The Washington Redskins on Saturday wrapped up their rookie minicamp, and although they still have a long way to go, Coach Jay Gruden said he was “impressed,” “satisfied” and “happy” with his draft picks and the college free agents.
Everything’s a blur for these players right now. Not only are they learning new systems and acclimating to new coaching staffs, but they’re also getting back into football shape. Working out keeps them strong and fit to a degree. But there’s nothing like actual game shape, and so it will be some time before the rookies are flying around at full-speed.
“They have a long way to go, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “They know they have a lot of work ahead of them. They’re behind. They have to catch up. But I like the way they worked. I like the way they practiced, and I like their athletic ability.”
The Redskins devoted their first three picks of the draft to defense, and two of those three players went through practice the past two days. First-rounder Jonathan Allen led the defensive line unit; second-rounder Ryan Anderson stood out among the outside linebackers. Cornerback Fabian Moreau is still rehabbing from a torn pectoral muscle and likely won’t return to action until training camp or the start of the regular season.
Some notes and observations from Saturday’s sessions.
● Allen impressed his coaches this weekend with his understanding of the game and technique.
The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Alabama star displayed good footwork and use of his hands during position and team drills. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula gave Allen a lot of individual attention on how to improve his technique but seemed pleased with the way Allen worked to apply the lessons by making adjustments on the fly.
It’ll be interesting to see how Allen performs once he gets on the field with his veteran teammates on the coming weeks.
● Anderson’s size and strength is impressive. He is powerfully built at 6-2 and 260-plus pounds. Gruden said he’s a little heavy right now, but that’s to be expected considering he hasn’t played football since the end of his college season. Gruden didn’t want to speculate when asked about an ideal weight for Anderson.
The linebacker will get together with strength coach Chad Englehart and map out a plan. But Gruden said Anderson isn’t “far away at all. And the kind of guy that he is, he’ll work his tail off and get in shape.”
Anderson moved all over the place during Saturday’s practice. He lined up at left outside linebacker — the spot usually manned by Ryan Kerrigan — and right outside linebacker, where he likely will vie with Preston Smith, Junior Galette and Trent Murphy for the starting job.
Anderson said he felt comfortable at either spot and just wants to prove his versatility. He’s looking forward to next week when he’ll start training with the team’s veterans. He thinks this is an “ideal situation” for him to come in where he can learn from well-established guys like Kerrigan and compete with other young players like Smith and Murphy.
● Fourth-round pick Samaje Perine made a good first impression on coaches. He looked like the well-rounded prospect they believed they were getting from Oklahoma. These weren’t padded practices, so you couldn’t quite see Perine’s power on display, but his quickness and explosiveness were evident.
On one play, he took the handoff on a sweep to the right, made a cut to evade a defender and burst upfield, drawing praise from running backs coach Randy Jordan.
Later, Perine ran a pass route, going right at an inside linebacker and then made a great cut to create separation and made the catch. Jordan ran downfield after his new back, exhorting him for his technique.
Perine said he loves Jordan’s energy and that he can tell already that he’ll feed off that.
Despite the lack of contact, Gruden could tell Perine had sharp technique: “You can tell he runs hard. You can’t see that in shorts, but you can tell his pad level is always down and he had good vision and he has good feet in the hole, and he caught the ball well.”
● Another player drawing praise from Gruden: seventh-rounder Josh Holsey. The defensive back took reps both at cornerback and nickelback. He likely will start out his career on the inside, but coaches have him learning both positions for now. Gruden liked what he saw from the Auburn product during one-on-one drills Friday and challenged Holsey to carry that over into team drills. Holsey displayed good quickness and instincts, getting out of breaks quickly to contest passes. On Sunday, the 5-10, 190-pounder stood out in particular when he broke on the ball on an out route and swatted the pass away along the sideline. Gruden was there to smack Holsey on the helmet right after the play. The cornerback said Gruden joked that he should’ve intercepted the ball. Holsey was encouraged by his start but can’t wait to mix it up with the veterans and try to learn everything he can from them. He said he’s going to “eat what they eat, eat when they eat, sleep when they sleep,” and just try to mimic everything possible.
● Another cornerback prospect that stood out was Marrio Norman, but partly because he wore No. 24 and was the only tryout player with his name on his jersey. That’s because he is the older brother of Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and was wearing the Pro Bowl cornerback’s practice jersey.
Marrio Norman is 14 months older than Josh Norman and has spent the past eight years bouncing around in the Canadian and arena football leagues.
Asked how badly he wanted another Norman in the building, Gruden laughed and said, “You would think one would be enough, but he’s got a skill set. I tell you what. He’s a good player. He’s been in a couple different leagues. He runs around out there good. Josh has been touting him pretty hard the last year and a half, so we wanted to give him a shot, give him a look and we’ll discuss his future today.”
● Another tryout player also boasted a more famous family member. Tulane linebacker Nico Marley is the grandson of the late Bob Marley. Whether intentional or by coincidence, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” was playing over the sound system as the Redskins began pre-practice warm-ups. Nico Marley is undersized at 5-8, 195 pounds, but he did well working with the second unit as an inside linebacker. Marley forced a fumble and had an interception.
● One of Saturday’s first-team inside linebackers represented the opposite end of the size spectrum. Seventh-rounder Josh Harvey-Clemons was easily the longest, lankiest guy on defense, towering over his fellow linebackers at 6-4, 217 pounds. A strong safety in college, Harvey-Clemons is attempting the switch to linebacker because the Redskins want to use him in coverage against running backs and tight ends. Harvey-Clemons appears to move well, but he’ll definitely have to bulk up.
● Harvey-Clemons and another towering prospect, undrafted rookie Shak Randolph (6-3, 213, Southern Methodist), both stood out on special teams as they raced downfield on a tandem gunner drill and tagged the punt returner just as he secured the ball. Had the players been wearing pads, it would’ve been a nasty collision.
● The Redskins will continue offseason conditioning drills for the next two weeks, and then the rookies will hit the field with their veteran teammates for actual practices in the final week of May.