The Redskins kicked off their mandatory minicamp Tuesday and will continue with practice Wednesday before holding meetings on Thursday and then breaking for the next month. Training camp will follow.
Washington had all hands on deck after missing Trent Williams, Jordan Reed and Matt Jones for the voluntary portions of the offseason schedule. Coach Jay Gruden said again today he had an understanding with Reed and Williams that neither would attend, but that both would be there for this mandatory week.
After watching the day’s practice, here are three things we learned:
1. Ryan Anderson’s mean streak: The Redskins liked the Alabama product’s body of work, but it wasn’t until talking to him and those close to him that they really learned just what it is that made him such an effective pass-rusher.
It’s the mind-set with which he approaches the game. Anderson comes off as a mild-mannered guy during casual conversations. But he’s definitely an alpha male and extremely intense on the field, according to the team’s newly-promoted director of college scouting, Kyle Smith.
“He is mean, nasty, tough,” said Smith, who as an area scout was responsible for scouting Anderson, his Alabama teammates and other schools in the Southeast region. “He’s got a different way about him. Intense. He’s a great guy. He’s really good person. But it’s like he gets into that mode and he is intense. He’s really going to change the way this defense plays. We’ve got a lot of tough guys. But he’s got a different way to him.”
It will be fun to see Anderson in pads and facing off with teammates in one-on-one drills this training camp, and obviously in games. Right now, he continues to work primarily behind Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, but he and Junior Galette have rotated in with the first-team defense frequently during these non-contact offseason practices.
After the rookie minicamp, Gruden described the 6-foot-2, 253-pound Anderson as “a big man,” but said the Redskins wanted him to lean out some. He has done just that since beginning Washington’s lifting program. Gruden said Anderson and his fellow rookies already have lowered their body fat while adding muscle in the last four weeks.
2. A year’s difference for Fuller: One of the sharper defensive backs this offseason? Second-year pro Kendall Fuller. He looks a lot more sound in his coverage and aggressive attacking the ball. A reunion with college position coach Torrian Gray might have something to do with it, but the big reasons for the improvement are confidence and health. This time last year, Fuller was still working his way back from the knee surgery that robbed him of his final season at Virginia Tech. During last year’s offseason practices, Fuller was very limited and didn’t practice fully until training camp. Last season, Fuller played a lot, but he had his share of ups and downs. Fuller already looks better.
During Tuesday’s practice, he had two pass breakups while playing tight coverage on the usually elusive Jamison Crowder.
Asked about the change in Fuller, Gruden said, “I think his confidence in his body, number one. Just talking to him yesterday, I think he feels a lot better where he his physically. That’s important for a [defensive back]. I think we pushed him a little bit too hard. He felt good enough to play, but I don’t think he really was quite his 100 percent self. He was good enough to play, he’s a tough guy and will fight through anything. But this year, I think he feels like his strength and quickness are back, and I think you’ll see a little bit better player.”
3. The go-to guys: It’s still early, and maybe this isn’t really a revelation, but despite new pieces on the outside, it is evident Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed remain the favorite targets of quarterback Kirk Cousins, particularly in the clutch. Running the two-minute drill, Cousins at one point completed eight straight passes while marching his team downfield. He checked down to Crowder four times and hit Reed three more times and wide receiver Maurice Harris once. Sure, Cousins has some big targets at wide receiver, but Crowder and Reed do such a good job of getting open on those routes underneath and over the middle. Reed caught two touchdown passes. Once on a 30-yard strike down the middle of the field and once on a 10-yard pass on fourth down.
Rest easy. I’m sure there will be plenty of fade routes to Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson eventually. But it’s clear Cousins has that level of comfort with Reed and Crowder when he needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly and with pressure coming.
Odds and ends
• It will be interesting to see how things change once training camp gets here, but for now, free agent additions Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain have yet to carve out distinguishable roles for themselves. Both defensive linemen continue to rotate in and out with teammates Ziggy Hood, Matt Ioannidis, Joey Mbu, A.J. Francis, Anthony Lanier and Phil Taylor on the first-team defense. The same goes for rookie Jonathan Allen. Eventually, you’d think McGee and McClain will take over the top spots on the depth chart. But that hasn’t been the case yet.
• Will Compton and Mason Foster remain the starters at inside linebacker, but Zach Brown continues to take turns rotating with Compton and Foster as well. There are times where it’s Foster and Brown in the nickel front, and Compton and Brown.
• The depth chart at running back saw an addition: Jones. But the former starter is pretty far down it. Rob Kelley leads the way, followed by Chris Thompson, rookie Samaje Perine, and then comes Jones. Mack Brown and Keith Joseph followed. Asked if Jones had a legitimate chance to work his way back to the top spot, Gruden said, “I’m just telling you, it’s going to be hard to move a guy who has been here working very hard and done such a good job. But it’s not impossible.”
Gruden continued to praise Kelley, Perine and Thompson, but did add, “it’s a really tough position to crack, but I wouldn’t put anything past Matt. He’s a big, physical guy.”
• Jones spent some of the offseason working with former Redskins running back Earnest Byner in Tampa. He said in addition to working to improve ball security, he was focusing on running lower to gain better leverage going through holes.
• Josh Norman got the best of Pryor on one of their one-on-one matchups during team drills. Pryor out-jumped Norman to grab the ball on a pass along the sideline. But Norman popped the receiver as he came down with the ball, knocking it from his grasp. Norman jumped up, did a little shimmy on the sideline as his fellow defensive backs congratulated him, and then Pryor commended him on the nice play.