Smith and many of his teammates began putting in work at Redskins Park once offseason workouts began April 16 and the rookies arrived for minicamp May 11. The third phase of the Redskins’ program starts Tuesday with the first of three separate sessions of organized team activities. Veteran minicamp, the last of the offseason workouts before training camp, consists of a three-day session beginning June 12.
Tight end Vernon Davis has the inside track on forming a connection with Smith; the two played together from 2006 to 2012 with the San Francisco 49ers. Davis doesn’t see much different from the 13-year veteran.
“He hasn’t changed one bit,” Davis said. “I know he’s gotten better as a player, as a person. Overall, his personality, his character is still the same, and it’s good to see. It’s also great to be with him again.
“Right now, we’re just getting acclimated. Trying to just do all that we can to make sure all the synergy and camaraderie is there. But over time, throughout the season, I’m sure there’ll be some things that I recognize out of him that I didn’t see early on when we were in San Francisco.”
The acclimation process includes getting in sync on how routes are run and recognizing the same defensive looks at the line of scrimmage. The language of checks and audibles must be learned, too, as well as nonverbal cues, which develop over time.
Davis said the intricacies of quarterback-receiver rapport are cultivated both on and off the field, with both relationships equally important.
“The more time you spend around someone, the more you get to know them, and you just take that and you grow,” Davis said. “With Alex being a leader coming in, a [13-year] veteran, it helps with, not only the younger guys, but the guys who were already here. We can all learn from him even though we’re all veterans.
“To have that presence in Alex, a guy who can come back from behind, a guy who has longevity, a guy who plays his heart out and knows how to be a leader in the locker room, that’s a great thing to have. Knowing that we have that here with the Washington Redskins, that’s a big plus for us.”
Smith is coming off the most prolific season of his career, throwing for 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns with five interceptions last year. Seasons of 4,000 passing yards have become commonplace under Gruden, as Cousins surpassed that plateau the last three seasons with the Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for a career-high 4,293 yards in 2013 with Gruden as his offensive coordinator.
The Redskins traded nickelback Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs to acquire Smith this offseason, then added a downfield wide receiver threat in speedster Paul Richardson, a former Seattle Seahawk, via free agency. The Redskins also drafted LSU’s Derrius Guice in the second round, and he’s expected to start at running back. That could be three new starters at offensive skill positions when the season begins Sept. 9 at Arizona.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder said workouts have gone well but that the connection between quarterback and receivers can’t be rushed. Crowder posted 789 yards and three touchdowns on 66 receptions in 2017, his third season.
“The communication to this point has [gone] really well,” Crowder said. “The communication, trying to get on the same page has been easy to understand. I like that from him.
“We’re just working on timing and routes and making sure I’m where I need to be when he’s ready to deliver the football. There’s really not that much you can do to accelerate the process. You’ve just got to take it day by day and go out there and get good, quality work in.”
The Redskins focused on defense during the draft to address free agent losses in the secondary and a porous defensive line. The offense had a sturdier foundation of returning starters, but tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson all finished last season on injured reserve.
Good health alone should improve an offense that ranked No. 16 in the NFL in both points (21.4 per game) and yards (324.9 per game), despite the running game averaging 90.5 yards per game to finish No. 28 in the league.
Guice has been impressed by Smith’s leadership skills but believes mastering the playbook will be the quickest way for everyone to feel comfortable with one another.
“He’s a very smart guy. He’s willing the help the rookies,” Guice said. “He’s not one of those guys, if a rookie messes up, he’s just like, ‘Get him out of there.’ He’s willing to help you and work with you. And he has an arm on him.
“He’s the leader of the offense, no doubt. . . .When you’re watching him do his thing, you just know, ‘That’s my quarterback. That’s the leader of this offense.’ You can just see it.”
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