Over the course of an NFL regular season, Bill Callahan believes there should be daily practice periods of heightened competitiveness. And what better way to do that, Callahan explained, than by pinning the best players against one another?
Since taking over as interim head coach Oct. 7, that's exactly what Callahan has done. Whether it's third-down drills or two-minute segments, the Redskins have implemented periods of practice between the starting offense and the first-team defense.
The players have welcomed these new "good-on-good" periods, which they believe have ratcheted up the intensity and competitiveness over the past two weeks.
"I feel like doing that each and every week -- you’re gonna have nicks and bruises ... and you’re gonna feel sorry for yourself -- but when it comes to adding that into the practice, you kind of forget about that because you don’t want to look bad or you wanna compete," cornerback Quinton Dunbar said. "I like that. That’s probably my favorite part of practice.”
Take a look at photos from Redskins practice on Thursday October 17, 2019 before they take on the San Fransisco 49ers.
The intricacies of these periods differ from practice to practice, Callahan said. In preparing for the Miami Dolphins last week, the Redskins focused on first- and second-down plays Wednesday and then went through a spirited third-down drill Thursday that Callahan described as "really outstanding."
For five plays, the starting offense attempted to move the chains against the starting defense. And while there was no tackling, both sides moved at "game speed" until head strength and conditioning coach Chad Englehart blew his whistle to halt the action.
“We gotta make a play and they need to make a play," said safety Landon Collins, "so the competition’s always good that way.”
The drill was especially necessary considering the Redskins' wide-spread struggles on third down entering Week 6. The offense was converting just 24% of their attempts, while the defense was allowing a 56% conversion rate -- both of which needed to drastically improve for the team to start experiencing success. The Redskins answered the call defensively, as the Dolphins converted just three of their 14 third downs for a conversion rate of 21%.
When asked about the influence of these periods following a 17-16 win, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen could not pinpoint a specific benefit. But he did say that it was "a lot of fun in practice" and surely contributed to the team's first victory of the 2019 campaign.
"The vibe was just different this week," Allen said, "and I’m glad we were able to come away with a win.”
Other players had varying first impressions of the "good on good" sessions. Wide receiver Trey Quinn viewed them as opportunities to go up against what he regards as one of the better defenses in the NFL. Center Chase Roullier added that they helped create a mentality in the running game, which carried over into Sunday's win. Behind a big-time performance from veteran Adrian Peterson, the Redskins gashed the Dolphins for a season-high 145 yards on the ground.
As for rookie linebacker Cole Holcomb, he's just grateful to play at game speed more than once per week.
"At the end of the day we all love competing," said Holcomb, who is tied for second on the team with 44 tackles. "We love football, and some of the main parts of football are the competition. I think that’s what [Callahan is] trying to get out of us, and I think that’s a good idea.”
That's not to say how the Redskins were practicing before Callahan was ineffective. Veteran offensive lineman Ereck Flowers has played for franchises that implemented both tactics; the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars typically had "a couple periods per week" against the starting defense, while the Redskins, at least to start this season, prioritized game planning over competitiveness. With so many newcomers, they focused heavily on their week-to-week assignments.
Both ways were positive, Flowers said. But with how the Redskins started the season, he admitted the change in philosophy occurred at a good time.
"This is a good switch-up for us now so we can try to go out there and get some different results," Flowers said before the Dolphins' game. "It keeps you from going through the same routine. You do the same workout for a while, sometimes it’s good to switch it up.”