Coach Ron Rivera has taken last year’s strategy for the early days of camp — cycle players through positions to find the best fit — and cranked it up. The team not only has experimented with many player combinations at many positions, including at safety, at wide receiver and on the offensive line, but it also has asked those players to man multiple positions.
The most notable example is cornerback Kendall Fuller, Rivera’s first splashy free agent signing. He played almost exclusively at wide corner last season as the team’s top option. But this year, after the team signed William Jackson III and drafted Benjamin St-Juste, he has taken snaps in the slot, where he first established himself in the NFL and excelled with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Others trying different positions: practically every safety at strong and free; wide receiver Dyami Brown, the third-round pick who has been in the slot after spending most of his college career outside; and defensive end James Smith-Williams, who has prioritized edge after playing mostly inside as a rookie. Saahdiq Charles, once thought to be a competitor at left guard, has instead played mostly second-team right tackle as veteran Cornelius Lucas remains on the covid-19 reserve list.
Whether these shifts will stick is unclear. It’s possible the coaches will deploy different combinations to take advantage of matchups. But with the return of a real camp this season, Rivera has seemed committed to examining his every option.
In her first public appearance since being named co-CEO of the team in late June, Tanya Snyder, wife of owner Daniel Snyder, passed out T-shirts to fans during practice. The NFL did not suspend Daniel Snyder after concluding its workplace investigation, but it did say Tanya would oversee day-to-day operations and represent the team at league activities for the next few months.
On Wednesday, Rivera praised first-round linebacker Jamin Davis for his ability to retain information from spring workouts. Davis said Thursday his approach has been simple: study the playbook and focus on the little details.
“Before you can learn phrases and words and stuff like that, you have to learn the alphabet,” Davis said. “So just making sure I know every position, every linebacker position, not just one specific one, and just making sure my head is in the book at all times because you never know when your number is going to get called.”
Throughout the first days of camp, it seems that the coaching staff is comfortable with Davis as Mike linebacker, the main communicator and captain of the defense. Davis entered training camp without any specific expectations about where the coaching staff would place him.
The rookie said the playbook was a lot to take in at first but he has gotten used to it and believes it’s nothing he can’t handle. Davis added he’s not going on the field with any fear, instead focusing on flying around the field and making plays.
In this year’s camp, wideout Cam Sims has the chance to build off a solid 2020 campaign in which he became a reliable target across from Terry McLaurin. With Curtis Samuel out for the beginning of camp, Sims has shown promise in the first two days alongside McLaurin. The fourth-year wide receiver made a couple of impressive snags Thursday that had his fellow receivers excited. After a contested catch against Fuller during 11-on-11s, McLaurin yelled at Sims, “You brought your strong hands to camp.”
Defensive end Chase Young, who wore a mask to his news conference Thursday, declined to reveal his vaccination status. Fully vaccinated players are not required to wear masks. Young said he plans on making sure he and his teammates follow the NFL and NFL Players Association coronavirus protocols to the best of their ability.
The reigning defensive rookie of the year said he’s more comfortable in Year 2 but pointed to play recognition as an area of focus. During practice Thursday, Young said he got tricked by Logan Thomas, who faked a block and caught a screen pass over Young’s head. He told Thomas afterward he loved the play design on the bootleg, adding that he opted to be aggressive on the play because of something he had seen the day before.
Young also noted he wants to help other young players, such as rookie offensive tackle Sam Cosmi, the same way.
“With somebody like Sam, I feel like the best thing I can do for them is just to give them everything I have, just to give him my best. If it’s going in every day and destroying him, then that’s what I have to do. That’s what I expected last year; [former right tackle] Morgan Moses strapped me up every play.”