man of sorts at cornerback.
"He's been outstanding out here," Gruden said. "You know, he keeps showing up and making plays."
Fuller – the team's third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – hasn't looked out of place with the first-team defense, benefitted by three older brothers that have NFL experience themselves.
"I can remember growing up and going to the field with my brothers," Fuller said. "My older brother would just have me back pedal across the field so you can never stop working on the little things. A lot of guys try to do so much but the coaches always say it's all about the fundamentals so me and my brothers thing is trying to perfect the fundamentals and I think that's why we can excel at so many levels."
3. Trent Murphy will be just fine in his move back to outside linebacker.After months of bulking up for a transition to defensive end, the Redskins coaching staff came to the conclusion that they'd be best served having Murphy play out the season as an outside linebacker yet again after the loss of Junior Galette.
Murphy got into the 280s weight-wise to play defensive end. He's already back to a more suitable weight for the outside linebacker position.
"I think he's at a weight that he's pretty comfortable with, right around the 270 range," Gruden said. "And I think he can handle it with his speed, I think right around 265, 270, and if it comes naturally where he progresses and gets bigger and bigger to 285 to 290 then maybe we put him inside full-time. But right now we feel like with his size and his skill set, he is still best suited for outside backer."
Not a speed rusher to begin with, Murphy will "be fine" back on the outside.
"He can drop into the flat and the curl zone and do some good things, but also provide us with another rusher, whether it's in three-down fronts with him as a spinner, or four-down fronts with him as an end," Gruden said. "Maybe we'll try to put him inside. He's doing a good job out here and once we moved him back, he made some big plays and has done well."
4. Ty Nsekhe is emerging as a quality offensive lineman for the Redskins.The Texas State product was one of the bigger roster surprises last season, based mostly on the fact that he hadn't played in the NFL since 2012 and was nearly 10 years removed from his college career.
But the 6-foot-8, 335 pounder served as one of the team's backup tackles, appearing in 13 games with two starts.
Even though Trent Williams and Morgan Moses return for the starting tackle positions, Nsekhe is turning into a "really good player" as the swing tackle.
"When I first got here, I didn't know him," Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said. "He was a CFL guy, he was 29 years old, I had no clue who he was, and I never saw one bit of tape on him. We were talking about, 'Okay, he's one of the guys we're going to cut,' because we're drafting guys, we're signing college free agents. And [director of pro personnel] Alex Santos kept fighting for him and fighting for him. So I'm like, 'okay, he's a big kid, I'm cool with that.'"
As the Redskins enter the 2016 regular season, Nsekhe is "willing to play" wherever the Redskins need him.
"I'm just blessed to be in the position that I'm in," Nsekhe said. "and I'm striving to get better every day."
5. Even though he's reaching the twilight of his career, DeAngelo Hall's explosiveness is guiding his move to the safety position.After missing most of the 2014 season with a torn Achilles, Hall came back to Richmond last summer eager to show he could still play in the NFL.
While Hall had his moments on the field, he was sidelined for part of camp with a groin injury that was followed up with a foot injury that forced him to miss five complete games.
The three-time Pro Bowler returned on Nov. 15 against the New Orleans Saints, only this time at the safety position.
With an entire offseason to learn the position and get healthy, Hall was a bright spot during training camp.
"He's getting older, had a couple injuries, but he's still explosive enough to play the safety position," Gruden said. "He's got great anticipation and instincts. He's the one that's got to tell you how he feels and all that stuff, but I haven't noticed a major drop-off as far as explosion is concerned."
Gruden added that Hall's football knowledge has taken over some, too, even if he only has limited game work at safety.
"He's taken this position very seriously and it's a great opportunity for him to still play and make some big plays and help this football team," Gruden said. "He's all-in and he's doing a fine job."
6. The running game will be an asset.Even though the Redskins' struggled on the ground early against the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener, the team is confident that a rushing attack led by Matt Jones.
"Having a productive running game is very, very important," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "And that's kind of elementary to say but it's true. And since you asked me, I'll make that clear. Having a great defense, having a great running game, being able to control the line of scrimmage… the fundamental principles of football that have always been there are very important. Obviously there are ways around it."
The running back corps is young, as Jones and Thompson are the only two players at the position that have regular season experience.
The hope is that a healthy Jones will lead the way with contributions from the other running backs too.
Mack Brown, Robert Kelley, Keith Marshall and Kelsey Young are battling it out to earn a spot on the roster.
"It's not going to only be Matt Jones in the backfield," Gruden said. "Chris Thompson will get a fair share and then whoever emerges as the No. 2 back, either Keith Marshall or the other guys here – Rob [Robert Kelley] – we'll see what happens."