Observations from the Redskins’ first practice back in Ashburn


Since catching this pass on the first day of training camp, Ryan Grant has steadily risen up the depth chart. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Washington’s players got back to work today after receiving Wednesday off, and after a strong showing on Tuesday, the offense appeared to have lost its sizzle today.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled with accuracy, his receivers had uncharacteristic drops, the run game struggled  particularly in the red zone  and pass protection also was an issue.

“The most exciting thing was before we left Richmond, the offense really took it to the defense the last day and I think they remembered that  I know the coaches remembered that  so today they geared it up a notch,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “Offensively, we didn’t quite match the intensity level, so it was great to see our defense come out with a chip on their shoulder, rush the quarterback, communicate very well in two-minute, and they had a great day today.”

● Early in practice, Griffin made a couple of nice completions to tight end Jordan Reed (practicing for the first time this week) and wide receiver Pierre Garcon (now apparently fully healed from his hamstring injury). But the quarterback had three near interceptions, going for wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, and running back Alfred Morris.

● Cornerback DeAngelo Hall had great coverage on Jackson, running stride for stride with him and actually got inside position as they raced up the right sideline. Hall lost his footing as he tried to snag the slightly underthrown ball and couldn’t get more than one hand on it. It wasn’t the first time that Hall has gotten the better end of the battle with Jackson. In fact, he has seemed to have more success. Most of Jackson and Griffin’s big-play connections have come when the fourth round of defensive backs have rotated in, and Bryan Shepherd has drawn the assignment of covering Jackson. Hall has surrendered a few big plays, but he has come out on the winning side more times than not. Jackson has had success on slant routes, crossing patterns and out routes versus Hall. Many times Hall has been playing off in those situations, to avoid getting beaten deep.

● Inside linebacker Keenan Robinson fronted Morris as the running back ran an out route, and Griffin seemed to try to throw the ball through Robinson. It’s possible he was trying to throw it over him and just didn’t get enough air on it. Robinson deflected the pass.

● The near interception to Roberts came in a goal-line situation. Roberts ran a slant and Griffin didn’t see David Amerson. The cornerback himself seem surprised when the ball drilled him right in the chest. He couldn’t react fast enough to make the catch.

● Coaches gave Roy Helu Jr. a chance to see what he could do in goal-line situations behind the first-team line, but in two attempts, he failed to getting to the end zone. He lacks that pile-moving power that Morris has.

● Griffin and the first unit, and Kirk Cousins and the second unit, struggled in the two-minute offense.

● The starters got the ball at the 20-yard line with two minutes on the clock and picked up six yards on a completion to Garcon. Then Griffin took that shot downfield to Jackson, who was covered heavily by Hall. Griffin then threw an incomplete pass to Roberts, and facing fourth-and-4 with 1:33 left on the clock, the offense went for it. But another incomplete pass to Roberts killed the drive.

● Cousins & Co. went three-and-out.

● The Colt McCoy-led third unit did the best, and actually marched downfield and scored. On the final play, Lache Seastrunk bounced a carry to the outside right corner. Wide receiver Rashad Ross had a block to seal the edge and Seastrunk scored from 20 yards out.

● Despite today’s offensive struggles, Gruden downplayed concerns about a lack of consistency. His take:
“We’ve had some good days, and we have got a good defense out there. Every play is not going to work to perfection. They’re competing also for their lives and their jobs, so Coach Haslett has got a great scheme back there and certain concepts aren’t very good for certain coverages, but I think Robert  is doing a good job. I think overall he’s seeing some things, and the last two or three days I’ve been very, very impressed with his progression. That’s what quarterbacks have to do  they have to continue to progress and not take that step backwards and have a bad play, maybe, but then eliminate it from your mind and move forward and focus in on the next one. We’re just going to continue to monitor and continue to coach them and hopefully get them ready for Houston at a high level.”

● Asked what signs of progress he has observed in Griffin, Gruden had this to say: “I think just the entire scope of the position. He’s calling plays faster in the huddle; he’s got a better command of the game, the snap count. All those little things that go into playing a position are very, very important. How he handles dummy counts, snap counts, quick counts, hard counts, and then his progression from being able to change the protection from one side to the other – whatever he has to do – just a total understanding of the game other than you see passes flying in the air and they’re complete or incomplete. Great, but playing quarterback is a lot more than throwing a football. It’s getting us into the right run, it’s handling formation, handling the clock in two-minute, all of these things that he’s starting to understand  the total big picture of the game  and I’m excited about his progress already.”

● Rookie wideout Ryan Grant has been climbing the depth chart. After spending most of his time on the second and third units, he has started seeing more time as a rotational player with the first team while also playing on the second unit. Today, he made a nice grab on a crossing route from Griffin. The rookie snagged the throw, which was a little behind him and high. He pulled the ball down and turned upfield for a decent gain.

● Gruden says that Grant and Aldrick Robinson have earned his trust to the point where if Jackson or Garcon need a breather, he has no problem putting them in. Both wide receivers needed to have strong camps and preseasons because they’re behind a talented trio  Garcon, Jackson and Roberts  and they have done just that. “No question,” Gruden said when asked about Grant. “He’s already proven that he’s capable of moving into that role. It’s just that we have three pretty good players in front of him right now and  [Robinson] actually is having a really good camp also. Between Aldrick and Ryan Grant, those two guys are probably performing the best out of the receiving corps because of Pierre’s injury and DeSean’s injury. So it’s great to have depth at that position. Like I said, when DeSean runs deep, to be able to put in Ryan Grant or Aldrick Robinson and be fresh and have that type of depth at the receiver position is really, really exciting.”

● Brandon Meriweather sat with a toe injury, so Bacarri Rambo saw time with the first team at strong safety. He previously has played free safety either on the second unit, or in place of Ryan Clark. Today, he remained with the first team, but at strong safety, with Clark on the field. Rambo did well as a whole, but did have one lapse in pass coverage as he didn’t pick up Jackson after cornerback Tracy Porter (giving Hall a breather) had passed Jackson off to Rambo. The safety didn’t recognize it until late and was a step or two behind Jackson when Griffin’s pass dropped in over the receiver’s shoulder for a 30-yard completion.

● Phillip Thomas recorded a pass breakup and also had a nice tackle in run support during his first practice back from his two-week injury-induced absence.

● The Redskins practice again at 8:35 a.m. Friday. This is the last full practice that reporters will be able to watch. Then the park is closed on Saturday and Sunday, and then, things shift to a regular-season mode next week, and we’ll just be able to watch the first 20 minutes (usually riveting stretching and a few position drills).

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:

The Redskins practice at 8:35 a.m. on Friday.

Also from The Post:

Griffin brushes off Manziel comparisons

Thomas and Reed return to action

Morris is ‘Steady Eddie’ in Gruden’s eyes

Breeland ready to deal with consequences of citation

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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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