There was an eerie difference as we arrived at Redskin Park today... it wasn't busy. It was perhaps the least attended training camp practice since the Spurrier era. The skies were overcast and there was a light drizzle but the rain held off and Redskin fans were treated to an afternoon practice with elbow room.
There were a lot of different special teams drills today. Typically the crowd sees little more than kick or punt returns but today the Redskins spent a fair bit of time on various ST skills and techniques. The first drill was a tackling drill. The ball carrier started behind a man shielded from the tackler's view, the tackler broke towards the 'shield' and then the ball carrier would go left or right when the tackler was almost there and the tackler had to react. Nothing exciting, but obviously Danny Smith felt that the unit needed some tackling work.
The second drill was just lining up for a kickoff in various configurations and then running up to the line as the kicker simulated the kick-off. Obviously the purpose of this drill was timing. They spent several minutes working on their run-ups and several times Smith got on certain guys for stutter stepping, telling them to "Time it up, time it up." Again, it wasn't overly exciting but it was good to see the attention to detail. Danny Smith is an intense coach and was 'instructing' the whole time.
Also of note today was the number of Washington Redskins not practicing due to injuries; Carlos Rogers, Lavar Arrington, Brandon Noble, Shawn Springs, Tony Dixon, Garnell Wilds, Dahrran Diedrick, Santana Moss, Ray Brown, Phillip Daniels. Cornelius Griffin and Walt Harris both practiced this afternoon.
Overall in the 11-on-11's, the offense wasn't great. But today it was mostly because the defense was spectacular. It was an average day for the quarterbacks with a few overthrows and a lot more incomplete passes. But Gregg Williams sent a lot of blitzes today, and the defense was buzzing. This defense of Williams' is so hard to defend and the players seem to really, really enjoy playing in it. Walt Harris came jogging out to pick up a receiver in motion today, broke to the receiver as he took off and then just reversed directions after a few steps and cut back towards the quarterback on a blitz. The offense didn't pick it up at all and Harris ran unabated to the QB and tapped him to end the play. Harris smiled, Williams smiled... I couldn't see Gibbs but I bet he wasn't smiling. The defense practiced with the aggression that they played last year and it was the first practice I've noticed them perform so well.
My favorite moment of the day had to be on a Sean Taylor blitz. Taylor ran a delayed blitz and looked to have an unimpeded path to the quarterback when out of nowhere Jim Molinaro stepped off of his beaten block and just blew Taylor up. I don't think Taylor ever saw him and he was a little shaken up on the play. I was in awe to see ST go down like a sack of potatoes when he is such a physical, dominating defender. Taylor got up a little limp, but he jogged off and was back out the next time it was his turn, so obviously it was nothing serious. The big second year tackle from Notre Dame continues to impress me and I watched him A LOT today. I didn't see him get beaten once and further to that, on one play he blew his assignment against Aki Jones and stepped inside when he should have stepped outside, but still recovered and completely nullified Jones. Jonathan Combs also broke a long run up the right side on one instance, and Molinaro completely sealed off his block. He has quick feet for such a big guy - an obviously necessary trait for a left tackle.
It's hard to keep it exciting just talking about vanilla plays in 11-on-11s day after day, so I thought today I'd just rank some key performers and performances on the offense with perhaps a few comments.
Patrick Ramsey - had a much better day than yesterday. He struggled early on and he was still off the mark a few times but he also made some good throws. Perhaps his best play of the day came when he had to step up into the pocket when Walt Harris came through on a blitz. Ramsey looked destined to be sacked but lobbed up a pass that landed right in James Thrash's lap for about a 35-yard pick-up. It was probably the loudest cheer of the day from the crowd. He also made another nice play on a touch pass to Billy Baber that he lobbed over the hands of the oncoming defender and had very little time to work with.
Mark Brunell - had an average day. Couple of really bad overthrows but a couple of passes zipped in there as well.
Jason Campbell - had a good day. He had a couple of bullet passes today including one to Jimmy Farris. He also had another great run when he felt the pocket collapsing and rolled out to his left and ended up taking the ball ten or fifteen yards up the field before a defender forced him out of bounds.
David Patten - had a good day. He made some good catches and I watched him run crisp pattern after crisp pattern. He did miss a pass or two but you can't expect him to lay himself out to go get a pass in a vanilla practice. In my mind, he's been the best receiver at camp so far and he plays a lot tougher than his size.
Kevin Dyson - didn't have a great day. He missed a couple of passes that might have been catchable, but in fairness to him, this is probably the first practice that he hasn't been good.
Ladell Betts - had a great day. There were a few more runs today, and Betts seemed to have more carries than Clinton Portis. Betts hit the whole hard on every run and Earnest Byner seemed very happy with the work he put in this afternoon. He also made a very 'tough' catch underneath on a pass from Ramsey that left Betts a little exposed. Portis had a decent run as well but didn't see much action as Joe Gibbs is obviously not going to show anything but a vanilla playbook at these open practices. Clinton was sporting a 'new look' today with three/quarter length shorts on. What a card.
Nehemiah Broughton - made a couple of good runs today. The rookies always seem to 'try' a little harder out there and today Nemo's effort resulted in a couple of solid gains. He also worked on kick returns in special teams drills and there is no doubt in my mind that there is a position on this team for the kid.
Other notes from today... Lavar Arrington passed his physical with flying colors. He also spent considerable time signing autographs after practice and laughing it up with the crowd. He always seems in good spirits but today he was exceptionally charismatic.