The Washington Football Team is still in the "acclimation period" of training camp, but coaches and players are already raving about second-year cornerback Jimmy Moreland. Words like "special" and "playmaker" are thrown around a lot when talking about the James Madison University product, and many have lauded his athleticism.
All of that should sound familiar to Washington fans, because that's exactly the kind of hype Moreland created during training camp last year.
Moreland, then a seventh-round rookie, raised plenty of eyebrows when he was snagging interceptions from Dwayne Haskins Jr. in Richmond, Virginia. He carried some of that success into the regular season, and now the expectation is for him to take the next step.
"He's got that dog mentality," fellow cornerback Kendall Fuller told reporters Aug. 5. "I haven't been able to be around him on a daily basis yet, but just watching him on the field, the way he likes to compete, [he] doesn't shy down from anybody."
Moreland starred at James Madison with 18 career interceptions, six of which he returned for touchdowns. He was taken 227th overall -- Washington's second-to-last draft pick -- but he was so impressive during training camp that the local media and fans started referring to him as "the people's corner."
"I'm trying to get that turnover ratio up and get my defense off the field and give my offense momentum back," Moreland said last year.
Moreland was rewarded for his efforts by being elevated to a starting role in two of the first three games of the season, and he recorded 16 tackles and a pass breakup during that stretch. But as the season progressed, he experienced some struggles.
"The biggest adjustment was just the speed of the game," Moreland told Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson. "When I got in the preseason, I had these outstanding training camp numbers. But once the regular season came, I got beat."
After a long lull between starts, injuries thrust Moreland back into the starting lineup towards the end of the season. He ended up starting three of the last four games, securing 18 of his 41 tackles during that stretch.
Despite Moreland's occasional missteps, safety Landon Collins was impressed with what he accomplished. He saw Moreland's confidence and aggressiveness increase throughout the season, and he expects that to continue in 2020.
"Once he got it down and could see it before it happened, he could jump for a pick six," Collins said in May. "He could jump before the play. He just didn't trust himself within his ability to do those things."
New additions to the team, such as Fuller and defensive backs coach Chris Harris, have had limited experience with Moreland, but they already see his potential. Moreland was primarily a nickel corner last year, but Harris believes he has the skills to play anywhere on the field. He also likes Moreland's toughness and physicality.
"I somewhat have an old-school mentality that your corners have to be able to tackle and your team and your defense is only as tough as your corners tackling," Harris said Aug. 1. "That is kind of my philosophy and I preach it, and that stuck out on tape when I watched Jimmy."
Collins understands how Moreland felt last year. He was afraid to take chances during games because he was afraid a veteran would yell at him. That's how it is for rookies, Collins said. But with a year's worth of experience, Collins is confident those days are gone for Moreland.
"That is just a rookie not being sure or seeing what they want to do and just going for it. I think he has the confidence now and the trust that he knows we trust him in his ability to do something, have his back and cover him."
Moreland was a constant hindrance for Haskins last year; he had a knack for jumping Haskins' passes at just the right time. Haskins has already told him that won't happen this year, but Moreland just laughed at that. He loves the competition.
"That's just the competitiveness between him and me," Moreland said. "We're just getting each other better. It's just good to be around it again."