He also felt they needed to get tougher. And he launched into free agency and the draft with those criteria in mind — seeking maulers who’d not only stand their ground in the trenches, where games are won and lost, but who’d take the fight to their opponents’ backfields.
There was plenty of fight in the Redskins on Saturday, the final day of a three-day joint practice with the Houston Texans — the team that denied the Redskins’ offense a single passing touchdown and blocked an extra-point attempt in a 17-6 victory in last year’s season opener.
But was it a sign of progress? Were the three brawls that broke out on adjacent fields a sign of sorely needed toughness on a Redskins squad that faded in too many fourth quarters last season and seemed almost blithe, on occasion, about losing? Was the rush of Redskins jerseys into the fray the result of a new solidarity on a team that was prone to backbiting after particularly embarrassing defeats?
Or was the brawling a step backward? Was it one more example of a lack of discipline on a team that undercut itself time and again with bone-headed penalties on critical downs? (The 2014 Redskins’ 120 penalties were the eighth-most in the NFL, while their 1,129 penalty yards were fourth most.)
Just 24 hours earlier NFL referee Walt Coleman and his officiating crew had come to Redskins camp to show players the league’s annual video about new rules and points of emphasis for the upcoming season and to field questions about how they’d be applied during games. Chief among them: A crackdown on fighting, such as the melee that broke out in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.
Coleman made clear that the NFL now believes fighting reflects poorly on the league and will result in fines, ejections and possible suspensions. And that’s the key point Redskins Coach Jay Gruden emphasized after Saturday’s fracas, reminding players they’d be tossed for similar antics during games.
Wide receiver Andre Roberts, who joined the fray in defense of his teammates, suggested afterward that both good and bad were on display Saturday.
“I think [Gruden] was proud of us sticking together,” Roberts said of the fracas that ended with coaches separating the squads for the remainder of the session. “But nobody wants to be out there and waste time and be in fights. We all understand that during the season if you get in a fight, the whole team can’t get involved. The whole team would be suspended, and we’d lose games.”
Regardless, the ugly episode squandered an opportunity for young Redskins to improve against hungry practice partners five days before their preseason opener at Cleveland.
While some Redskins starters had been given a veteran’s day off and others were sidelined by injury, Saturday’s final practice against the Texans represented a valuable opportunity for everyone else on the 90-man roster. Having it cut short was a pity for rookie Brandon Scherff and second-year player Morgan Moses, who may well be the Redskins’ starting right guard and tackle for the Sept. 13 season opener despite having practiced at those spots, and in tandem, for just a few days.
It’s also a pity for quarterback Robert Griffin III and his corps of receivers, who need every chance they can get to fine-tune their timing. Same goes for backups Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins, engaged in a competition for the No. 2 job.
What did it say about the second-year NFL coaches on the field, who were unable to rein in their squads? Tricky to say. Gruden has been perceived at times as too much of a players’ coach; Texans Coach Bill O’Brien is regarded as the opposite, a taskmaster and staunch disciplinarian.
Neither coach said afterward that he’d re-think joint training-camp practices in the future, although Gruden said he might reconsider holding three consecutive sessions in full pads.
Said veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who sat out practice with a groin strain groin yet tried playing a peacemaker: “Like Jay said, we kind of lost a chance to get better because that’s a good football team that beat us last year. … Hopefully, we can go watch the little bit of film we have, try to dissect that and keep getting better. That’s the ultimate goal of training camp. It’s not to fight as much as you can. It’s really to try and come out here and get better.”
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