At times during Mondays practice, rookie Alfred Morris said he couldnt hear a word quarterback Robert Griffin III was saying in the huddle.Which, of course, was by design.Coach Mike Shanahan moved practice inside the Redskins practice bubble, then cranked the volume to ear-splitting levels in an effort to simulate the crowd noise his team will encounter during Sundays regular season opener at the Superdome in New Orleans.I couldnt really hear Robert or his cadence and Im right next to him, Morris said. I just have to key the ball. Its definitely going to help us in New Orleans.It was common practice in previous seasons for Redskins coaches to have speakers lining the teams outdoor practice fields in Ashburn. It was loud. But nothing like what the players coped with this week inside the bubble, which opened earlier this year. The music could be heard clearly from across a parking lot.The Redskins first two games, in fact, will be played indoors. On Sept. 16, they visit the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.It wasreallyloud in there the other day, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. Its good advance preparation for both games.St. Louis will be loud. New Orleans, though, could be defeaning. The city loves their Saints, and after a tumultuous offseason in which the NFL cracked down hard on the team for the bounty scandal, all 72,000 fans who pack the downtown arena figure to be bit more boisterous than usual.As a lot of people have said before, the best sound from an away crowd is when they go silent, when you put touchdowns on them, offensive guard Kory Lichtensteiger said.Asked if practicing in the bubble has helped, Lichtensteiger cracked, As far as me not being able to hear? Yeah. A lot of times the only thing I can question is the music choice that Shanahan is putting on.
Training camp opens in three days, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.
Additions: Troy Apke (drafted in the fourth round)
Departures: DeAngelo Hall (not re-signed)
Starters: D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson
Other roster locks: Apke
On the bubble: Deshazor Everett, Fish Smithson
How the safeties compare
To the rest of the NFL: The Redskins’ safeties have been a sore spot ever since the tragic loss of Sean Taylor in 2007, continually ranking as the worst units in the league year after year. That started to change last year with the signing of Swearinger and the drafting of Nicholson. They were major contributors to one of the league’s better defenses until injuries struck. Their depth is questionable as will be discussed below but the Redskins have a solid safety tandem at the top of the depth chart if they stay healthy.
To the 2017 Redskins: This depends on Nicholson’s health and how quickly Apke can get ready to contribute. The rookie’s speed could add a dimension that the defensive backfield doesn’t have but he has a lot of rough edges to smooth out. If he can round into form and play in some three-safety formations, the unit could be notably better than last year’s.
Biggest upside: By now, most of you have heard of Jay Gruden saying that Nicholson is the defensive equivalent of Jordan Reed because he changes what they can do when he is out there. His speed and tackling set him apart when he is out there. But there are legitimate concerns about his ability to stay on the field after a shoulder injury and a concussion kept him out of half of the games last year. If he can play, Nicholson has Pro Bowl potential.
Most to prove: The Redskins are Swearinger’s fourth NFL team in five years in the NFL. He was cut by the Texans and the Bucs. The Cardinals put him on their practice squad for a week during the season before promoting him to the 53-man roster. Arizona made little effort to retain him when he became a free agent last year. Swearinger played well in Washington last year but he didn’t get much recognition. He wants to take the next step and show the teams that let him go that they made a big mistake.
Rookie watch: We touched on Apke above. Some questioned the draft pick, which seemed to be based on the combine stopwatch that measured his 4.34 time in the 40. If Nicholson is healthy, Apke’s development will be an interesting side story. Should one of the starters miss multiple games, his ability to perform in the NFL will be critical.
Bottom line: There will be a lot of competition behind the starters. Apke seems safe because of his status as a fourth-round pick. The team values Everett as a special teams contributor and he started eight games last year. They also like Smithson and they brought him up to the 53-man roster late last year to make sure they could retain his rights. And Quin Blanding, an undrafted rookie who had a stellar career at Virginia, could work himself into the conversation for a roster spot if he performs in Richmond. If Nicholson plays, the outlook at safety could be much better in 2018 than it has been in over a decade.
Gruden’s quote on Nicholson’s effect on the defense:
Montae I think is really an important piece. Very similar to the way Jordan Reed is on offense, Montae is on defense. He can cover so much ground.
2018 position outlook series
- Inside linebackers
- Outside linebackers
- Defensive line
- Running backs
- Interior offensive line
- Offensive tackle
- Tight end
- Wide receiver
Pro tip: If you see new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith in a restaurant, try to sit close by.
Spotted: Four days before the start of training camp, Redskins QB Alex Smith dined at Bareburger in Dupont Circle tonight and picked up the checks for most of the tables around him.— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) July 23, 2018
Talk to teammates and media from San Francisco or Kansas City, the two cities Smith played in before coming to Washington, and stories like this emerge. His reputation for generosity and random kindness is as consistent as his ability to move the football with his legs and not throw many interceptions.
His foundation is heralded as one of the best in the NFL, where more than 90 percent of funds raised actually go towards charity, significantly higher than the national average. Once traded from Kansas City, Smith wrote a letter on The Player's Tribune thanking fans:
Thank you to the Chiefs Kingdom for being some of the craziest, most dedicated fans in the country. And thank you to the Kansas City community and all the friends my family and I have made during our time with you. To see all the farewell donations that have been made to the Alex Smith Foundation — all in increments of 11 — has been really special. It’s a tremendous gesture that my family and I have been very touched by. We appreciate you. We’re better people because we were fortunate enough to spend the last five years with you.
So what might have Smith ordered at Bareburger DC? Let's take a guess from their online menu.
The Buckaroo - Beef, aged cheddar, smoked brisket, wild mushrooms, smoke sauce, brioche bun - After spending a few years in Kansas City, Smith might have acquired the taste for brisket on burgers. Who knows.
El Matador - Beef, queso fresco, guacamole, spicy pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños, green leaf, brioche bun - Smith is a SoCal kid, so maybe he needed the guac and bold flavors of his youth.
Impossible Burger - American cheese, caramelized onions, dill pickles, green leaf, special sauce, brioche bun -The Redskins mission is getting to the playoffs, and many oddsmakers view that as impossible. Maybe Alex wanted to embrace it?
So Cal - Turkey, aged cheddar, guacamole, pickled red onions, alfalfa, sprout bun - Again, Smith is from Southern California, and this burger sounds pretty healthy. You don't get to look like this picture below by eating too many Buckaroos.
Offseason workouts.. The rock and rope. pic.twitter.com/SeMHwK8aA5— Elizabeth Smith (@lizbsmith11) July 16, 2016
Here's the truth: Smith is cool and bought a bunch of random people dinner. What's cooler: He doesn't have or use social media to broadcast when he does random nice acts.
This week he and the Redskins travel to Richmond for training camp, and things will get serious about football and the 2018 season. Enjoy the fun stuff for now.
MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- Redskins Training Camp Preview: Defense
- Redskins Training Camp Preview: Offense
- Preseason Coaches Ranking: Gruden shown no love
- Need to Know: Redskins week that was
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