Photo by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol
Redskins minicamp notebook, Day 1: All eyes on Alex Smith; WR hopeful catching on
BY BEN STANDIG | JUNE, 2018
REDSKINS PARK — The man in the yellow No. 11 jersey draws all eyes. There were several good reasons Tuesday beyond quarterbacks-are-cool basics.
Alex Smith fired a missile into the arms of Josh Doctson off a quick drop back from center and defenders all around the receiver.
He recognized Paul Richardson’s next step during an outside route against Josh Norman wasn’t going inside but headed toward the end zone. The toss, just shy of 50 yards, found the speedy Richardson in stride with no defensive back anywhere in the vicinity.
Smith’s mobility provides Jay Gruden a play-calling weapon and receivers the chance to find space. After rolling left with eyes downfield, Smith powered a strike to Jamison Crowder in the back of the end zone.
His presence offers comfort. The Redskins made a quarterback swap this offseason. There’s no dummying down the plan with the smooth 34-year-old running the show.
“I think we are all just trying to get him as comfortable as we can,” Gruden said. “It’s just a matter of him getting used to the terminology, getting used to the players around him, how we call plays, all that stuff. He’s a veteran guy. He’s been there, done that. About every kind of passing scheme concept he’s seen or done. …. It’s just a matter of getting on the same page – what we call things, how we like to tag certain coverages, progressions, all that good stuff – so, I’ve been very impressed with him as a player and obviously as a person.”
All of this is happening without pads, of course, not to mention we’re talking practice. However, leadership is conveyed no matter the scenario. It’s a frequent mention from teammates of what Smith provides. “Leadership. I think his role is just commanding the ship,” Norman said.
(Speaking of Josh Norman, the star cornerback and dancing machine spoke exclusively with The Sports Capitol following Tuesday’s session on his frustration — and optimism — with the Redskins’ fortunes.)
Inside linebacker Zach Brown returned to practice for the start of this week’s mandatory minicamp after missing several sessions during Organized Team Activities (OTA). Defensive lineman Stacy McGee did not. Brown explained away his absence as time spent with family. Gruden enlightened reporters with a rationale for McGee’s nonattendance: Groin surgery.
That’s a painful explanation even if the head coach tamped down the scope by describing the procedure as a “little surgery.” It does at least wash away speculation of a standoff between the player and team. Washington signed McGee and Terrell McClain to lucrative free-agent contracts last offseason. McClain bombed quickly and was released shortly after the Redskins selected Alabama defensive tackle Daron Payne in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
McGee’s five-year, $25 million contract breaks down to a $3.2 million dead cap number in 2018. That’s probably a bit steep even if the Redskins decide they want out. Some whispering around Ashburn suggests it doesn’t mean McGee is in the clear either.
He did not record a sack last season and was part of a defensive unit that finished last in the NFL against the run. McGee ranked 73rd out of 122 interior linemen last season by Pro Football Focus.
Washington spent first-round picks on Jonathan Allen and Payne over the last two years. Gruden offers up praise for the pair at every opportunity. Tuesday he said of the run-stuffing tackle, “I think from a draft perspective, Payne is everything that I thought he was.”
Matt Ioannidis looks like he’s ready to show those second-year improvements were just the appetizer. Anthony Lanier offers pass-rush prowess. Fifth-round tackle Tim Settle provides promise. Ziggy Hood and Phil Taylor, who did not participate Tuesday, are uninspiring veterans, but are both cost-effective and have been around the block.
If Washington keeps six linemen on the Week 1 roster, it’s conceivable the plan doesn’t include McGee. Odds suggest he forms a core four with the two Alabama products and Ioannidis. At least now we know his absence wasn’t contract related. His big-picture status come training camp and preseason will be production related.
Notes from Tuesday:
- Your daily Derrius Guice thought from his head coach. Gruden: “Derrius Guice is everything I thought he was and more. He’s a lot faster than I thought. He plays faster – explosive.”
- Wide receiver Brian Quick (personal reasons) was also not present Tuesday.
- Josh Harvey-Clemons remained with the first-team defense often despite Brown’s return. The long second-year linebacker replaced Brown during OTA sessions. Neither was on the field for the very first head-to-head play Tuesday. Mason Foster manned the middle as the lone ILB in nickel package. Brown entered for a standard look on the next play.
- Maurice Harris isn’t discussed among the upper echelon of Washington wide receivers. Tuesday’s work showed why that might not hold come September. His 6-foot-3 height leads most discussions about possibilities with the third-year receiver. Harris’ vertical leap and shifty moves deserve more attention. He lept over one cornerback for a successful catch downfield. He turned a designed screen pass from Colt McCoy into a good gain. The three spots behind Richardson, Doctson and Crowder are considered open. It shouldn’t take much more to move Harris from uncertain to safe. At that point, we can ponder if he’s got the fourth receiver spot on lockdown.
- The Redskins starting offensive line remained the same, which is to say shorthanded: Rookie Geron Christian and practice squad player John Kling occupied the tackle slots with Trent Williams, Morgan Moses, Ty Nsekhe and T.J. Clemmings recovering from various injuries. Shawn Lauvao held down the left guard spot next to center Chase Roullier and Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff on the other side. Expect the same look for the remainder of the week. Come training camp, well, if Gruden sees the same five together there might not be enough Advil in Richmond to relieve that headache.
- Ioannidis, inside linebacker Mason Foster and safety Montae Nicholson all met at Smith during one passing play. Smith didn’t have enough to release the ball.
- McCoy delivered a perfect wheel-route pass down the left sideline to UDFA tight end Garrett Hudson, who worked his way into a wide-open situation. It’s just a single play, but one of the players yelling from several yards away made it sound like the former University of Richmond product is doing good work. “There goes that Hudson guy again,” said the mystery player. The Redskins might not have room for a fourth tight end. They might have no choice but to keep one considering Jordan Reed’s consistent injured status. Vernon Davis gets one spot. Second-year player Jeremy Sprinkle likely is third-string despite limited experience. Hudson, fellow UDFA Matt Flanagan and 2017 practice squad player Manasseh Garner are the other options.
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.