ASHBURN -- If it seems like Troy Apke got tired of waiting for a chance to get on the field, so far through a week of training camp he's figured out a way to make the 2020 season his time.
Washington drafted Apke in the 4th round in 2018, a surprise pick for a former Penn Stater known mostly just for speed. Playing safety in the NFL would require some development, but now, going into his third season, has promise turned into production?
"Troy’s really stepping into the forefront. He’s handling his situation very well and he’s showing some growth," Washington Football head coach Ron Rivera said of Apke this week.
It's not an exageration either.
When the first-ream defense has been on the field, it's almost exclusively been Apke lined up at safety paired with veteran Landon Collins. The duo seem to have good chemistry and communication, and Apke's speed matches up well with Collins' ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage.
"He’s doing a great job. He’s understanding what he’s supposed to be looking at," Collins said last week of Apke. "We’re talking all the time on the back end, making sure what he sees. He’s picking my brain on my knowledge about how to play different things and playing within the defensive calls and how we’ve got to see things and see different adjustments. Just being on the same page."
Now, few things get talked about more during NFL training camps than communication in the secondary. It's easy to talk about improvement - like the Washington defense has said for years during camp - but it's another to actually implement.
Watching practices, however, and Apke is making plays.
On Monday, Apke popped tight end Logan Thomas over the middle. It was a clean hit, a good defensive football play that resulted in a fumble and a furious Thomas. On Tuesday, the action was more vicious and less legal. Apke connected helmet-to-helmet with wide receiver Terry McLaurin. He dislodged the ball, but it absolutely would have been a penalty. in a real game.
Those are just two examples of Apke putting himself in position to impress his coaches and teammates. Playing fast. Communicating.
In the past two seasons Apke might have been fast but he didn't play fast. There's a big difference and a lot of it comes from knowing a role.
"[I’m] probably just a lot more comfortable out there. I think [defensive backs coach Chris] Harris and [defensive coordinator Jack] Del Rio have done a good job of explaining the defense. Me going out there and being able to communicate everything with everyone out there, that’s where I feel different I believe," Apke said.
It's no sure thing Apke holds onto on of the top safety spots .
Washington signed free agent Sean Davis from Pittsburgh this offseason, and many penciled him in for the spot opposite Collins. So far, however, Apke has gotten the first opportunity and is not giving it up.
"That’s probably the most important thing is that he shows growth," Rivera said of Apke going forward.
In his first two NFL seasons Apke has combined for 27 tackles and one interception. He's started two games.
The bar is low for Apke, so it's great to have growth, but it needs to be substantial for him to stay on the field when the leaves start falling. So far, it's just one week of camp practices, but that's the track he's on.