RICHMOND — They could feel it coming — the playful words escalating, the tempers rising beneath the surface, the hot afternoon giving way to even hotter temperaments — and the Washington Redskins were resigned to the inevitable outcome.
Long before torrential downpours blanketed the fields in sheets of water and lightning caused players to scurry for cover, Sunday’s first of three joint practices with the New York Jets had already gotten out of hand. The expected chippy nature between the teams gave way to multiple skirmishes, including a large brawl that spilled out in front of fans.
“Well, it wasn’t like nobody knew that was going to happen in the first place,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said matter-of-factly, making it clear he wasn’t a fan of the two-team sessions. “Having these joint practices, you expect that to happen.”
The afternoon initially featured quality competition in one-on-one drills, with fans cheering on the passionate, but measured, physicality and players playfully jawing at each other and tapping one another on the helmet for a job well done after the whistles blew. But it wasn’t long before dust-ups between a few mushroomed into brawls involving dozens.
“In 12 seasons, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” tight end Vernon Davis said, chuckling.
Both Redskins starting tackles, Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, were involved in the first fight over what Washington players described as “a cheap shot” by Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson on Moses. Running back Chris Thompson, who was the ball carrier on the play, said he “really didn’t see anything” but heard plenty from his teammates. “All I saw was Morgan, he made a block on Trumaine, which didn’t seem too bad to me but I guess once I got past him there was a cheap shot thrown or something,” Thompson said. “Guys, we’re going to protect our teammates at all costs.”
The Jets are the third team the Redskins have hosted in recent years — after the New England Patriots in 2014 and the Houston Texans in 2015 — and each time Washington has had its practices interrupted by fisticuffs.
“Personally, I think practicing against ourselves would be better, but I don’t make the rules and I sure don’t make these calls,” Norman said. “You don’t get anything out of them, man. Like, what do we get out of that? …We were practicing well. It’s just the offensive guys that, it seemed like every time we turned around they were going at it.”
The two teams were split by position groupings Sunday, with the Redskins’ defense facing the Jets’ offense on one field and the Redskins’ offense competing against the Jets’ defense on the far field in front of fans.
The biggest brouhaha, which took place in between both fields, ended with Moses being personally escorted off the field by Redskins Coach Jay Gruden.
Moses was not available for comment after the rain-shortened practice, but Williams — who, like Moses, spent the offseason recovering from surgery — acknowledged Johnson’s “cheap shot,” adding: “And we reacted how we reacted. But we’re grown … we move on. … It’s football. A lot of grown-man testosterone in the air.”
Johnson, a central figure in the day’s events, walked off the practice field yelling repeatedly, “It was a friendly competition!” when questioned by reporters. But Jets Coach Todd Bowles wasn’t amused.
“They’re trying to get better. We’re trying to get better. Some things happen,” he said, blaming the flare-ups on “overzealousness. [I’ll] talk to my guys and Coach Gruden will talk to his guys and we’ll have a better practice [Monday]. But that’s just a waste of time to me.”
Several Redskins agreed. Tight end Jordan Reed said the fighting was “definitely annoying” because “we couldn’t get our work in. But I’m sure it’s annoying for them as well.”
Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan acknowledged the difficulty in keeping emotions in check, but he called the fighting “very unproductive” because it prevents the first- and second-teamers who see limited action in the preseason from getting “quality work” consistently. “I understand tempers flare, and being hostile is part of being a football player, but you’ve also got to be able to control it,” he said. “I saw a couple different skirmishes,” he added, “one kind of moving towards the stands. I think I saw some fans fighting at one point. It was like, man, football can bring out the best and worst in people.”