Training Camp Notes: Day 14
A breakdown of the Redskins’ 14th day of training camp, including notes on Phillip Thomas’ season-ending foot injury, Robert Griffin III’s posturing, Josh Wilson as a kickoff returner and more.
BY ZAC BOYER
RICHMOND – The discovery that the injury to Phillip Thomas’ left foot will end the rookie’s season before it truly begins again changes the makeup of the Redskins’ secondary – specifically at safety, where the turnover was constant last season.
Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick out of Fresno State, had started to get more comfortable within the Redskins’ defense in the past 10 days. He started the game against the Titans because the team decided to rest Brandon Meriweather and his surgically repaired right knee, and the seven snaps he played on defense before the injury were, to date, his greatest test of the preseason.
Robert Anderson, a specialist based in Charlotte, determined that Thomas has a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot and will need to undergo surgery, leaving him with a four- to five-month recovery time. Mike Shanahan said Tuesday that the team will put him on injured reserve, though it did not do so by the end of day.
The Redskins drafted Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, and cornerback David Amerson, to provide stability in their defensive backfield for at least the next four years. Rambo, taken in the sixth round, has taken every snap as the first team safety through three weeks of training camp and is in line to continue that role when the regular season opens on Sept. 9.
Thomas, meanwhile, had been delayed in his development because of a league rule requiring college seniors to sit out of team activities until their spring semester classes are over. That meant Thomas missed a week’s worth of offseason workouts – not a crippling blow, but one big enough given that he had to quickly catch up on the basic tenets of the Redskins’ defense without the gradual transition Rambo and the other rookies were given.
He had, recently, started to draw parallels between the Redskins’ defense and what he played in at Fresno State; specifically, his responsibilities in the 3-4 scheme and with the fire zone blitzes were remarkably similar, he said, to what he was asked to do in college.
Washington’s safeties were constantly in flux last season, which should leave them well-prepared to handle Thomas’ loss. Meriweather, projected as the starting strong safety, sprained his left knee in the preseason and played in only one game before tearing the ACL in his right. Tanard Jackson, expected to be the starting free safety, was suspended for failing a drug test when rosters had to be finalized and won’t be eligible for reinstatement until Aug. 31.
That meant Madieu Williams, a 30-year-old signed to a one-year deal and expected to be a backup, was pressed into starting duty. Veteran backup Reed Doughty, who started at least seven games over the previous three seasons, started 10. DeJon Gomes, a fifth-round pick entering his third season, started two. Jordan Pugh, picked up as a free agent after the first week of the season, played 61 percent of the defensive snaps in the final two weeks.
Meriweather, Rambo and Doughty will make the team. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said two weeks ago that conventional thinking dictates the team keep four safeties, though it kept five much of last year. That leaves either Gomes or Pugh in the picture, and only Jose Gumbs, who signed on the first day of training camp, truly on the outside looking in.
If Thomas developed into the physical, playmaking safety he was during his last two years at Fresno State, the Redskins would have been better with him on the field. But as a backup, and one who wasn’t expected to see many meaningful minutes – especially early in the season – they’ll be just fine.
* That Robert Griffin III felt compelled to address the media to clarify the nature of his relationship with Shanahan on Tuesday was a step in the right direction, especially considering the back-and-forth the two have endured throughout the offseason regarding the handling of the quarterback’s knee injury.
Griffin, though, was wrong to attribute it to a creation of the media – or, as he termed it, something “that’s been twisted and turned and tried to put against this team.” He wasn’t incorrect in stating that he was merely responding to questions about his rehabilitation schedule, which he was. It was that he said that the messages have been distorted, which they weren’t, or that they were used to divide the team, which is preposterous.
The quarterback was asked by a reporter Monday morning whether he fully understood Shanahan’s reasoning for keeping Griffin out of team drills, which he is scheduled to take part in for the first time on Wednesday. Griffin, after taking a moment, said he “can’t B.S. that answer,” reiterated that he doesn’t like the plan and that he “can’t lie about that.” There’s not much twisting or turning going on there.
As for the team, players don’t care what’s going on with Griffin as long as he’s in uniform throwing passes and gaining yards against the Eagles on Sept. 9.
“At the end of the day, I’m riding with Robert because that’s who gets me the ball,” receiver Santana Moss said, as only he could. “But, you know, I just feel like what we have at stake, man, coaches see the bigger picture, and they don’t want to have to be dealing with nothing that was something they could have had control over. You’ve got to go with what Coach said.”
Shanahan, meanwhile, was good-natured afterward, noting that he and John Elway “used to have knockdown, drag-out fights all the time.”
“We’ll have lots of talks, and that’s just part of a quarterback and a coach maturing their relationship as time goes on,” Shanahan said. “But that happens all the time in the National Football League.”
* The first real flare-up of training camp happened near the end of the first hour of practice when receiver and Aldrick Robinson and cornerback Chase Minnifield began shoving each other during 7-on-7 drills. Griffin threw a deep out to Robinson, whose legs appeared to get tangled with Minnifield, and the receiver stood up and pushed Minnifield. Gumbs, playing free safety, tried to intervene and break the two up, but Robinson took exception to him as well and gave another shove before players from both sides of the ball broke it up.
Shanahan pulled the team together immediately afterward and emphasized that something like that, in a game, will lead to a penalty that could be the difference between winning and losing. The players ran afterward, and while Robinson cited other team obligations in turning down a chance to speak about it, Minnifield offered only clichés and non-answers before heading inside the facility.
Brief shoving between cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tight end Logan Paulsen two weeks ago was the only other tiff between players during training camp. One of the visiting officials, on site during the altercation, said in some camps, players would have fought three or four times by that point. The Redskins have done a good job keeping competition high during training camp, and not crossing that boundary is a byproduct of having players without character concerns.
* Nick Barnett participated in team drills each of the past two days as the second-team jack linebacker. The 10-year-veteran, signed on Aug. 1 in the wake of Keenan Robinson’s season-ending torn left pectoral, said he originally expected to slot in as London Fletcher’s backup at mike linebacker, but that role has been held by Bryan Kehl in recent days.
The mike linebacker makes the calls in the Redskins’ defense and is a position that both Kehl and Perry Riley, the starting jack linebacker, consider very difficult to play. But the jack linebacker must also be in a position to do so in times where the tight end goes in motion, so Barnett’s debut at that position is likely an attempt to ease him into the defense now and give him greater responsibility when he feels comfortable shouldering it.
* Josh Wilson has been returning kickoffs, which is something he did during his first four seasons but not at all with the Redskins over the last two. The cornerback made jokes about teaching the younger guys on the roster how to do it, but, when pressed, said it was something he had to do because he was on the depth chart.
It’s unlikely that Wilson would be given that role, especially considering his responsibilities as a starter. Yet it’s also unlikely that Niles Paul, who returned kickoffs in the preseason game and did so at the end of last season, would keep doing it as he continues his transition to tight end.
The better fit would be someone like Robinson, who has good straight-line speed but has issues securing the ball. Rookie running back Chris Thompson would be another good option, but he hasn’t proven he’s fully recovered from a torn ACL in his left knee and he hasn’t returned kickoffs since his freshman year at Florida State.
* One question surrounding Brandon Jenkins is his ability to drop into coverage, which he has rarely done during training camp. Not only is the fifth-round pick returning from a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot that kept him out all but the opening game of his senior year, but he’s also making the transition from 4-3 college defensive end to 3-4 professional outside linebacker. Brian Orakpo had the benefit of a year as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker before Shanahan was hired and overhauled the defense, and Ryan Kerrigan overperformed his first two years after making the transition. Jenkins might be little more than a situational pass-rusher this season until he starts to figure things out.
* The Redskins will begin installing their game plan for the Steelers with just one practice on Wednesday at 12:40 p.m. As is customary, they didn’t prepare a game plan for the Titans. Friday will be the last day in Richmond.