Zach Brown was missed the last three weeks at Redskins Park.
The 2017 team-leading tackler attended just one day of organized team activities as he moved to a new house in Virginia and dealt with personal issues. Those workouts were voluntary, and the inside linebacker was back for mandatory minicamp Tuesday and received warm welcomes from teammates and coaches.
“He’s always ready to play, no matter what,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “We all know that with Zach. I was talking to him the whole time. I knew he had other stuff going on. He was in tune with his teammates and handling business with his family. So, when the year starts, he’s all the way in. He came out here today and looked great.
“Still fast as ever, making plays. I’m excited to get my boy back. That’s my brother.”
For most of the day, Brown shared first-team reps with Josh Harvey-Clemons, who filled his spot during OTAs. Brown said he came back in shape and felt fine after the session that lasted a shade under two hours.
The seventh-year veteran signed a three-year, $24 million deal to return to Washington after testing free agency. Brown originally signed a one-year deal with the Redskins before the 2017 season after spending four years in Tennessee and one in Buffalo.
“Finally got a place I can call home,” Brown said. “For me, this is great, can grow with a group of guys. And a lot of them are back. Just add a couple new pieces.
“I should be able to do a lot more [this year] because everybody’s more comfortable with the people around them. Now it’s just, you’ve got to [take it] to the next level. Make sure we step up.”
The coaching staff has been eager to get Brown back for a second year in defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s system and alongside Foster again. Foster quarterbacks the defense and Brown is a sideline-to-sideline blur. Returning all four starting linebackers, getting defensive end Jonathan Allen healthy and drafting defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne No. 13 overall is thought to be vital to improving a run defense that ranked last in the league in 2017.
“I think Zach Brown physically, when you look at him, he’s as gifted a linebacker as there is, really,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “He can run, he can hit, and all that stuff. I think learning a new defense, there were some times where we were out of place – and not just him, but whoever – the defense wasn’t quite in sync. I think him being in his second year with his athletic ability, adding Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen in the middle in front of him with Matt Ioannidis and Ziggy [Hood], whoever else is in there with [Ryan] Kerrigan and Preston [Smith], I think it’s going to make him all the more freer to roam and play fast.
“So, first year, you know, like I said, last year we went 7-9, I can’t really say, ‘Hey, anybody played all-star-type level.’ But I think he was leading the league in tackles there for a little while because of his speed, and I think he can play a lot better.”
Smith slicing: Quarterback Alex Smith was extremely impressive on the first day of mandatory minicamp, mixing accurate touch passes with strong-armed darts downfield. He hit speedster Paul Richardson on a touchdown of about 50 yards during 7-on-7 after Richardson got behind Josh Norman and Montae Nicholson. Richardson caught two deep touchdown during the session. Jamison Crowder continued to have a strong connection with the new quarterback and caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone between Foster and Quinton Dunbar after Smith left the pocket. Josh Doctson, Derrius Guice and Kapri Bibbs also were the recipients of pinpoint passes from Smith.
“We are all just trying to get him as comfortable as we can, and it’s just a matter of him getting used to the terminology,” Gruden said, “getting used to the players around him, how we call plays, all that stuff. He’s a veteran guy. He’s been there, done that. About every kind of passing scheme concept he’s seen or done, run concept he’s seen or done in his career with both Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and obviously with Coach [Andy] Reid, so not a lot I can throw at him that he hasn’t done or tried.
“It’s just a matter of getting on the same page – what we call things, how we like to tag certain coverages, progressions, all that good stuff. So, I’ve been very impressed with him as player and, obviously, as a person.”
Did not participate: Chris Thompson, Keith Marshall, T.J. Clemmings, Trent Williams, Mogan Moses, Ty Nsekhe, Manasseh Garner, Brian Quick, Jordan Reed, Stacy McGee and Phil Taylor did not participate in the practice session. Gruden said McGee recently had groin surgery, and Quick was out with a personal issue.
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