On Tuesday in a Washington Football Team training camp practice, Dwayne Haskins tried to pick out Terry McLaurin up the seam. Haskins, however, led McLaurin a tad too much and threw the ball a little high, which led his star wideout right into Troy Apke.
Apke made a play on the ball, but in doing so, his helmet smashed into McLaurin's. A loud sound echoed across the Ashburn field, and while both guys were fortunately OK, Apke very likely would've drawn a flag for initiating the blow.
"It's something we've said," Ron Rivera relayed to the media afterward. "On plays like that, give the right of way to the offensive guy."
Fast forward to Friday, where a similar scene unfolded. Undrafted receiver Isaiah Wright was heading downfield attempting to track down a pass, but just before the ball reached his fingers, Apke arrived and broke up the play. This time, however, there was no head-on-head hit, as the safety got in the way aggressively and effectively instead of over-aggressively and illegally.
That sequence, when compared to the one earlier in the week that involved McLaurin, made Rivera quite proud.
"Young guys that don’t know any better just go in and hit everything that moves," the coach told the media on Friday. "Guys that understand, that are smart, that see the big picture, they’ll know when to pull out of the way and not create that big collision, especially with a guy like Terry, a player with Terry’s abilities. Again, you’ve got to take care of your teammates, and that was one of the things I kind of explained to him."
Rivera is totally focused on getting Washington to practice with more speed and more tempo. He acknowledged, though, how that can create a problem: when guys practice fast, they sometimes get "in the wrong place quicker."
That's what occurred when Apke took out McLaurin, yet when it came to Wright, the third-year DB perfectly balanced pace with smarts.
"'Part of your position will be situational awareness, field awareness," Rivera remembered advising Apke on Tuesday. "'One thing that will really tell me that you’re getting it is when you go downhill to make a play like that in practice and all of a sudden you realize who that guy is and you pull off just at the right time.' That to me is when a guy gets it and he understands situational awareness."
“The comparison from what happened [Tuesday] to what happened [Friday] is exactly what I was talking about," he added. "That’s exactly the point.”
The fact that there's even a conversation about Apke's physicality is notable on its own. It seems like the former fourth-round selection has done more hitting in this training camp than he did combined in his first two seasons. Thanks to that, Apke appears to have settled in as the favorite to start next to Landon Collins in the back of the Burgundy and Gold's defense.
It was easy to assume that the franchise's regime change was going to mean the end of his career in Washington. So far, indications are it actually may be what helps his career finally take off.
"He’s been great," Rivera said. "One thing that has been asked that people talk about is angles. He’s really learning those. He’s putting the time into them, and that’s why he’s putting himself in the position to make plays. I think he’s improved his angles and he’s playing with a little more confidence."