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Here's what was different in Bill Callahan's first practice as compared to Jay Gruden's sessions

Here's what was different in Bill Callahan's first practice as compared to Jay Gruden's sessions

Whether Bill Callahan's results will look different than Jay Gruden's results remains to be seen, but it's already clear that Bill Callahan's practices will look different than Jay Gruden's practices.

Now, any time there's a drastic change like a head coaching switch on a football team, it's natural to over-analyze every little thing to try and make comparisons between the new and the old. Hm, are the players wearing their socks higher? Are they drinking more Gatorade? DO THE WHISTLES SOUND LOUDER?!

That said, there are parts of Callahan's operation that stood out on Wednesday, his first as interim leader. Here's a recap of all the key differences.

  • The stretching formations were adjusted a bit. The captains — guys like Brandon Scherff and Case Keenum — were facing the rest of the team and were positioned at the front of the lines. Callahan called it "a positive when your leadership is up there on a daily basis, and players can emulate [them]." 


  • There were referees in attendance, up-and-comers who do college games and who are trying to ascend to the pro level. Callahan explained how those refs can help the Redskins be better with everything, from formation alignment to hand placement to other aspects. The Burgundy and Gold have seen lots of yellow through five weeks thanks to major penalty issues, so perhaps the refs at practice can help them cut down on flags.


  • While Gruden's practices featured plenty of music, with it starting in stretching and carrying over into individual drills, Callahan's de-emphasized tunes. Jay-Z and other artists were still present during warm-ups, but once the team broke into their positional work, the music was cut off. 


  • Here's a small one, but an interesting one nonetheless. There were four stationary bikes along the sideline on Wednesday, which was a new spot for them. Reuben Foster was riding one at one point, and Dustin Hopkins used one a few minutes later as well. Callahan wasn't asked about this switch afterward, but it seemed to communicate to the players that even if they're injured or not suiting up that day, they're going to remain as close to the action as possible.


  • Those were the big tweaks obvious to reporters during the early period open to the media. At the end, meanwhile, the team could be seen doing sideline-to-sideline sprints. That happened in training camp under Gruden, but witnessing it in Ashburn was quite new. Callahan installed those to remind his roster about the importance of conditioning. He isn't a fan of how they've finished games and believes being in better shape will correct that problem.


  • When he was in charge of the offensive line, Callahan kept his centers, guards and tackles on the field far later than any other position. Well, on Wednesday, every position stayed a little extra after sprints for what was labeled a "developmental period." It allowed each coach to tutor his guys on a specific skill or area and was especially designed for the younger players who weren't as involved in 11-on-11 snaps to still get work in. 

Now, a few things need to be said after that recap.

Many of the changes seem quite logical and like they'll benefit the team; why not bring in refs if you're one of the more penalized squads in the NFL, for example?

However, it's easy to point at what Gruden did and what Callahan is doing and conclude that Gruden's practices were trash and Callahan's are top-notch. Just because a lot of this is new doesn't mean it's all going to have an enormous impact.

That isn't to dismiss Callahan's tenure, it's just to remind people not to get super, wildly, overly excited.

In fact, know what very well may be the most crucial difference this week? The Redskins are playing the Dolphins instead of the Patriots. If Washington wins in Week 6, the quality of opponent is likely to be a larger factor than the decline in music in Ashburn. 

Of course, change can be useful, especially for an 0-5 bunch. But let's give it a month or so to allow these changes to really set in before making a proclamation on them one way or the other.


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Brian Mitchell nominated for NFL Top 100, but more importantly, needs to be in Hall of Fame

Brian Mitchell nominated for NFL Top 100, but more importantly, needs to be in Hall of Fame

[Editor's note: As the author of this piece I want it to stand alone, with the merits of Brian Mitchell's numbers and the words of NFL coaches to clearly make the case that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's obvious, frankly. But it would be silly and irresponsible to not point out my relationship with B-Mitch. We work together and have for years. He's a good friend. I know his wife and children. He knows my wife and children. When my four-year old daughter sees the two of us on television, she usually asks, 'Is Daddy fighting with Mr. B. Mitch again?' I would stand up for Mitchell in any arena, but in this, I'm doing nobody's bidding. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It's plain as day.] 

The NFL nominated Redskins legend Brian Mitchell for one of the kick returner spots on their Top 100 list, and while that's an incredible honor, it only underscores the absurdity that Mitchell's not already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

He ranks No. 2 all-time for all-purpose yards in the NFL, behind only Jerry Rice, and holds the NFL records for most total return yardage in the regular season, and more importantly, in the playoffs. He played for 14 seasons, an impressive feat on its own, and ranks 2nd in NFL history with 13 combined kick and punt return touchdowns. 

The truth here isn't surprise that Mitchell was nominated for the Top 100 list, it's outrage that Mitchell doesn't already have a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. 

B-Mitch has had brushes with Canton before, a nominee and finalist for the Hall of Fame, but has never generated the requisite votes to wear a gold jacket.

Mitchell won a Super Bowl and spent the bulk of his career with the Redskins, but he also played with the Eagles and Giants. Of his 23,330 all-purpose yards, nearly 17,000 of them came wearing the Burgundy and Gold. Some think that might be a detriment to his case, as former Redskins wide receiver Art Monk narrowly got into Canton and other prominent former Washington players like Joe Jacoby and Gary Clark can't break through to the Hall. Special teams players have a tough road into the Hall of Fame regardless of bias, real or perceived, and that's never been more evident than Mitchell's case. 

Perhaps that will change soon.

Peter King, arguably the most important media voice in the NFL and a long-standing Hall of Fame voter, recently tweeted that that he "feels strongly" Mitchell deserves to have his case heard for a gold jacket. For many years, King protested the Hall of Fame candidacy of Monk, and for many years, Monk did not make the Hall of Fame. Somewhere along the way, King changed his mind, and in 2008, Monk got his gold jacket. 

Why now?

2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the NFL, and to celebrate the league is naming their Top 100 players of all-time.

More than 20 players have already made the list, culled from a list of dozens of prospects per position. Many household names like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White made the roster already with plenty more to come. All are in the Hall of Fame, and almost all of the finalists named so far are in the Hall of Fame too. 

For special teams, the NFL has allotted six spots; two for kickers, two for punters and two for returners. There are four nominees for each position. Of the four kickers, three are already in the Hall of Fame. Two of the four punters have bronze busts in Canton. None of the returners have a spot though.

Mitchell is nominated along with Devin Hester, Mel Gray and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson. Mitchell has better career numbers than Gray and Johnson, and not by a close margin, though Hester bested Mitchell in touchdown returns. 

Hester should be a certain Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for voting in 2021. He's the best return of all-time. That's not the point. 

The point is that Mitchell, with his numbers, should already be in the Hall of Fame. And by including him as a finalist for the league's Top 100 list of all-time, the NFL is pointing out the obvious. 

'He altered situational football'

In some ways, it makes sense that special teamers, and returners in particular, don't have any spots in the Hall of Fame. For decades, being a returner was not a specialized position, and plenty of running backs and wide receivers handled punt and kick returns. 

Ben Kotwica has coached special teams in the NFL since 2013, first for the Jets, then for the Redskins, and currently for the Falcons. Kotwica explained that for most of modern football, punters and kickers just booted the ball as far they could. It was elite returners, players like Mitchell, that forced punters and kickers to change their approach. 

"It's guys like that who altered the way the ball gets delivered in the punt and kick game," Kotwica said. 

Kotwica said that as Mitchell flourished in the 1990s, questions about when to punt, and who to punt to, became more important. That dramatically influenced the increase in directional kicking in both in the punt and kick game that is so prevalent now. 

"The question became, 'Do we want to punt to this guy?'' Kotwica said. "He altered situational football."

'A household name'

B-Mitch is a common name in and around Washington, D.C. He hosts a radio show, does plenty of TV work and rarely holds back on his opinions. But people listen to Mitchell now because of the name he created on the football field. 

"He’s a household name," Redskins special teams coach Nate Kaczor said.

Kaczor is in his first year coaching the Redskins special teams, but prior to Washington, held the same title in Tampa and Tennessee. That doesn't matter for his assessment of Mitchell, however, as he transcended just the D.C. market.

"The age of social media and exposure, it wasn’t the same back then. In order to become a household name then, you had to be so good," Kaczor said of Mitchell. "He was a legitimate household name as a player and that was hard to do."

What next?

Friday night the NFL will reveal what special teamers make the Top 100 list. Looking at the numbers, Hester should certainly make the list followed by Mitchell. The numbers very clearly support those two candidates, and Hester seems like a complete lock. 

If Mitchell makes the Top 100, then it would seem a formality for him to soon be voted into the Hall of Fame. But for many years now, it would seem a formality that his resume would already have landed in Canton. 

There are no sure things. Well, except Mitchell's spot in the NFL record books. That wasn't voted on, that was earned.


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Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

Redskins insist they're seeing the same Preston Smith, but the numbers say otherwise

When Bill Callahan was asked on Thursday if he's noticed any major differences between Preston Smith the Redskin and Preston Smith the Packer, the interim coach responded that Smith looks "pretty similar" these days.

His stats, however, suggest otherwise. 

The 27-year-old already has 10.5 sacks through Green Bay's 12 games. His career high in four campaigns with Washington was eight. So he's surpassed his best sack production already and still has a quarter of the way to go, and is also on pace to easily set new bests in tackles, solo tackles, tackles for loss and QB hits.

That leap in production has caused many to wonder if Smith was properly used or coached while he was with the Burgundy and Gold. Callahan didn't necessarily dismiss that idea entirely, though he also made sure to note that perhaps Smith has developed on his own.

"Everybody matures, gets older, stronger, has new experiences, new position coaches, system and with that I think players evolve," Callahan said. "You just don't know what can make a spark in a player's career, whether it's a position coach, a coordinator, a system, new place, whatever it may be."

It's certainly possible Smith has "matured" personally. However, it's not like there's such thing in the NFL as "the fifth-year leap." While guys certainly learn and make tweaks to their game every offseason, the massively improved play from Smith indicates he's on a defense now that uses him in a much more effective way. 

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur wouldn't comment on why Smith has thrived more with the Packers than he did with the Redskins, opting instead to simply point out that Smith's impact has been "tremendous." Callahan, meanwhile, explained that Smith is rushing from both sides more, and he also seems to have more "freedom to take the inside rush if it's there."

This Sunday, Dwayne Haskins and his offense will get to see Smith in person at Lambeau Field. Unfortunately, 2019 hasn't been fun for the Redskins when it comes to facing well-known ex-Redskins.

In Week 1, DeSean Jackson completely changed the flow of the opener for the Eagles and scored twice. In Week 3, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off two passes and returned one for six as a Bear. And in Week 11, Jamison Crowder caught eight passes and found the end zone when the Jets visited FedEx Field.

Now, the point of this isn't to claim that the organization blew it by not re-signing Smith in March. He was paid quite a bit of cash by the Packers, and after four years of solid but not superb results, Washington was content not to match the contract Smith eventually got. They felt like he had reached his ceiling in D.C. and they were fine with moving on.

So, when the Redskins watch Smith in Week 14, they shouldn't feel remorse for that. But they should look at him and then look at themselves, wondering if they're employing the right people and running the right systems to get the most out of their players. 

The franchise can claim all they want that Smith is "pretty similar" to what he was as a Redskin. The reality is that he's better. A lot better. He's surely evolved some, yet the more prominent thing here is that the Redskins often refuse to.