Photo by Brian Murphy for The Sports Capitol
Redskins OTA Notebook: Gruden digs dancing Norman; receivers shine
BY BEN STANDIG | MAY 23, 2018
REDSKINS PARK — It’s conceivable the most gushing commentary from Jay Gruden over Josh Norman occurred Tuesday and it had nothing to do with football.
Gruden expects Pro Bowl level work from Norman. Therefore, he rarely sounds overly impressed when discussing the cornerback’s football performance. But, Gruden had no idea what to expect when Norman competed on the athletes-only version of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Norman ranked high among the participants during each of the four weeks and finished second overall to Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon.
“I watched every episode of that,” Gruden began with a tone that could easily lead to a punch line and yet was completely sincere. “And the more I watched, the more impressed I was with his ability to learn that stuff because I know I have zero rhythm. I would be voted off the first episode.”
Confidence, effort and ability fueled Norman’s rise from a fifth-round pick in 2012 to one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. The same combination along with his theatrical flair carried him to an impressive finish. Yet Norman wasn’t just working on his attention-grabbing dance moves. He kept up appearances at Redskins Park. The dancing finished Monday. Norman participated in the first day of Organized Team Activities (OTA) Tuesday.
“So, I think the work ethic [Josh] put in, the work he put in to get ready for that show and then also fly back on red-eyes and get here for practice or OTAs, I just really have a lot of admiration for what he did and what he accomplished, man, because that’s not easy. I thought he should have won the dang thing. I think he got ripped off, to be honest with you.”
The football coach in him wanted to challenge the ruling.
“I didn’t have a red flag. I would have thrown it,” Gruden cracked. “I think that just shows what type of competitor he is. Everything he does he tries to be successful at and that showed it on that show.”
It seems impossible the Redskins offensive line could resemble last season’s banged-up unit. Maybe that’s true for training camp and the regular season. For now, it’s arguably worse.
Left tackle Trent Williams gutted out much of the season despite a busted kneecap. Right tackle Morgan Moses played all 16 games despite two ankle injuries. Both are rehabbing from surgeries. Reserve tackles Ty Nsekhe and T.C. Clemmings are also in recovery mode. Tyler Catalina, a versatile reserve who can play guard and tackle, received treatment Wednesday after he, according to Gruden, “got his feet tangled” on the turf Tuesday. Arie Kouandjio wasn’t there because the team released him Tuesday after the left guard option suffered a season-ending quad injury.
That meant the “first-team” tackles Wednesday were third-round pick Geron Christian and 2017 practice squad member John Kling. The inside of trio of Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier and Brandon Scherff held down positions they occupied last season. That meant Wednesday’s starters included a left guard the team only re-signed after not finding more attractive solutions in free agency and a center selected in the sixth round last season.
Williams, who spends his offseason in Houston, is away from the team with their blessing. The other tackles are around. The gregarious Moses walked inside the practice bubble without any assistance. Neither will be on the field for a while. Their primary backups from last season are also watching. This isn’t ideal in normal circumstances, let alone when incorporating a new quarterback and rookie runner.
The upshot, as one source put it: It’s May 23, not July 23. The Redskins open training camp late July in Richmond.
“I think once camp rolls around I think they’ll be ready to roll,” Gruden said.
Here are some more notes from Day 2 of Week 1 of OTA. Each week consists of three sessions, but the media only is invited out for the middle day.
* Ten players did not participate: The five offensive linemen, tight end Jordan Reed (toe surgery), running back Chris Thompson (ankle surgery), wide receiver Robert Davis (toe), defensive lineman Phil Taylor and starting inside linebacker Zach Brown.
* Brown was not on the field for a practical and mundane reason: He was moving.
His absence meant more work for others. Second-year linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons joined Mason Foster with the first unit. Gruden said the ILB depth chart in May isn’t in pen or pencil. It’s not written at all. The former safety stood out not just because on this day he received first-team reps, but because of his 6-foot-4 size and coverage work. Harvey-Clemons raced back like a defensive back to defend wide receiver Jamison Crowder on one play.
This group changed little from last season other than the selection of Alabama’s Shaun Dion Hamilton in the sixth round. Even if they keep five, Hamilton’s presence could knock out one of the holdovers. Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight are the other returning reserves.
* I asked Gruden about the receivers with an emphasis on Josh Doctson. He offered specifics on the 2016 first-round pick – more Doctson later – before adding some bullet points on others. He mentioned free agent addition Paul Richardson along with returnees Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris and Robert Davis by name before a catch-all “young guys” for a group presumably including seventh-round pick Trey Quinn. Not mentioned: Brian Quick, who won’t have an easy time keeping his roster spot.
Davis didn’t practice after suffering a toe injury Monday, Gruden said. The indoor turf can lead to such issues. The recent relentless rain rocked the grass practice fields, so the team went inside the bubble. Gruden noted that Davis had a “big-time day” before the injury.
* Washington added Richardson for the speed element. Concerning football, they acquired quarterback Alex Smith mainly for his arm and accuracy. All showed on one play as Smith threw deep to Richardson, who, despite tight coverage from rookie cornerback Greg Stroman, made a leaping catch.
* Speaking of young receivers, Quinn, and two undrafted free agents, Shay Fields and Cam Sims, had standout catches. Quinn, a 6-foot slot threat, made a nice adjustment on a play over the middle. Fields and Sims, two of the deep group of UDFA wideouts with a legitimate chance to make the roster, did work along the sideline on throws from third-string quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.