Redskins OTAs: Observations from Thursday’s practice

Washington Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams, second from left, blocks Tom Compton during their NFL organized team activity at the Redskins training facility Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)

Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams, second from left, blocks Tom Compton during an organized team activity on Thursday. (Richard Lipski/Associated Press)

The Redskins wrapped up their first week of offseason practices, and both coaches and players declared the last three sessions a success.

Today marked the first time that reporters were permitted to watch practice, and here are some things that stood out:

Robert Griffin III looked drastically different than he did at this point last year – as he was just getting used to moving around again – and noticeably different even than he did at many points last season. Obviously, it’s a controlled environment and it’s non-contact, and no guys are flying around at him. But so were portions of training camp and practices when we saw Griffin taking snaps. Griffin on Thursday just looked more fluid, more comfortable and confident. Critics last year said that Griffin didn’t step into his throws as much, although he always refuted such claims. But today, he definitely planted on his back leg, stepped into throws and drove the ball downfield.

Griffin has worked on his mechanics this offseason, trying to get them back to the way things were pre-surgery. Quarterback guru Terry Shea had a list of things he wanted Griffin to focus on in his delivery. He wanted him to have a more narrow base, shorten his step, have a quick release and keep the ball high and tight as he threw. Griffin appeared to be doing this today, and his throws had better velocity.

Griffin showed off his arm several times on Thursday, but most notably on a play where Pierre Garcon beat rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland on a deep route. Griffin rolled out to his left and as Breeland got caught watching the quarterback, and not his coverage assignment, Garcon created a huge cushion and Griffin gunned the ball downfield for a bomb.

Other times, Griffin showed good accuracy, fitting passes into tight windows.

Griffin must get better at scanning the field and reading defenses, and today, he showed some promise as he dropped back, couldn’t find a receiver and came under pressure. The quarterback broke the pocket and looked to run, but just as he reached the line of scrimmage, he located Garcon open on the sideline and threw to him. Another time, Griffin’s first and second reads were taken away, and he went to his third read, connecting with Andre Roberts off to his left.

Coach Jay Gruden praised Griffin’s play this week, and his grasp of the playbook and terminology. Asked what he wants the quarterback to work on as the offseason continues, the coach had this to say:

“I think just overall, the quarterback position, decision making, his drop, his everything. When you’ve only played two years at the quarterback position, you know you’re going to have your growing pains from time to time. Each year you’re going to have to improve, and the great ones will always improve from year to year and learn from their mistakes and never get too high or never get too low. They just have to continue to come out here and work, see the look, see the defenses and attack. And he’s doing a good job of that. We’re getting him a lot of reps, a lot of good looks, and a lot of different concepts and so far he’s reacting well. Yesterday for instance – we had a play, and luckily we got the same defense today – threw an inception on it,  today we got the same exact defense, he saw it, went through his progressions and made a great throw to Logan Paulsen. So this is all a learning process for him. It’s important for him to just take natural strides every day and get better. And the thing about Robert is that is his intent when he comes to work every day. He’s a sponge for information and wants to get better.”

● We got a sneak peak at some of the creativity Jim Haslett hopes to put to use with Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Trent Murphy. There were a number of situations on Thursday where all three shared the field, at times all as stand-up pass-rushers, and other times with one or more rushing as a down lineman.

● Second-year safety Phillip Thomas has a lot of lost time to make up for, but he’s off to a good start. Thomas displayed enough promise prior to the draft to prompt the team’s decision makers to pass on the chance to draft a safety. Today, Thomas worked as the second-string strong safety behind Brandon Meriweather. Thomas, who missed last season with a Lisfranc injury that required surgery, moved around just fine and had one of the highlights of the day as he made a diving catch for an interception off Colt McCoy.

● Speaking of safeties, Meriweather and Ryan Clark are the first-team strong and free safeties, and Bacarri Rambo served as Clark’s backup, while Akeem Davis and Tanard Jackson served as the third-string tandem.

● Keenan Robinson may have missed a chunk of his rookie season and all of his second season, but the inside linebacker has an early leg up on the battle for the inside linebacker spot next to Perry Riley. Robinson (torn pectoral muscle in 2012 and 2013) looked comfortable in his role as he made calls for the defense, played the run and dropped back in coverage.  Gruden praised Robinson for continually standing out in practices.

● Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson must become more versatile to help increase his value as he battles for a roster spot behind Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. Today, Robinson worked on special teams both as a return man and as a gunner. He previously has seen little to no special teams action.

● Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (ACL), cornerback Richard Crawford (ACL, MCL), defensive end Stephen Bowen (microfracture surgery), cornerback Tracy Porter (labrum) and nose tackle Barry Cofield (hernia) all trained on the side as they recover from surgeries. The team hopes to get them all back by training camp.

● Chris Baker saw time at left end instead of last year’s starter Jarvis Jenkins, who is healthy, and Jason Hatcher worked at right end, the spot previously held by Bowen. Chris Neild and Kedric Golston saw time at nose tackle with Cofield out.

● Andre Roberts will likely serve as the primary slot threat, but he lined up both in the slot and on the outside today. Santana Moss did as well. A couple times, DeSean Jackson lined up in the slot.

● Jackson’s speed jumps out at you right away whether it’s while running pass routes, or reverses. Jackson said he’s still getting a feel for his coaches’ plans for him, but thus far, they have used him in a variety of ways, which he welcomes.

● Third-year guard Josh LeRibeus looks trimmer than he did last year, when he reported 30 to 40 pounds overweight and never got on the field. LeRibeus continues to work as the second-team left guard – now behind Shawn Lauvao instead of Kory Lichtensteiger (now the center). Fellow 2012 draft pick Adam Gettis had served as backup to right guard Chris Chester, but today, he served as third-string left guard. Meanwhile, rookie Spencer Long appears to have replaced him as second-string right guard next to fellow third-round pick Morgan Moses, who played behind Tyler Polumbus at right tackle. Now, it’s early, of course. But it will be interesting to see how things shake out.

● The Redskins used a number of multiple tight end sets in years past under Kyle Shanahan. And it appears that they could continue to do so under Gruden and Sean McVay (the former tight ends coach) as Logan Paulsen and Jordan Reed shared the field both on 11-on-11 and 9-on-7 portions of practice.

● Gruden opted not to hire a quarterbacks coach because he and McVay will work extensively with the team’s passers. McVay schooled the trio on footwork and delivery mechanics during individual drills on Thursday.

● The Redskins have the next five days off, and then report back to Redskins Park for their second round of practices next Wednesday.

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