Football Team

10 things I learned while watching Washington's 2020 camp

Football Team

Aside from one Saturday where he had to go to an at-home baptism (because 2020 is weird like that), Pete Hailey was in Virginia for every open practice of the Washington Football Team's training camp.

So, here is a collection of 10 things he learned while watching the group get after it for two-plus weeks at their home facility.

1) The Washington Football Team may not be good in 2020, but they're going to play hard

I sort of hate myself for typing out such a typical football sentence, yet that's something I couldn't help but keep thinking about while out in Ashburn. And it's all because of Ron Rivera.

When the Burgundy and Gold faces opponents like the Ravens, Steelers, 49ers, Seahawks and Cowboys, they're going to be overmatched talent-wise. That said, I don't think they'll be outdone effort-wise in those matchups, or any matchups, which isn't something I would've felt confident saying about past editions of this franchise.

Rivera isn't someone who's going to accept mediocrity. He's not someone who's going to relax if his squad plays a strong half. He's not someone who's ever going to be unprepared.

Rivera's admitted his rebuild is going to take a couple of years; right now, he's still instilling his values and doesn't have a roster full of his personnel yet. Even so, look for Washington to fight every weekend and make their opponents grind, because that's Rivera's personality, and that personality will rub off on the entire operation.

2) The offense is going to need to be creative to consistently score

Terry McLaurin is going to be a star this year and for another decade after that. Beyond him, however, the questions about the rest of the skill players are absolutely warranted.

 

That's why it was encouraging to see Scott Turner's willingness to be so creative with pre-snap motion, unusual handoffs and a quicker tempo. Those strategies will be Turner's way of trying to gain the advantage for his unit and help out Dwayne Haskins.

Now, will those moves be enough to offset having to rely on guys like the recently-signed Dontrelle Inman, still-developing Antonio-Gandy Golden and a tight end crew that is about as unproven as it gets? That's a whole other issue.

McLaurin's going to get his. Antonio Gibson appears slated for an enormous role. Adrian Peterson can still crank out four yards-per-carry. But for the offense to truly hold its own, it's going to need to get tricky, take risks and be unconventional. 

3) Chase Young is going to be a problem...

Perhaps more encouraging than his preposterous physical tools is the fact that a chunk of his teammates choose to point out the way Young approaches things mentally. There's no acting entitled and no turning down coaching. He wants to earn his place in the league.

Those preposterous physical tools certainly don't hurt, of course.

Young is going to be a game-changer and quite possibly a defense-changer as a rookie. Get ready to be blown away. 

4) ...and so will the rest of this pass rush

Young won't be the only one to terrorize non-Washington QBs. He's going to have plenty of help. 

Montez Sweat was explosive in Ashburn and is poised to build on his first pro campaign. Ryan Kerrigan should be fresher for all 16 games and is about as talented as it gets for a third edge rusher. Matt Ioannidis keeps increasing his sack total, and Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne will do damage as well.

At certain parts of camp, it was striking to see a front that consisted of, say, Nos. 99, 98, 93 and 90. Yes, this defense has been hyped up in the past, but this year, I think the performance will equal, and possibly surpass, the hype. They're just too loaded not to. Don't underestimate Jack Del Rio's influence, either.

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5) The excitement about the D-line doesn't carry over to the O-line

Three out of my first four items are quite positive, and the other is hopeful. I still believe Washington will finish around 6-10, so it's time to start getting to the negative. Here's the first, and maybe biggest, negative that showed itself during their camp.

Geron Christian should be commended for seizing his opportunity to emerge at left tackle, and yes, he's a former third-rounder, meaning it's his time to grow. But I'm still concerned about him now being Haskins' blindside monitor. 

At left guard, meanwhile, Wes Martin's taken the majority of reps, but Rivera was recently tinkering and evaluating other options, including a free agent signing who showed up on Aug. 21. That's revealing. 

Sure, Chase Roullier has been locked in at center since 2018, Brandon Scherff is a stud and Morgan Moses is entrenched on the right side. But even with that trio, there are reasons to be uneasy — Roullier's snapping was uneven, Scherff's returning from a major injury and Moses didn't have a banner 2019.

 

There's so much interest in what Haskins will do as starter, but there's also so much out of his control that may prevent him from reaching his potential. And the five blockers up front are at the top of that list. 

6) The running backs are going to be leaned on a ton, and not just for running

I need to draft Gibson in every dumb fantasy league that I'm in this season. And I'll be prepared to grab JD McKissic off the waiver wire if need be.

The ageless Peterson will maintain his spot as a lead back and serve as someone Washington turns to for first-down carries and short-yardage conversions.

But Gibson and McKissic will be busy, too, specifically when it comes to handling screens, checkdowns and 1-on-1 routes against linebackers. Don't be shocked if Gibson ends up as the second-leading pass catcher behind McLaurin; that's how involved he was at camp.

I hate to be the one to come forward with this, but Christian McCaffrey is still in Carolina and not with Washington. Rivera brought a lot of ex-Panthers with him, but not that one. He and Turner will still throw to their RBs, though, and in Gibson and McKissic, they have a pair of converted receivers to feature.

7) Linebacker may not be settled until the opener

The rotation at linebacker never really seemed to get nailed down in August.

Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb were constant presences with the starters, but Kevin Pierre-Louis and Shaun Dion Hamilton alternated in the third slot. Thomas Davis wasn't in the mix as much as those two, though that may not mean much; Rivera obviously knows him exceedingly well.

Overall, linebacker doesn't have the possible stars that the D-line has, but it does include a lot of pieces who'll play with intelligence and an edge. Who gets the first crack at doing so against the Eagles remains to be seen.

8) Reuben Foster is not his old self yet

This one's a shame.

When Foster was activated off of PUP, many believed he'd vault his way up the depth chart and transform Washington's defense. After paying attention to him for a couple of weeks, that doesn't feel imminent.

Foster sported a knee brace for much of camp and admitted to wondering if he'll ever return to his pre-injury explosiveness and confidence. Most of his action came with the backups (or backups to the backups) and he just didn't show a ton.

Ryan Anderson told the media a handful of days ago that a healthy Foster is the best player he's ever seen. Right now, sadly, he's clearly not all the way healthy.

9) Alex Smith is a peak level human

By now, you know that Smith fit right in with the other signal callers in individual drills, then re-acquainted himself with standing in the pocket in 7-on-7 and 9-on-9 scenarios. He didn't reach 11-on-11 full-contact status in Ashburn, but that's got to be coming soon. 

The merits of turning to Smith at some point are debatable — reaching a conclusion on Haskins' place in the NFL has to be the organization's priority, and Smith won't be a part of its long-term future regardless of what Haskins does — but Smith's courage and determination are not up for debate. The Comeback Player of the Year Award should have his name etched on it now. 

 

10) People still don't know how to use Zoom

Every interview we did with coaches and players at camp was conducted on Zoom, and guess what: PEOPLE STILL DON'T KNOW HOW TO USE ZOOM. 

At least once per sitdown, a reporter would forget to unmute themselves and then have to repeat their long, drawn-out inquiry about how the 4-3 system will lead to more pressure, or someone wouldn't see the order in the chat and speak out of turn, which would lead to some supreme awkwardness. 

Was it funny at times? Sure. But was it annoying more times? Absolutely. 

Yet in the end, I guess we were all doing our best, which is what 2020 is about in some respects. Now I'm going to go take a nap, because I haven't written a story with this many words in ages.