So as the Redskins’ second-year players go through their first “normal” training camp, with a full offseason program finally under their belt, some say they are much more comfortable and expect better production this season.
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Royster said this week, “and we’ve done a pretty good job this offseason in preparing ourselves for that.”
NFL players were locked out by team owners in March 2011, but that April’s draft took place as scheduled. The Redskins selected a dozen players, led by first-rounder Kerrigan, and hoped the infusion of young talent would help lift an organization that spent years giving away its draft choices in pursuit of big-name veterans.
But the draftees had no access to team facilities or coaches until late July, when the lockout ended. Rookies were quickly signed to contracts, veteran free agents scurried from team to team and players hastily reported to training camps.
“It was very tough,” Paul said this week. “The playbook that we have, it was hard to pick up on. I was talking to [wide receiver Leonard Hankerson] about it last year. It was very difficult for us to do that. We came in and they kind of threw us in the fire. There were times out there when I didn’t know what the play was. I was just trying not to make a mistake.”
Last year’s rookies had no offseason practices, known as organized team activities. They had no minicamps. They did have a chance to receive their playbooks, thanks to a lifting of the lockout that lasted only days, but coaches were prohibited from contact with players during the shutdown.
“We got the playbook,” Paul said. “But it wasn’t like there was anyone there to explain. I didn’t know the concepts or anything like that. It was a struggle.”
Last season was not a washout for all the Redskins’ rookies. Kerrigan had a solid season, ranking second on the team with his 71
2 sacks. Roy Helu, a fourth-round draft pick from Nebraska, stepped in for the injured Tim Hightower at running back and led the team with 640 rushing yards. Royster, a sixth-round selection out of Penn State, began the season on the practice squad but was promoted to the 53-man roster in November. He had consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in the last two weeks of the season.
Fifth-rounder DeJon Gomes made five starts at safety. And Maurice Hurt, a seventh-rounder, made eight starts on the injury-depleted offensive line.
Even so, nothing came easily. Some of the players said it was well into the regular season before they had a good grasp of what was going on around them.