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How Five Players Adjust To Joining The Redskins In The Middle Of Camp

Posted Aug 15, 2017

Throughout training camp, the Redskins signed several new players to help fill out the roster for injured players. Here's how these hopefuls handled joining a new team in a quick transition.

Throughout training camp, the Redskins signed several new players to help fill out the roster for injured players. Here's how these hopefuls handled joining a new team in a quick transition.

Multiple times during Redskins training camp, a grouping of new players lined up beside each other on the team's small drill field and went through a series of stretches with assistant strength and conditioning coach Jake Sankal. Eventually, they migrated to an adjacent field for a tryout, around 20 minutes, competing against strangers to land a job with zero certainty.

This process is not exactly a sure science, nor is it the fairest shake, but for those that leave the tryout with a new contract and return hours later in a freshly printed burgundy or white uniform, it represents another chance to play in the NFL, for however long.

That these parachuting players must do this in the midst of training camp, missing an entire offseason to get comfortable with teammates and the playbook, is a separate and unenviable challenge. Most of the time, they -- still young in their careers and looking for some stability -- will use August to put their work on film, creating a video resume for other teams if their time in Washington is cut short.

It is a potential outcome, but the experience in invaluable, a way to make more connections and impressions with a variety of coaches, learn more skills and techniques from some of the best players in the league and, ideally, do enough to wind up on an active roster or practice squad. The latter was the case last year for offensive lineman Isaiah Williams, still with the Redskins, battling for another roster spot in 2017.

“It’s just a blessing to still be here,” Williams said, “just got to keep working hard and take it day by day.” It’s advice he used last August, when he tried out several days into training camp and signed with the Redskins. He did enough to make the team’s practice squad and stayed there for the rest of the season. He is a reminder of what a phone call, hurried flight and an hour on the field can turn into.

So, here’s a closer look at how five players the Redskins have signed over the last couple of weeks have handled the challenges of this transition.

Tight end E.J. Bibbs, signed July 27

Bibbs was in Jacksonville, Fla., when he got a phone call from his agent telling him the Redskins wanted to fly him up to Richmond, Va., for a tryout. He had just a couple days to prepare for the workout before boarding his plane and was extremely happy for the opportunity.

At 25, Bibbs is entering his second NFL season, having previously spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. As a rookie in 2015, Bibbs was the only undrafted rookie to earn a spot on Cleveland’s active roster for all 17 weeks that season. Last year, Bibbs split time between the Browns’ and Jaguars’ practice squad.

He knew wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., from his time in Cleveland, which eased his first couple of days. It was a little awkward as he introduced himself, but Bibbs has been grateful for the welcoming environment.

“TP’s a great guy and I was just so happy to be here,” he said. “You know some of the guys came up and said, ‘What’s up’ to me, welcomed me with open arms so it was pretty cool.”

Bibbs has appreciated the personalities in the tight ends group, specifically Vernon Davis and his coach Wes Phillips, and has been determined throughout his time with Washington to focus on the present.

“I mean, it’s just football, you know?” he said. “And just day by day, just hours and hours in the playbook. So I mean it’s not difficult, it’s just how you take it in.”

Defensive back Jeremiah McKinnon, signed July 29

When McKinnon received the call from his agent that the Redskins wanted him to fly up for a tryout, he was training in Miami, Fla.

Previously spending time in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans, McKinnon played collegiately at Florida International, where he appeared in 34 games and collected 101 tackles with 19 passes defensed.

“The coaches and the players around here are amazing, you know?” McKinnon said after a couple days of practice. “Really just come in and they just take me under their wings and just teach me the playbook. You know, it’s football at the end of the day so I’m just out here ready to have fun and compete.”

He’s leaned on an experienced secondary, picking DeAngelo Hall’s brain and watching Josh Norman, whose competitive nature every day has been inspiring. The only connection to the team he had weas with Quinton Dunbar, a Florida product.

“You got to stand up in front of the whole team really to introduce yourself and tell them where you’re from,” he said. “But then you will hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, Miami in the house’ and stuff like that. I mean, really just DB’s [defensive backs] the first people you link with, those the people you going to play with all day.”

His personal development is important, but that’s mostly been a secondary focus for him.

“I work on my craft everyday but it’s really a team situation you know?” he said. “It has to be team football, team defense, so yeah, I do what I can.”

Running back Kenny Hilliard, signed July 31

When running back Keith Marshall was lost for the year with a knee injury, the Redskins opted for Hilliard, one of several running backs they tried out during the first week of camp.

Hilliard, 25, entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick for the Houston Texans in the 2015 NFL Draft, and had been training in Houston at Nine Innovation, which is run by Arian Foster’s brother. Hilliard has worked out there since he was cut by the Texans after participating on their practice squad the last two years.

The Redskins were the first team to give the LSU product a chance, and he was grateful to join a team that had many familiar faces. That started with his cousin, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, along with running backs Rob Kelley (acquaintances from Louisiana), Mack Brown and Matt Jones from their Florida days.

“The only person I had to get to know was Chris Thompson,” Hilliard said. “He’s been a great guy…steering me the way.

“My mindset right now is taking it one day at a time, one game at a time and just having fun,” Hilliard added. “Don’t really let anything bother you. I’ve been playing this game all my life and really this game comes natural to me. Just play the game, that’s the thing, play the game one play at a time.”

Safety Stefan McClure, signed August 3

The long flight was worth it for McClure.

He traveled to Richmond from San Diego for a tryout after receiving a call from a Redskins scout and had to battle some jet lag to make an impression on the field.

“Long flight, but it wasn’t too bad, I was ready to go, ready to get back on a team and get back to work,” McClure said. “I just go out there, I’m just like, I’ve put the work in before, now it’s just time to go out there and whatever happens, happens for a reason.”

McClure, 24, originally entered the NFL as a college free agent for the Indianapolis Colts in May. He was waived by the Colts last September before returning to Indianapolis’ practice squad in December.

The key to introducing himself (his only acquaintance was former California teammate Maurice Harris) has been showing his skills, gaining teammates’ respect with his competitive nature and ability. “Don’t say too much, don’t do too much, just do your job and be reliable,” he said.

Wide receiver Jamari Staples, signed August 12

Staples said his tryout lasted just 20 minutes, but it was enough to show his value to the team.

The Louisville product had the benefit of joining his former teammates and fellow rookies James Quick and Josh Harvey-Clemons, and he shares the same alma mater as head coach Jay Gruden.

Staples, 22, actually split his collegiate career between UAB and Louisville. Following the 2014 season at UAB, Staples transferred to Louisville when it was announced that UAB’s football program was being shut down. In two seasons with the Cardinals, Staples tallied 73 receptions for 1,253 yards and five touchdowns.

Staples had just finished a jog and walked into his Ashland, Ala., home when he got a call from the Redskins. They flew him in the next day for a workout. He tried out Tuesday before the team’s trip to Baltimore and signed on Friday to experience the last days of camp.

“It’s always fun to get out here on the field, get a little work,” Staples said. “It was quick, the whole turnaround was so quick. I was right back Friday, my first practice was [Saturday], and I really enjoyed it.”

Staples is a quiet person, so he’s mostly focused on learning his playbook, formations and getting his feet wet to start his career. A week after flying to Richmond, he’s had to adjust to staying Ashburn, Va., now, preparing for the team’s second preseason game.

“It’s all good, it’s all part of the process, just look to see what’s going to happen in the future,” Staples said.

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