With a little over two weeks to go before the start of the season, things are starting to take shape for the Washington Football Team. The players have endured a lot over the past few weeks, and I’m sure they are itching to go against players who don’t sport the burgundy and gold.
On September 13th, the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles in their first live action of the season. This year is unprecedented in the fact that the players had no preseason to work out the kinks and see where they stand relative to their peers.
Therefore, what limited exposure we have had to training camp now holds more weight, because this is truly the only evidence we can gauge the team. Thus, here are my takeaways from a crazy offseason, and what I learned so far from training camp.
No More “Club Jay”
Over the last six seasons, Washington has been guided by Jay Gruden, an offensive coordinator turned head coach, who nestled in nicely with the front office of the organization. Gruden provided stability for the team, navigating them to a .500 record for most of his time here. However, he earned the reputation of being a “player’s coach”, almost to the detriment of structure and discipline. Training camp in Richmond was notorious for being especially lax, and the team often struggled the first month of the season.
In comes Ron Rivera. The early indication is Rivera can balance a disciplinarian approach as well as building relationships. Players such as Ryan Anderson have suggested that they would “run through a wall” for Rivera, and the coach has made a concerted effort to attack social justice issues head on. This human-side of the coach makes him relatable, and the players find him genuine. But he still doesn’t take lack of discipline lightly. We here at SI.com have a first-hand account of Rivera scolding his players for lack of focus.
This attention to detail, and emphasis on high standards, has been lacking in DC for a while. So the emergence of a no-nonsense coach is a breath of fresh air.
The Offensive Line May Be a Problem
Going into the season, it was clear that the team had issues of depth and high-end talent, especially on offense. Early reports have shown that the team is still lacking a clear direction on the offensive line. As we stand now, there is a battle at the left tackle and left guard position, although Geron Christian may be cementing himself as Haskins’ blind side protector.
It was apparent that the team wasn’t happy with what they saw with their O-Line early on, as they brought in a platoon of players to try out. They eventually settled with the signing of former first-round pick, Josh Garnett as a depth piece.
At this time, it appears that the offensive line is not a strength of the team. In a pivotal year in which Haskins has a lot to prove, this is somewhat concerning as the season starts.
Defense Wins Early
For those of you who follow football closely, it is common for defenses to have a leg-up early in training camp. As opposed to complex offensive concepts, defensive plays tend to be more reactionary and players tend to play more “free”. For example, playing base cover-two is much easier to grasp as opposed to “Spider 2 Y Banana” as coined by Jon Gruden.
What we have seen so far in Ashburn is that the defensive line is coming off “as advertised” and players such as Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young have flashed. Granted, hitting has been limited and many of the drills favor the defense, but it is nice to see the players coming in confident and aggressive. Young has shown that his athleticism translates to the pro-level, and that’s a very good sign for this team. Here’s an example of him blowing up tight-end Logan Thomas
One thing I did notice? The linebackers have still struggled in coverage over the middle of the field. That may be an issue come Zach Ertz, Evan Engram time.
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Apke and Christian Shine
Often when a player drafted from the previous regime is leftover, their playing status, or even standing on the team, comes into jeopardy. The opposite seems to ring true for former Gruden picks-- safety Troy Apke and Christian. Both players seem to be thriving with a coaching change and have made strides for serious playing time.
Apke has been lined up at the starting free safety position and his high-end speed may mesh well in a Cover-1, Jack Del Rio Defense. Del Rio emphasizes a press-man scheme and favors a free safety that is more like a centerfielder. This will allow strong-safety Landon Collins to play in the box, and Apke to utilize his speed. So far, so good for the Penn State product, although I’m still concerned about his open-field tackling in run support.
Christian has been a pleasant surprise this season. To be honest, I thought he would have been a camp casualty due to what I’ve heard over the last few years. There didn’t seem to be confidence in his abilities with the last regime, and many thought he lacked urgency and fire at the position.
The former Louisville Cardinal is now opening eyes in Ashburn, and has a very real shot to open up the season as the starting left tackle. This would have been unheard of a few months ago. Good for him. His development would go a long way to improve the fortune of this team.
George Carmi joined "Washington Football" on SI.com in April. He is also an editor/contributing writer to FullPressCoverage.com or @FPC_Redskins. He is a native of the DC metropolitan area and is an avid fan of DC Sports. A former journalism major at the University of Maryland, his focus is now in public education. His earliest memories consist of Darrell Green, "The Posse" and Super Bowl XXVI. Follow him on twitter @Gcarmi21