There was no shortage of pressure surrounding the Washington Commanders' secondary and defense as a whole, a chunk of which came from themselves.
"We know we're supposed to be good," William Jackson III said after Tuesday's OTA. "We've got every tool at every position you can think of."
Anyone who watched the Commanders last season could see that didn't happen, and it left many with questions regarding what was next for the group.
It seems that Washington believes the answer is continuity, which is why the bulk of the secondary has remained together this offseason. There's still a long way between now and the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Jackson can already feel the difference.
"We're definitely gonna do better this year," he said. "We're communicating better. I'm glad we're here, because last year it was virtual."
It's true that last year presented its share of challenges, particularly when there were new faces in the secondary. Both Jackson and McCain had solid resumes with the Bengals and Dolphins, respectively, but Jackson was more accustomed to a man scheme -- Washington runs more zone coverage -- and interaction on the practice field was limited for most of the summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jackson and the secondary did improve, but it took until the Week 10 win against the Buccaneers for everything to click. Even then, it still wasn't ideal. Washington finished the year giving up 254.9 yards through the air per game, which was 29th in the league and a far cry from the 191 average in 2020.
Things already feel better to Jackson in the Commanders' first week of OTAs, and the zone concepts aren't foreign to him anymore. There's more trust between Jackson and the rest of the secondary that everyone can handle their responsibilities.
"We're just starting at a high intensity," Jackson said. "We're playing fast. No one's out there thinking anymore. We're out there playing fast. We know where guys are going to be now. We're just out there having fun and putting it all together."
Communication and camaraderie are two of the biggest factors in the secondary's improvement, which was also limited because of the league's COVID-19 restrictions. Now that those have been lifted, the team is doing more team building activities like bowling and Top Golf.
Jackson feels that extra time together is going to be important once the season arrives.
"We're having fun now," Jackson said. "And it's definitely going to transfer to the field."
The secondary has been well represented during OTAs with Jackson, Fuller, McCain and Kam Curl all in attendance. That should help them continue to build more chemistry with each other, and if last year's upset win over the Buccaneers, during which Tom Brady threw two interceptions, is any indication of what a more comfortable secondary can look like, there's a lot to be excited about.
"We did a lot of things off the field that we didn't do previously," Jackson said. "We all feel comfortable with each other, we're out there talking, we're laughing, we're having fun. We know where everybody's going to be and that's the most important thing when you're playing defense."
Carson Wentz and the Washington Commanders continued their work in 11-on-11 drills during the first week of OTAs. Check out the top images from Wednesday. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Of course, playing well in May is different from doing so in September and beyond. Jackson and the secondary will need to put those positive feelings into action much sooner than they did in 2021, and with the 2022 schedule being more favorable in some areas, there should be opportunities to do that.
Still, it's a promising sign that the group is on the right track.
"I'm a guy that smiles," Jackson said. "If you see me smiling, then you know it's a good day."