Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda and Jake Kring-Schreifels break down the key plays and highlights from Day 1 of the Washington Redskins' 2018 minicamp, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
--After DeSean Jackson departed in free agency last year, the Washington Redskins didn’t quite have the same speed presence in 2017. Washington, however, hopes that they’ll once again have that deep threat this year in Paul Richardson Jr., who was signed in free agency on the heels of his best statistical season to date. Twice during Tuesday’s open media practice session quarterback Alex Smith hit Richardson on two deep bomb that would have likely been 50-yard touchdowns. First during 7-on-7 drills, Smith found Richardson in the middle of the end zone for a score. Then later during 11-on-11 work, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback connected with Richardson on the right side of the field as he disconnected from cornerback Josh Norman before the wide receiver streaked down the field for a would-be touchdown. Last year, Richardson averaged 16 yards per reception.
--Another wide receiver who made a big-time play on Tuesday was Maurice Harris, who went up over the defensive back covering him for an easy first down on a 3rd-and-8 play. Harris logged a similar catch for a similar yardage pickup during 7-on-7 drills. He also had a potential touchdown score off a screen in the red zone. The Greensboro, N.C., native is trying to latch onto the active roster from the get-go this season after spending most of his first two seasons to date in Washington on the practice squad.
--At running back, meanwhile, the Redskins continue to rotate the likes of Derrius Guice, Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley with the first-team offense as the coaching staff determines the best usage for all three players.
--Along the offensive line, meanwhile, Geron Christian has been thrust into action as the first-team left tackle while Trent Williams and Ty Nsekhe continue to recover from injuries suffered last season. After a few different plays on Tuesday, Christian received additional instruction from assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan and from Williams some, too. “He’s learning on the fly,” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said last week. “Coach Callahan has taken him under his wing and really worked with him and this experience has been invaluable for him. To me, it’s so much better to get an opportunity and go out on the field and actually practice than stand there with a helmet in your hand and watch, so you can make the mistakes, you can correct yourself.”
--Speaking of Williams and Nsekhe, they were among those players rehabbing on the sidelines with the likes of running backs Chris Thompson and Keith Marshall, fellow offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings and tight end Jordan Reed. Gruden anticipates that a majority of these players will be ready by training camp, it’s just a matter of how heavy their workloads will be once they're on the field again.
--Speaking of another wide receiver, Josh Doctson was targeted by Smith quite a bit on the afternoon, especially in red zone work. While the two didn’t connect on every attempt, this is the time of the year when rapport between two players, especially a quarterback and wide receiver that have never played in a game together, is built. On one incompletion, Smith made sure to note that the TCU product ran a good route and that they’ll connect on the play in the future.
--Linebacker Zach Brown returned to action, the first time the media has seen him practice with the team this offseason since signing a new contract. Brown has moved into the area and had some personal matters to attend to, but is glad to be back in the same system. He called Washington home after practice, citing his ability to be close to his family in Maryland and South Carolina and knowing that the organization has invested in him. Gruden believes he can play a lot better now that he’s healthy again and his speed will be put to better use with a bulked up and healthy defensive line.
--During 11-on-11 drills, the Redskins worked mostly out of the nickel defense, which meant Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen split duties along the defensive line. Ryan Anderson, who looks more agile in his hips and has slimmed down this offseason occasionally subbed in for Preston Smith while linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons got some looks beside Mason Foster. Orlando Scandrick, who usually starts practice by playing outside, rotated to cover the slot and Quinton Dunbar took his spot on the outside. Josh Norman took the other outside corner spot with D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson patrolling the defensive backfield. On the second team unit, Greg Stroman got some play on the outside opposite Fabian Moreau with Deshazor Everett and Troy Apke taking charge at safety.
--When Alex Smith wasn’t making strong throws into the end zone, the defense was making sure he didn’t escape the pocket. It’s early, and hard to tell what might be labeled a tackle, but the defensive line seemed to get some good pressures that would have likely ended in sacks. One pressure was so overwhelming that coaches called it dead, as they swarmed Smith from all sides to stop the offense on a third down. Linebacker Pernell McPhee had some good rushes in this sequence and outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm really likes how his big frame will provide even more physicality at the line of scrimmage.
--Nicholson is still learning the leadership responsibilities at strong safety and the communication that’s necessary with his cornerbacks. He made a great play reading wide receiver Josh Doctson breaking back for a ball and nearly came away with an interception, to which Swearinger yelled “Gotta pick those!” The next play, a miscommunication with Norman about coverage, led to Paul Richardson Jr. blazing by both of them for an easy deep-ball score.
--The Redskins began special teams drills with some punt return practice and formation. As expected, wide receiver Jamison Crowder was back taking return reps along with Maurice Harris and rookies Greg Stroman, Trey Quinn and Danny Johnson.
--With all of the rule changes applying to kickoffs this year, the Redskins are slowly learning to adapt. Gruden knows that it will be challenging to implement rules regarding using one’s head as a weapon when the team isn’t playing in pads, but is hoping the unit can start to get some of the more basic regulations that apply to kickoff and return teams. For now, they are happy to try some different things with kicker Dustin Hopkins and see how other teams strategize in the preseason.