Dual practice could be way of future
RICHMOND, Va. -- Dual practices aren't unusual. About a half dozen occur each summer. But the New England Patriots' visit to Washington Redskins camp this week was structured in a unique way that could become a regular part of future training camps.
On Monday, both teams went through base offense and defense matchups. On Tuesday, they broke it down into situational alignments -- third downs, red zone, two-minute drill and others. Both teams were scheduled to clean up things on Wednesday.
There were no fights. Injuries were at a minimum, and the work was exceptional. In the future, scrimmages of this type could be more beneficial to teams than half of the preseason games. Since the current CBA was signed in 2011, coaches have struggled to prepare teams. Padded practices were limited. Two-a-days were eliminated, and contact time is minimal.
With commissioner Roger Goodell looking to find ways to shrink the preseason to two games, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Redskins coach Jay Gruden showed how teams can get more out of their camp time. As Belichick pointed out, a team's first-stringers are likely to see only a handful of situational plays in four preseason games. In a scripted scrimmage, the teams could get 25 such plays if they want, plus they can get tape of their players facing other teams.
Interest wasn't a problem, either. The Tuesday practice drew 21,665. Given the right practice arrangement, teams might draw more fans in a three-day scrimmage than they would in a preseason game.
The Patriots and Redskins were on the field for almost three hours Tuesday. Even though players were fatigued in the final hour, Robert Griffin III led several Redskins in doing wind sprints after practice.
Even though the Pats and Redskins haven't played a preseason game, they are ahead of most of the teams in the league in getting ready for the games that count.
Here are five observations from Tuesday's Patriots-Redskins joint practice.
1. A positive repair sign on RG III: Last year, Griffin was coming off ACL surgery. He spent the offseason rehabbing and strengthening his knee instead of advancing his game. Looking back, people in the organization are saying Mike Shanahan made a mistake playing him at the start of the 2013 season. New head coach Gruden is repairing the player, and the hard work is showing results. Gruden admits RG III has a long way to go, but the knee brace is off and the sky is the limit for him.
Griffin gets to the office at 6 a.m. and is lucky to leave by 8 p.m. Gruden has him working on more three- and five-step drops to get the ball out quickly and get into a rhythm. Where the previous coaching staff wanted to use Griffin as more of a running quarterback, Gruden wants to be less reliant on that part of his game. Expect the Redskins to call only a few runs a game for Griffin. In Cincinnati, Gruden turned second-round choice Andy Dalton into a three-time playoff quarterback who just received a monster contract. Griffin has more talent than Dalton. By midseason, watch out.
2. Do you really single cover DeSean Jackson? Jackson simply didn't fit into Chip Kelly's fast-paced offensive system in Philadelphia. Kelly tries to beat defenses with quick snap counts and single-team matchups by flooding the field with pass-catchers. Despite not fitting in, Jackson -- whom Kelly says didn't draw double coverage with the Eagles -- had his best statistical year last season with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdown. Add him to a group that includes Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed and others, and the Redskins arguably have the best receiving corps in the NFC East and one of the best in the league.
Jackson looks as quick and sharp as ever. The emergence of Reed in the middle of the field as a tight end will pull some coverage away from Jackson as will the outside threat of Garcon. Jackson could be a difference-maker for the Redskins.
3. Washington's secondary should be better: Because of a $36 million salary cap penalty over the 2012 and '13 seasons, the Redskins haven't had much ability to improve the talent level of their defense. Add in an absence of first-round draft picks for three years because of the RG III trade, and the Redskins could only make small moves aimed toward fixing the defense.
Their core group of Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen on the defensive line, Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo at linebacker, and DeAngelo Hall at corner remains. This year's big signing of defensive tackle Jason Hatcher looked good on paper, but he's sidelined while recovering from a knee injury. But Washington does look better in the secondary. Hall is still good. David Amerson shows some promise at corner, and Tracy Porter could help as a third corner. The best signing might be former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who remains a leader and a smart player in the back of the secondary.
4. Cornering the flag market: The Patriots signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to take the attack straight to the receivers. Through Revis has been known to grab a little, he's talented enough to adjust his game and avoid the penalty flags expected by the league's mandate to call more illegal contact and defensive holding penalties. The one you fear for is Browner. His game in Seattle was mugging receivers at the line of scrimmage and showing them no mercy. That style is likely to draw more penalties this year. Because he's not fast, Browner's only option is to grab a receiver who beats him.
In Monday's practice, Browner could have been flagged often. On Tuesday, he was in fewer man situations and played some off coverage. He'll miss the first four games with a suspension, but if he's flagged often in the preseason, it could be a preview of problems he'll have during his shortened regular season.
5. Don't judge a defense going against Tom Brady: Redskins reporters and fans were wondering if their defense was going to stink this year while watching the practices against the Patriots. I heard the same thing last year when the Patriots scrimmaged the Eagles. Stop. Brady would make the Steel Curtain look bad in a dual practice. In seven-on-seven and team drills, Brady is unstoppable. Running a hurry-up practice offense, Brady balances smarts with accuracy. Opposing defenses don't have a chance.
Last year, he destroyed an Eagles defense even though he had three rookies among his main targets. The young receivers are still young, but Brady can get the ball to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on just about any play. No quarterback is better than hitting an underneath pass in the red zone that could be taken into the end zone. Gruden called it poetry in motion watching Brady throw in practice. It is an honor to watch such perfection.