RICHMOND — Midway through Tuesday’s physical, three-hour practice against the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins cornerback Baccari Rambo broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins and pounded his chest in triumph.
“ ’Bout time!” groused a longtime Redskins fan looking on from the sideline in the afternoon heat. “That’s the first time they’ve stopped him all day!”
Day 2 of the three-day joint practice between the Redskins and Patriots was a carefully scripted affair, chocked with a series of situational drills — red zone, third down, two-minute and so on — in which each team’s offense tried to move the ball against the other team’s defense.
And the headline couldn’t have been overstated had it been put in flashing neon lights: Brady’s command of his position has his Patriots in midseason form, while the Redskins are about where you’d expect a 3-13 team with a re-tooled offense to be 48 hours before its preseason opener.
The ball rarely hit the ground when the Patriots’ first-team offense squared off against the Redskins’ defense in 11-on-11 drills. It was one rapid-fire completion after another to receivers all over the field and especially wherever Rambo lurked, subbing for starting free safety Ryan Clark who sat much of practice after tweaking a hamstring.
Drive after drive, Brady moved his Patriots with such efficiency that the Redskins’ secondary barely had a chance to make a play.
“There is something to be said for somebody who knows where everyone’s going to be before they’re there,” Clark said afterward. “And that’s what Tom is. He’s one of the best to ever do it. Not just one of the best of our time; he’s one of the best that ever lived. To get an opportunity to watch him at practice, it was an honor.”
From the perspective of Redskins Coach Jay Gruden, Brady’s performances also serve as an invaluable teaching tool — not only for his defense but also for quarterback Robert Griffin III, who’s entering a pivotal third season in the league.
“He has definitely got total control over the offense,” Gruden said of Brady earlier this week, “and that’s one thing we want to get Robert to — where he has absolutely total control over what’s happening on every play, where he doesn’t mess up on a progression, where he knows exactly if he’s covered he’s going here to run or he’s going right to left on your radio dial, whatever it is. Just total command of the game.
“. . . It’ll come for him. It’ll take some time for him. But it’ll come.”
Brady, of course, didn’t blossom into a future Hall of Famer overnight.
The Patriots plucked him from the obscurity of the 2000 NFL draft’s sixth round, 199th overall. And he had the luxury of spending his rookie season studying incumbent Drew Bledsoe and acclimating to the pace and power of pro football well outside the spotlight’s glare.
The quarterback Gruden described Tuesday as “poetry in motion” didn’t start an NFL game until his second season, forced into action when Bledsoe was injured.
While his receiving corps has turned over multiple times since then, Brady has spent his 15-year NFL career playing for the same head coach that drafted him, Bill Belichick, and fine-tuning the offense that has been tailored to his strengths.
The results have shown themselves in awards, such as nine Pro Bowl honors and two Super Bowl MVP trophies. They’ve shown themselves in statistics; Brady holds Patriots records for passing yards, completions, attempts and career wins and holds the NFL record for playoff starts (26) and playoff victories (18). And this week at the Redskins’ training facility, the results are showing themselves on the field.
All afternoon Tuesday he found Patriots receivers — firing the ball on their numbers underneath, hitting them in stride and, on red-zone plays, leading them deftly away from Redskins defenders who were in range yet hopelessly out of position.
Julian Edelman was a frequent target, as was Danny Amendola. On the rare drop, Brady made his disgust clear, and the receiver trotted off field for a flurry of pushups. At least once, he threw it away.
“I don’t think we have everything figured out,” Brady told reporters afterward, complimenting a Redskins pass rush that isn’t able to flex its muscle under practice rules that make quarterbacks untouchable. “I have to drop back and find the open guy and get rid of the ball quickly because it’s usually not very good things happening when I’m holding the ball.”
That’s among the things Gruden feels Griffin can improve on in the coming weeks and months. He also would like Griffin to throw the ball away more when he’s out of options, rather risking injury or a sack by trying to keep a lost play alive.
“The more opportunities he has to take a snap from center, drop back with people rushing him, seeing coverages, seeing routes develop, making his reads, making his progressions, making his throws with his footwork, the better he is going to be,” Gruden said.
Griffin knows well that 15 years in an offense is far better than one. But he’s bullish about the progress to date.
“You want to have that long-term longevity and allow guys to shine and continue to develop that chemistry,” Griffin said. “I think we’re where we want to be right now and we’re going to continue to grow each day.”
More Redskins and NFL coverage:
The Insider: Working on situational football
The Insider: Hamstring issues sideline Clark, Garcon
On Football: Dalton’s new contract not that big of a deal