Here's seven things we've learned about the Washington Redskins at training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center so far.
The Washington Redskins are halfway through the team's 2016 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., as Saturday is providing the players a day off before returning to practice Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
With eight practice sessions down, here are some noticeable trends from the Redskins so far:
- The team is all-in on improving and getting back to the playoffs. **
While one reporter told Jay Gruden this week that camp has been "a calm, boring" affair so far thanks to little outside media attention, the Redskins' head coach isn't seeing it that way.
The workmanlike attitude is paying dividends for a team trying to repeat as NFC East champions.
"We're trying to get the best out of our guys. We're not trying to do any crazy stunts off the field," Gruden said. "We just want to focus in on our job at hand and that is to get better every day. As a group – coaches alike, same as players – that's all we're trying to accomplish and I think so far we're off to a great start. We have a long ways to go but all the off-the-field stuff and the entertainment value that people are looking for, hopefully they don't find it here. We're very business-like in our approach and we're trying to rebound from last year's loss to the Packers and repeat as NFC East champions and go a little bit further."
2. Kirk Cousins' franchise tag situation is in the rearview mirror. All he's focused on now is what goes down on the field.
After it was all said and done, Cousins will play out the 2016 season on the franchise tag, which is nearly $20 million for the quarterback position this season.
While the franchise tag is coming off the heels of a four-year deal signed prior to his rookie season, Cousins – who shattered quite a few franchise records in 2015 -- feels Washington remains invested in his future.
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins on Wednesday was named to the NFL's 'Top 100 Players of 2016' list, checking in at No. 85.
"They didn't have to tag me," Cousins said. "No one forced them to do that; they chose to do that of their own accord. In this league it's one year at a time – whether you're on a long-term deal, one-year deal or two-year deal. I mean, I had a four-year deal as a rookie but it didn't feel like a four-year deal, it felt like a one-day deal every single day I was here. So I don't think things have changed a whole lot in that regard. I have got to go out there and prove myself each and every game of every season. When you do that, I think the rest will take care of itself."
The franchise tag also hasn't made him timid in his approach. Over the course of OTAs and now training camp, Cousins has elevated himself into a vocal leader for the offense.
"He's standing up in the meetings, he's vocal, he's talking about plays, he's calling signals out and not only that, he's always into the game," tight end Vernon Davis said. "I say that meaning he's in his book, every time you see him he's just football. He's just a great person, and that's what Peyton Manning was and when he comes out here he's ready to work. He's getting on guys, he's just being a leader and that's what you need on your team. You need a good quarterback who can step in and be that leader."
3. Bashaud Breeland is benefitting from Josh Norman's presence.
"Breeland Island" could see few visitors have lengthy stays this year if the first week of training camp is any sort of indication of how the 2014 fourth-round pick will play this year.
Breeland has racked up multiple interceptions in camp to date, stealing passes away that were intended for Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson and others.
He's recorded an interception in 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. Beyond just generating turnovers, he's showed marked improvement in his overall game.
"My personal goal is to be the best DB in the league and be the best DB for myself and for my team," Breeland said. "I want to help my team win in any way possible wherever they need me to play."
While some want to directly compare the play of Breeland and Norman, Gruden won't join in on that sort of talk.
"You need two starting corners," Gruden said. "Both of them are equally as important, so [Breeland's] going to be an integral part of our defense, no matter how you slice it. One might get more notoriety, might be matched up against a certain player from time-to-time. We're not going to do a lot of traveling, most likely, and he's going to be on some really good receivers throughout the year. We're going to count on him in a big way. He understands that, he accepts that, and he's going to do great. He's competing his butt off out here and doing a great job."
4. The inside linebacker and left guard battles will likely extend well into the preseason schedule.
While Perry Riley Jr. and Shawn Lauvao both started training camp on the Active/Physically Unable To Perform list, they quickly returned to the field, and in doing so heated up the competition for positions within the starting lineup.
Riley Jr. and Lauvao were both Day 1 starters for the Redskins last season before they eventually ended up on Injured Reserve.
Their replacements – Mason Foster and Spencer Long – played well in their absences and will be given every opportunity to remain in the starting lineup as well.
Through the first half of camp, Riley Jr. and Foster have alternated first-team reps as have Lauvao and Long.
"They are similar players," fellow inside linebacker Will Compton said of Foster and Riley Jr. "Both are very athletic, both can thump. They can get downhill quick and they are easy to communicate with. I don't really have… when somebody else comes in, there is really no real downfall of any of them."
Gruden has yet to decide if Lauvao will play in the first preseason game this Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons, as he has to "gain full confidence back" in his surgically repaired foot first.
"Once he does that, he'll be fine," Gruden said. "But as far as mentally, he is zoned in and knows exactly where to go and how to do it. He's just got to physically know that he is healthy and then react a little bit quicker. He looked good to me. He's a big, strong kid and in one-on-ones he doesn't give up any pressure, as usual. And in team work, he is doing good."
5. There's been a little more focus on the special teams unit with some rule changes.
The Redskins on Wednesday hosted a special teams only practice to give the unit – which is mostly comprised with first-year and new players – a chance to jell together and continue on a path of improvement under special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica.
"I think our special teams has shown improvement the last two years and we still have a ways to go especially on punt return," Gruden said. "We've got to give [Jamison] Crowder some better looks; that's our No. 1 goal. He's too good of a punt returner to average – I think it was three-point-whatever yards per return – so I think that's something we're really working hard on and getting the right people in those positions to hold up the fliers and to protect and block. So that's very, very important. So we're working hard on that getting the right people and that's what this training camp's all about and these practices are all about and finding the right 53 and the right 46 guys to dress. A lot of those second and third teamers will be the better special teams players, quite frankly, so it's going to be very important for these guys to show up."
During the offseason, the NFL also voted in favor of moving touchbacks out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20-yard line.
That means the Redskins, and really all NFL teams, could get a little creative on kickoffs.
"We're going to experiment," Gruden said. "You know, we'll see what Dustin [Hopkins] is good at. You know, we're going to try some of the pooch stuff and try to pin them back. You know, we don't want to just succumb to the 25-yard line. He's got a powerful leg and one of the reasons he's here is because of his leg strength and kicking the ball off through the end zone. But he can get the height and pin people back to the one if we get them tackled inside the 20. That can be another great option for us."
6. Hogs 2.0 is providing a young offensive line motivation to live up to the team's most famous offensive line.
The Redskins' famed offensive line that formed under Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel helped pave the way for four Super Bowl appearances – three of which Washington won – over the course of a decade.
They were in almost every way the best offensive line in NFL history. They likely will never be matched again, but Trent Williams, who has now earned four straight Pro Bowls selections, wants Washington's current offensive line to play in a similar way that the predecessors did for so many years.
Tough, physical and a refuse to back down from anyone.
"With us having that rich tradition, being Redskins and those guys, I figured there was a way we could channel that, pay our respects to them as well and also try to form my own path by adding a '2.0'because obviously we could never foresee us being as good as those guys, but we can obviously try," Williams said. "The thing we can take from them is playing with that camaraderie, that intensity, that nastiness they played with on a day to day basis."
Williams isn't alone in feeling that way.
"Hogs 2.0 is a mentality," Ty Nsekhe said. "We're trying to build on that and take it into the season with us."
7. The Redskins want to see what they have in the young running backs and outside linebackers first before making any sort of potential moves.
At running back, just Matt Jones and Chris Thompson currently have recorded any sort of NFL regular season action to date, as Keith Marshall, Robert Kelley and Kelsey Young are all rookies and Mack Brown has only ever appeared in preseason games.
Jones, of course, has been bumped into the starting running back role with Thompson providing his own value, too. But over the course of the preseason slate and the backend of training camp, the Redskins want to continue their in-house evaluations and see if one of the younger backs can rise to the occasion and prove worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster.
If they don't, outside options could be explored.
"We have some guys in the building we're going to look at," Gruden said. "And if it doesn't work out, we're always looking. Every position, Scot [McCloughan] and the scouting staff have their eyeballs across the league and who is available. But hopefully we don't need to go that route. But if we do, there are going to be good players we can talk about."
It is the same situation at outside linebacker after the loss of Junior Galette.
While Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith continue to work with the starters, Houston Bates, Lyndon Trail and Willie Jefferson, among others, are getting long looks.
"We are going to look at our young guys here in the building that we're excited about," Gruden said. "We still have some good pass rushers sitting here, and they are going to have to produce."