As the 13th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Daron Payne entered his rookie campaign in Washington with high expectations.
And through 16 games, Payne performed just as many had hoped. He finished the season with 56 total tackles (35 solo) and five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Pro Football Writers of America (PRWA) named Payne to their All-Rookie team, and he served as an integral part of the Redskins' young defensive line along with Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis.
More of the same will be expected of Payne this fall, and his offseason habits indicate he's ready for the challenge. He's basically lived at Redskins Park this offseason to train in the weight room, delve further into the playbook and set a good example for his teammates up front.
"I want to get a couple more [sacks] this year," Payne said during "Redskins Nation" earlier this week. "Me, Jon [Allen] and Matt [Ioannidis] have a little competition going on in sacks and tackles."
Joining the defensive line trio, which combined for 20.5 sacks in 2018, will be sophomores Tim Settle and JoJo Wicker and third-year man Caleb Brantley.
Together, they make up the group defensive line coach Jim Tomsula said has been working out at the team facility nearly every day since January. These players used the extended time off to best prepare themselves for minicamp and OTAs, which wrapped up this week. It's during these sessions where they reunited with Tomsula on the field, continuing to refining their potential both individually and as a whole.
"He coaches us hard and he loves us hard, too." Payne said. "There's not a day that goes by that he's not excited … so I know every day he's going to make us compete. We're going to compete against each other and we want the best out of each other, but he's always right there encouraging us."
The Redskins established themselves as a top 10 defense early last season before an array of injuries plagued the team on both sides of the ball, which ultimately hindered its final defensive statistics. But with the mix of returners, free agent signings like safety Landon Collins and multiple draft picks – the defensive line has taken first-round pick Montez Sweat under its wing this offseason – Payne believes this unit can be even better this upcoming season.
"As long as we keep pushing each other, competing every day and just staying healthy, I think we have a good chance," Payne said.
For now, though, the players have a little over a month to themselves before heading to Richmond, Va. for training camp; though Payne does not necessarily view this period as time off.
There's more work to be done.
"We have to get back into it," Payne said. "Try to train a little bit harder and get ready for camp."