When he was hired to be the Redskins' head coach back in January, Jay Gruden said one of his major goals was to improve Washington's special teams unit, which finished at or near the bottom of almost every league statistical category in 2013.
Wednesday's minicamp practice was a prime example of just how focused the team is on accomplishing that goal.
The Washington Redskins held minicamp practice Wednesday, July 18, 2014, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Led by first-year special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, the team spent several minutes going over many special teams drills – both from a team and an individual standpoint – with just about every player and coach on the roster involved.
Gruden said after practice he thinks the team has really bought in to improving its special teams unit.
"The special team periods have been very beneficial," he said. "I think you can see people working and buying in and really excited to go to the drills, actually. They're really doing a good job. And Ben and [Assistant Special Teams] Coach [Bradford] Banta are doing an excellent job of organizing the drills and of course the other assistant coaches are doing a nice job of taking it very seriously because we know how much of an impact special teams has on a football game."
Gruden said it's important that players understand special teams "has to be taken as seriously as offense and defense," and can be the difference between winning and losing a game.
That's why he's enlisted the help of the entire coaching staff during special teams periods of practice.
"It's very important for our assistant coaches to get involved to break up the periods so we can be more of an individual-type teaching process and better utilize our time instead of having 22 guys out there standing around teaching one specific drill," Gruden said. "You see guys running around, all types of different areas, working tackling drills, cover drills, punting, kicking, protection, all that. You get all that taken care of and in order to do that, assistant coaches have to be part of it."
Defense shinesWednesday's practice featured several impressive plays by the Redskins' defense, including:
- Safety Phillip Thomas intercepting a tipped pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
- Linebacker Akeem Jordan making a nice play in coverage to knock down a pass from Colt McCoy to tight end Ted Bolser.
- Middle linebacker Perry Riley Jr. showing off his athleticism by jumping high in the air to bat down a Robert Griffin III pass.
- Cornerback DeAngelo Hall – in one-on-one coverage against speedy receiver DeSean Jackson – jumping in front of Jackson, who was running a curl route along the sideline, and picking off a Griffin III pass. Hall might've been ruled out of bounds had it been an actual game, but it was a nice play, nonetheless.
- Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo getting a would-be sack against Griffin III, who was flushed out of the pocket to his right and had to run out of bounds.
- On the last play of practice, defensive lineman Doug Worthington tipping a pass around the goal line, which was intercepted by linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough.
Hatcher, Kerrigan outDefensive lineman Jason Hatcher on Wednesday missed his second-straight minicamp practice with a knee injury.
Gruden confirmed afterwards that Hatcher will undergo a minor procedure on his knee, but does not think it will have serious implications.
"It's just a minor… 'clean 'em up' type thing," Gruden said. "There's no major damage in there whatsoever."
Gruden said he wasn't immediately sure on a timetable for Hatcher's return, nor when he will go under the knife, but said "the sooner the better."
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan also sat out most of Wednesday's practice with a sore back. Gruden said the move was precautionary.
"We just chose to keep him out," he said. "You know Ryan is the type of guy that will go until he can't go any longer. We just want to make sure from a preventative standpoint this time a year."
Gruden said he's liked what he's seen out of the fourth-year linebacker out of Purdue.
"He's been busting his butt in the weight room and out there on the field," Gruden said. "We thought it was better for him in the long run to give him the day off to get well-rested and healthy."
Offensive standoutsThe Redskins' offense also had several nice plays at Wednesday's practice, including:
- A perfectly-placed, over-the-shoulder pass from Colt McCoy to wide receiver Cody Hoffman for a long gain along the sideline. Might've been a touchdown in a game.
- A vintage play featuring Griffin III finding Pierre Garçon across the middle on a crossing route for an easy gain of 20.
- Griffin III finding a wide-open Andre Roberts after some play action and a nice pump fake.
- Two Redskins 2014 draft picks going at it in wide receiver Ryan Grant and cornerback Bashaud Breeland. Grant got the best of Breeland on one play in particular, fighting off the defender at the line with his hands and crossing over the middle for a catch and the first down.
- A big gain from tight end Niles Paul, who was found by McCoy on a short pass and sped down the sideline.