Photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol

Redskins camp, day 5: Ryan anderson's 180-degree turn

BY BEN STANDIG | JULY 31, 2018

RICHMOND — The five most interesting aspects from the Washington Redskins practice session Monday:

* Two Ryan Anderson changes headline the daily activity at Redskins training camp.

  •        He returned after missing time with back spasms
  •        He smiled

The former is most important, as was the pass-rushing potential shown during the morning practice. Washington’s outside linebacker depth beyond Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith isn’t considered a strength. Anderson is coming off a sideways rookie season and free agent addition Pernell McPhee dealt with injuries last season with the Bears.

The latter is key because the Alabama product’s daily vibe meshed with his standard approach to prepping for professional football: Poor.

While Q&A sessions are not for everyone, even those who typically decline such interactions typically relent enough to help the cause. Maybe surly is harsh, but Anderson made it clear last season he had less than zero interest in chatting with the media. Then came Tuesday.

The powerful linebacker stepped off the practice field and held court for several minutes. He did so with ease and charm. He did so at times with a smile flashing on his face and honest thoughts pouring out.

On his rookie year:  “I didn’t approach it the way I should have approached it last year. Being a rookie, not really understanding how long the season was, how good a lot of these guys are. I didn’t take care of my body like I should have. Right now, I’m really in tune with my body, how I’m eating. Just keeping everything up. Stuff is finally starting to slow down. The defense, I got the defense down.”

On his diet: “I’m from the country. I always ate.”

On how trained: “I wasn’t doing anything. I would just come to practice and go home.”

Hints of a change came in April from teammate Ryan Kerrigan.

“His mentality and his mindset changed,” Kerrigan said of Anderson. “He kind of had a better understanding of how he does need to take care of himself and how he does need to work in the weight room and how he needs to eat when he’s not at the facility. I think just looking at him today, you can tell there’s been a change there in a good way.”

Anderson confirmed a changed approach Tuesday. “Now I have a routine and I’m sticking to it,” he said. He eliminated red meat and fried food. Fish is the primary staple. Anderson, listed at 253 pounds, said he lost 10 pounds. He added that smile. The Redskins hope to add another front-7 weapon. Nose tackle Phil Taylor briefly interrupted Anderson’s media session with a pat on the back and encouraging words. He told the young linebacker that he liked what happened on the field Tuesday. All of that bodes well for what Anderson might do on Sundays this fall.

*Josh Norman is the best cornerback on the Redskins roster. The perceived gap between the Pro Bowl caliber talent and the others at his position is such that quarterbacks may never throw his way. That means the balls are going elsewhere. Based on early days in training camp, when elsewhere means Quinton Dunbar the Redskins are in good shape.

Dunbar’s strong showing continued Monday, including an interception in the end zone while covering a Robert Davis fade pattern. Safety D.J. Swearinger told The Sports Capitol that it’s the former receiver-turned-corner who is making the plays among the defensive backs. It remains unclear who starts opposite Norman in base looks. Orlando Scandrick seems like the slight clubhouse leader, but he’s also the best slot option based on his prior work. What we know is if Dunbar’s transition from receiver to deep reserve to starter is real, that represents a real change in potential for Washington’s defense.

*Inside linebacker Mason Foster (stomach strain) did not participate in Monday’s morning practice. Same for tight end Jordan Reed and tackle Ty Nsekhe as the Redskins continue easing them back following offseason surgery. Reed is expected to join team practices Saturday.

*The outside linebacker scene was unique this season for a very specific reason: Extremely clear depth chart distinction. The top four are clear: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Anderson, Pernell McPhee. From there, go fish. It’s why most 53-man projections have only those four even though Anderson had an uneven rookie season and McPhee battled injuries in his previous stop with the Bears. As of Tuesday, we have a fifth.

That doesn’t mean Pete Robertson, who played four games last season for Washington, makes the Week 1 roster. It means the next set of projections must consider his inclusion.

Jay Gruden received a question about the outside linebacker position and whether any other options beyond the top four could help. The head coach blurted out a name before the questioner finished his part.

“Petey. Petey has been unbelievable. Yeah, he’s been great,” Gruden said of the 6-foot-2, 248-pounder. “Very, very athletic, and you’re talking about a guy that can possibly help on special teams as your fourth or fifth linebacker, and he’s one because cause he can run.”

Robertson’s aggression stood out during the first four days of practice, particularly the way he finished work through the whistle even if that meant an extra shove at times.

Gruden acknowledged part of the issue last season involved using the Texas Tech product as a team utility player because of all the injuries. With him focused on playing outside, the change is clear.

“You know, last year we had [Petey] on the practice squad a little bit, and he was active late, but he was doing some running back stuff for us, cause we had a lot of injuries at running back,” Gruden said. “He’s a great athlete. He can rush the passer. He was a defensive end in college and we tried him at inside linebacker for a little while. That wasn’t quite his cup of tea. We moved him back down as an outside linebacker defensive end in nickel [defense]. He’s done very, very well.”

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.

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