ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team are one step closer to summer vacation, and hopefully the calm before the storm in late July.
Another mandatory minicamp practice is in the books from a overcast, breezy and warm morning at the Inova Sports Performance Center.
J.D. McKissic had an excused absence for a family matter per coach Ron Rivera, while Tim Settle did not participate because of an ailment that is not COVID related.
COVID vaccinations and how the WFT are handling that was a huge story on Wednesday. We cover that here, featuring Montez Sweat, with more to come.
Curtis Samuel (groin) and Jon Bostic (excused) were also not at practice once again. Our Samuel update is here.
Our practice notes and observations from Wednesday:
*Rookie cornerback Benjamin St-Juste was all over the place. He was hounding just about every receiver he went up against at the right outside corner position. Quite simply, if this is the type of player the WFT drafted, look out.
One practice does not make a career but we've seen glimpses of this a few times and Wednesday it was full-throttle.
In one team period of 11-on-11, St-Juste had three pass breakups by my count and they looked mostly clean (on time and no DPI). St-Juste was harassing Dyami Brown all day and unofficially had five passes defended on the morning.
On one St-Juste defended pass over the middle, a coach yelled out, "Oh yeah...that's what I'm talking about."
The last pass break-up that I saw in the red zone from St-Juste looked like he got in a bit early and maybe there was one more like that, but he was flat-out awesome on Wednesday.
*Without putting the team in a compromising position from a schematic standpoint, I can just tell you that this defense will be a lot more aggressive in Year 2 under coordinator Jack Del Rio.
You can see it. You can feel it. Not only in talent additions (William Jackson III, St-Juste, Bobby McCain, Jamin Davis) but in scheme and philosophy. I would very much expect more of a "gambling'' philosophy than we saw last year.
*Antonio Gibson was very involved in the passing game during practice Wednesday with McKissic being out. That's expected, regardless of McKissic's role, but it felt more noticeable here.
Gibson had a back-shoulder catch in tight coverage from Cole Holcomb, drawing praise from the coaching staff.
Gibson also had one run off left tackle in which he rocketed into open space, leading running backs coach Randy Jordan to yell a few times, "Way to run!!"
*Pass knockdowns were also a big part of Wednesday and what this defense can do even better. Sweat engulfed a pass early, with Chase Young generating pressure off the left side of the defense.
James Smith-Williams, an impressive seventh-round rookie last year, had a big swat off of a Kyle Allen pass.
There was at least one other swat of a pass in the practice session, and that talent of this front seven is important.
Why? Teams are going to try and get rid of the football very quickly with three-step drops, shotgun sets and one-step pivot releases. The WFT is not going to be able to constantly defeat that, but if their hands and arms go up and if they can regularly knock down passes like they did Wednesday and at times last year (At Dallas, at Pittsburgh), that's going to force a QB to think and operate differently.
*Other depth corners that had very nice pass breakups on Wednesday were Danny Johnson and Troy Apke, both in the end zone. Kam Curl also had a clean break-up as well. Johnson had another pass defended over the middle.
*Chase Young appeared to be yelling out to one of his defensive line teammates on one particular situation in the team period, as both were on the sidelines, to get in for a particular rep. It's part of Young's leadership and growth already.
READ MORE: Chase Young Says WFT Could Be Top Defense
One thing that we'll keep an eye on and this is not going to be what fans want to hear. It was very clear to a small group of reporters who were watching Young closely, including me, that Young wasn't going anywhere close to full speed. Essentially on a few reps, he was going through the motions.
That's going to happen from time to time, but as a leader and captain, that will show up on tape and others might think they can slack off in their tempo and hustle.
*Cam Sims had a terrific catch climbing the latter along the far sidelines on a throw fron Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was probably the play of the day from an offensive perspective.
READ MORE: Tuesday's Minicamp Notebook
*Fitzpatrick overthrew a fairly wide-open Terry McLaurin on a cross-corner route in the red zone. Gotta hit those, especially in compressed space.
Fitz also did a nice job at times scanning and reading the defense, it appeared high to low and multiple progressions, to find a dump-down option in Gibson in the flat.
On another, he scanned and found Adam Humphries in the red zone across the middle.
On one throw, Sims (Cam) climbed the ladder from Fitzpatrick with tight coverage from Jackson III.
*Taylor Heinicke connected with Kelvin Harmon for a deep tumbling sideline catch that looked exactly like what Washington drafted Harmon for. Contested, a tough grab and the kind of big-play momentum that you need.
*Linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk had a very nice pass breakup over the top of Sammis Reyes.
*It looked like Peyton Barber was targeted several times in the passing game as well. Rivera said after practice that Barber has slimmed down but is still plenty powerful enough to be effective inside and in short-yardage.