Redskins training camp: Observations from Day 8

RICHMOND – Things kicked up another notch out here at Redskins training camp a day after a lower-key practice on Wednesday. Today, the shoulder pads were back on, so that meant more contact, and a little more of a spirited atmosphere.

● Pass protection remains a work in progress for the Redskins, particularly when it comes to blitz pickups by the running backs. We’ve seen struggles out of that group during team drills, and today proved no different. One of the one-on-one drills of the day called for the running backs to engage an oncoming pass rusher and keep him from getting to the tackling dummy. Alfred Morris seemed to fare better than his fellow backs, and Evan Royster for the most part did okay. Chris Thompson struggled in his first, second and third cracks at the drill. Because he’s a smaller guy (generously listed at 5 feet 8 and 193 pounds), it’s not easy to hold off a pass rusher, even if it’s a younger Will Compton (6-1, 245), much less a starting-caliber linebacker like Perry Riley Jr. After getting beat by Rob Jackson, Compton and Jeremy Kimbrough, Thompson did show a little improvement in the fourth attempt. He widened his feet a little just before contact, got better leverage, and did stand Kimbrough up, briefly. Kimbrough did manage to shove Thompson backward with his second effort. Lache Seastrunk struggled in this drill as well. Compton got by him with relative ease. Roy Helu Jr. had mixed results here, although because of his experience, and the other backups’ inexperience and ineffectiveness (thus far), he could have an edge.

● Robert Griffin III told me he notices a difference in the way that Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are being used this year. He says they have indeed been given the green light to attack more. He also says that it has been impossible for tight ends to block either one. “That wasn’t the case last year,” Griffin said. He attributed the change to the instruction of Brian Baker, and Jim Haslett’s new, more aggressive philosophy. Griffin also said that because of the addition of Ryan Clark, Raheem Morris now has two seasoned safeties to work with and because of that, the two have been giving the defense a lot more exotic looks on the back end, and that both have been more aggressive than Washington’s safeties were last year. Griffin said the changes in Orakpo and Kerrigan, and the safety position are the two biggest areas that stand out about the defense.

● Tight end Niles Paul and inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton got into it after a play. Both players threw punches and had to be separated. Although Paul and Sharpton were rather riled up, their teammates had a pretty good chuckle over the incident. My money would’ve been on Paul had the fight been able to continue. Dude is as well put together as anyone on the team, and he’s super physical. He comes off as mild mannered, but he’s got a nasty streak to him as well. For fun, us reporters have kicked around the debate of who you’d bring with you if you had to go down a dark alley for a fight. My No. 1 pick would be the Silverback, Trent Williams. He’s not only one of the biggest on the team, but also strongest, quickest and, as we’ve seen, has a bit of a temper, which would come in handy if you need somebody to have your back. No. 2 would be Paul. Williams, if you’re wondering, said that his pick would be himself first, of course, followed by Paul, Riley and then Orakpo. But anyway … back to football.

● The team had referees at practice for the first time during camp as Jay Gruden & Co. continue to put their players in as many game-like situations possible. There were a couple of false starts by the offense, or some encroachment calls on the defense, also a couple of pass interference calls that drew flags. Players have been guilty of infractions in the previous practice sessions, and coaches have at times whistled them for doing so. But the referees help hold the players accountable and prompt them to be more mindful. Terry McAulay, the head of today’s visiting officiating crew, said that because of the league’s increased emphasis on eliminating illegal contact after five yards, referees really paid attention to that area. Quite a few flags were thrown for that penalty, and Gruden said he thought the officials were being a little excessive there.

● Starting right tackle Tyler Polumbus missed a second straight day because of a personal matter. Tom Compton remained with the first team and appeared to do better in his second day at that position than he did yesterday. Compton’s reflexes appeared to be a little quicker, and he said after practice that after going against the backups for all of the OTAs and first five training camp practices, it took him a bit to adjust to the speed of the starters. Another thing that helped Compton, he said, was having pads on today. Unlike yesterday, he was able to play with more physicality and better engage.

● The sophistication of the offensive line/defensive line drills kicked up a notch today. Instead of one-on-one blocking, the linemen worked on combo blocks against a pair of stunting pass rushers.

● Gruden still doesn’t sound sold on Josh LeRibeus. He has been kind of lukewarm on the third-year guard every time he is brought up. He did commend LeRibeus for coming into camp in shape, but Gruden added that he’s looking for consistency and a little more drive out of LeRibeus. In today’s one-on-one drills, LeRibeus did well in his matchup with Chris Neild, but he definitely struggled against Barry Cofield. Right now, there’s not a huge difference between LeRibeus and rookie Spencer Long. Will be interesting to see them in games.

● Kai Forbath got the ball into the end zone on all five kickoff attempts today. Leg strength has always been an issue for him on kickoffs, and the need for more touchbacks is why Washington drafted Zach Hocker to compete. Forbath gets plenty of distance on field goals, however. Yesterday evening he and Hocker completed practice with field-goal competition against the walkthrough special teams defense. Forbath nailed a 60-yarder for his long. Hocker missed his 60-yard attempt. Ben Kotwica backed the unit up one more time for a 67-yard attempt and both kickers’ kicks fell short. Forbath was kicking himself afterward for letting his mind play tricks with him. He said he foolishly felt the need to crush the ball on the final attempt. He said he should’ve stroked it just as he did on the 60-yard attempt. He definitely had plenty of distance on the 60-yard try.

● Andre Roberts continues to get the nod as the first man up on kickoff return and punt return drills. Today it was Chris Thompson who served as the No. 2 kick returner.

● Trent Williams tweaked something in his left leg while blocking for DeSean Jackson on a screen pass. Williams appeared hobbled, but didn’t miss a snap. He didn’t want to talk about it after practice. He said “That’s just my pimp walk,” and grinned. Then he conceded that it was a slight limp but nothing major.

● Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins is trying to remain aggressive, and was a little too aggressive on one play today. He fell for the hard count and jumped, but got back across the line and back into his three-point stance. But the ball snapped just as he did, and he was slow getting off. Alfred Morris took the handoff and slipped right through the hole next to Jenkins and bounced to the right and up the field for a nice gain.

● DeAngelo Hall continues to do well in his matchups with DeSean Jackson. He perfectly timed a Robert Griffin III throw on a comeback route by Jackson. Both cornerback and wide receiver got their hands on the ball, and wrestled over it a bit before both wound up dropping it for an incompletion.

● Cornerback Richard Crawford seemed to have a rough practice. Ryan Grant made a nice catch up the seam from Kirk Cousins. The rookie wide receiver had a step on Crawford. On the next play, Crawford gave up a catch to Rashad Lawrence. Crawford’s trying to make up for lost time and work his way back into the mix after missing all of last year following surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee. At times, it appears he’s just a step or two late to the play.

● Crawford is competing for a spot behind four veterans in Hall, David Amerson, Tracy Porter and E.J. Biggers. He also has rookie Bashaud Breeland, second-year pro Chase Minnifield, first-year player Peyton Thompson and rookie Bryan Shepherd to contend with. Special teams is where Crawford (a good punt returner as a rookie) can help himself. But for now, looks like that job belongs to Roberts. We’ll see how he does in preseason games.

● Coaches are happy with how Breeland is progressing, but they don’t see him as better than Porter or Biggers right now. Hall  praised the improvements he has made and the hunger he has displayed. He said he’s always taking notes. But Hall also said Breeland still has “a long way to go,” and echoed coaches that special teams play is the best way for the Clemson product to get on the field this year.

● Santana Moss continues to make plays despite being demoted to fourth receiver and having to fight for a roster spot. He has seemed to stand out more than one of his top competitors, Aldrick Robinson. Both have gotten some additional snaps with Pierre Garcon sidelined.

● Rookie safety Akeem Davis missed today’s practice to attend the birth of his new baby.

Find previous days’ observations here. Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

Washington is next on the field for a 4:10 p.m. walkthrough. Here’s our camp guide, if you’re planning to attend.

Also from The Post:

Backup guards will have to play both sides

Griffin: Pass-catching back will help the offense

Morris: In pass protection, you have to see everything

Clark and Moss perfect the art of playing into their mid-30s

More NFL coverage: Home page | D.C. Sports Bog | The Early Lead | Fancy Stats

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Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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