The Washington Redskins on Wednesday held their second voluntary practice session of the week, and will have one more session on Thursday, before getting back to work next week.
Coach Jay Gruden praised the tempo and level of play produced on Wednesday, but he also described it as a carryover from the foundation laid during the past month of conditioning sessions, position and unit meetings and walk-throughs.
Here are some observations from Wednesday’s session – the only day open to reporters this week:
It’s still extremely early, and coaches will do a lot of tinkering in these practices, but you can see how things are starting to fall in place in advance of training camp, which begins in the final week of July.
● Following the release of Dashon Goldson earlier this spring, the defense is focused on finding a safety. For now, coaches have David Bruton Jr. penciled in as the starter next to DeAngelo Hall. Gruden said Duke Ihenacho also has gotten some work there, but on Wednesday, he worked with the second unit exclusively. Bruton, signed as a free agent from Denver,- certainly looks the part at 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds. He’s got the instincts and physicality of a box player, but the big question involves his ability to cover downfield. He seemed to do okay in coverage on Wednesday, but it was mostly short stuff, and he wasn’t tested deep either. He spent his seven seasons in Denver as a backup and special teams player, but the Redskins will see if he can serve as an upgrade, and a more durable option than Ihenacho, who has played only 13 snaps in two injury-shortened seasons.
● Will Blackmon is learning safety, and is noticeably bigger. The former cornerback, who played behind Hall on Wednesday, didn’t have much body fat anyway, but you can see his upper body, particularly his shoulders and chest, are bigger. The roster lists him at 212, which is eight pounds heavier than his weight last year.
● The defensive line is another area of uncertainty, but for now, it’s Chris Baker, Kedric Golston and Kendall Reyes as the starting trio. There was a lot of moving around, with Golston starting at nose, only to swap out to end as Reyes slid over to the nose. There was a lot of moving around with the second unit as well, with Trent Murphy, Stephen Paea, Ricky Jean Francois and Ziggy Hood all rotating. Jean Francois said this is a much more versatile unit than Washington had last season, and that although they lack a traditional nose tackle, they’ll be just fine. Paea (before getting hurt) played end last season, but today, he lined up at nose guard a fair bit. Hood did as well.
● Rookie Su’a Cravens split time between inside linebacker and defensive back during positional drills. But during team work, he was one of the inside linebackers with the second unit. I didn’t see him get any action at either safety or linebacker with the first unit.
● Preston Smith has slimmed down a bit as he enters his second pro season. He also appears more assertive and aggressive. He started opposite Ryan Kerrigan, and said he expects a lot more playing time this year. It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Barry uses Smith and Galette, but it’s possible that Galette sees most of his action primarily as a situational pass rusher, as Smith looked solid both against the run and the pass late last season. One of Smith’s more impressive moments in practice came when he found himself in coverage downfield against Jordan Reed. Smith hung with the talented tight end, and Cousins wound up slightly overthrowing Reed, who dove trying to make the catch. Linebackers and defensive backs praised Smith for his coverage on the speedy tight end.
● Experimentation on the offensive side of the ball involves the interior of the line, where left guard and center remain unsettled. Kory Lichtensteiger remains the starter at center and is “doing excellent,” according to Gruden. But Spencer Long took the second-team snaps at center. Long, Josh LeRibeus and second-year pro Arie Kouandjio all got some first-team snaps at left guard. Lauvao would be another option there, but he’s not yet 100 percent healthy following the multiple ankle surgeries he had last season and this offseason.
● Gruden isn’t ready to replace Lichtensteiger at center. But he said the coaches want to groom Long so they have options in the case of an injury. Last year, LeRibeus was basically the only option when Lichtensteiger got hurt. There’s some belief that Long’s future could involve a move to center, but he’s still very much learning the position. He did a good job of calling out protections, it seemed. But he had a couple of subpar snaps that resulted in fumbles by Colt McCoy.
● Cousins and wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed appeared to have their midseason connection as the quarterback made tough throws to each at various points of practice.
● Keep an eye on Quinton Dunbar, who on Wednesday was one of the bright young spots in the secondary. This offseason and training camp, he will fight to remain relevant, because of the offseason additions of Josh Norman and Kendall Fuller. Dunbar had two interceptions of Colt McCoy on Wednesday — one diving catch along the sideline while covering Maurice Harris, and another downfield interception while covering Harris again.
● An under-the-radar guy to look out for: Outside linebacker Willie Jefferson, who at 6-5, 246, has great size to go with what seems to be good speed and athleticism. A second-year pro who played in six games for Houston in 2013, Jefferson will try to make the team as an extra pass rusher behind Kerrigan, Smith and Galette. Jefferson showed some flashes out there today as he applied pressure off the edge.
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