Training Camp Tour: Norman, Breeland form one of league's top CB pairings
On Day 12 of the Pro Football Focus training camp tour, the PFF analysis team traveled to Richmond, Va., to take in Redskins camp.
RICHMOND, Va. – Following a short drive from the Greenbrier (Saints camp), the PFF training camp tour rolled into Richmond on Sunday to take in Washington Redskins camp. This was one of the more upbeat practice sessions we have caught, with music blasting out early, and instead of just being background noise, actually providing the beat for guys to get in some dancing with their warm up.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 7, 2016
Generally, the team seemed loose and relaxed in this session, and it provided a notable departure from many of the other camps we have viewed.
The camp also featured a few unusual quirks when it came to drills that were being run that differed from most of the camps we have seen.
Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland one of NFL’s better CB duos
The Panthers walked away from Josh Norman unexpectedly this offseason and gave Washington the chance to add a marquee free agent at the cornerback position long after most teams have a chance to improve in a big way. Norman has looked more vulnerable in camp thus far than he did in Carolina, and I think he may take a step back from his amazing shutdown form of a year ago—but even if that is the case, he will still be very good.
On Sunday, Norman was beaten for what should have been a touchdown by WR DeSean Jackson in team drills, but Jackson dropped the ball (though the wideout had plenty of good reps, too). By pairing the former Panther with Bashaud Breeland, the team should have a very good duo of cornerbacks, and interestingly, will elect to deploy them on their preferred side, not complicating matters by asking them to move around and track receivers. Breeland told us after practice that Norman will align at left corner, and Breeland on the right throughout the season.
Asked if there was any real difference in this defense between the No. 1 guy and No. 2 at cornerback, Breeland told us, “There’s really not. He plays one side, and I play one side, but we both do the same thing and have the same responsibilities.”
Breeland only had two interceptions last season and surrendered six touchdowns, but graded well because of all of the little things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat box. He’s a physical corner who plays the run well and delivers hits that force turnovers beyond the interceptions, and coupled with Norman, should help create of the league’s better cornerback pairings, even if Norman can’t replicate the stellar season he produced in Carolina last year.
Kirk Cousins accurate, sharp in camp
This was the first practice session of the tour in which we saw the QBs warming up before the rest of the team got going. It probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s just interesting that it took 10 stops now to see something you might assume was ubiquitous in today’s NFL.
Another interesting quirk to this practice was that the QBs were involved in ball protection drills and passing directly to each other in some specific drills, rather than through somebody, as often happens to protect their fingers from any potential injury with a bad catch.
Kirk Cousins is obviously the star attraction among the QBs, and for the most part, he was accurate and sharp. He could have ended the day on a high note with a touchdown in red-zone team drills, but under threw the quick out to come up short instead. Colt McCoy also had some impressive passes during the day, including one excellent corner pass to Maurice Harris, who had a fine day himself at WR.
Last season, Cousins recorded PFF’s 16th-highest overall grade among 38 qualifying quarterbacks. Entering the 2016 season, our analysts have ranked Washington’s QB situation as the 17th-best in the league.
Tweaks to the OL could pay dividends
Over the past couple of seasons, the Redskins have been an outside zone-heavy team—even to their detriment, at times. There was no secret in what they were going to run, and when you are predictable, you are automatically making things harder than they need to be. This season, Washington figures to be more diverse from a run-concept point of view, and will work back in some more gap-schemes and power plays, which allows them to put the defense off balance a little bit.
LT Trent Williams, for one, is a huge fan of the changes, telling PFF that he likes “putting the defense on their back foot,” and changing up what they do rather than relying on one concept over and over. Williams and Morgan Moses impressed in Sunday’s session, as did Brandon Scherff at guard. Shawn Lauvao also had a couple of impressive reps in one-on-one drills, but once more, the problem position looked to be center, where Kory Lichtensteiger was abused rep after rep. He was the worst-graded center in football last season on a per-snap basis, and didn’t look any better on this evidence. This figures to be a good offensive line, but they need to find an answer at center.
Other camp notes
– Second-year player Austin Reiter looked like the best center on the roster, and the only one capable of actually holding his own in team drills. He was a seventh-round pick a year ago, and didn’t play a snap during the regular season, spending the year on the practice squad. He had 60 preseason snaps to his name last year and graded well, once again being the only center on the team to do so.
– Anthony Lanier II had an excellent showing on Sunday, especially in one-on-one pass-rushing drills. He looked strong and athletic, and was winning his reps regularly, giving coaches something to think about for a guy that is going to automatically be on the roster bubble as an undrafted rookie.
– Punter Tress Way was booming kicks all day long, hitting huge distances with good hang time and pretty good location that was often forcing the returners to back up to field the kick. He finished last season with a top-10 punting grade at PFF, and has back-to-back fine seasons to his name. He’s somebody that probably deserves a little more recognition, because as Rich Eisen says, “Punters are people too.”