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Practice Notes: Some Insight On The Defense

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The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.

The sun was blaring down on the Washington Football Team Wednesday afternoon. If head coach Ron Rivera wanted to give his players experience playing in extreme temperatures, they have it now.

The starters only received a limited amount of reps together, but the small sample size delivered some highlights that show why the coaching staff is excited for both sides of the ball.

Here are some key observations from the third practice of the week.

-- There was another "Ryan Fitzpatrick to Terry McLaurin" alert to start the day, and it was just as impressive as the previous bombs Fitzpatrick laid out to the 2020 captain. This time, McLaurin beat Torry McTyer and Kamren Curl down the left sideline and sprinted for what would have been a touchdown. McLaurin could be heard saying, "Whewww!" while he was jogging back to the huddle and gave Dyami Brown a chest bump on the way. McLaurin has always been able to gash defenses downfield, but he hasn't gotten to show it often. That will likely change this season.

-- Linden Stephens, who will likely receive a heavy dose of playing time against the Ravens, had a strong practice. Stephen, who is entering his third season after going undrafted out of Cincinnati in 2019, had a tipped interception and ran for about a 15-yard gain before stepping out of bounds. Stephens has survived camp thus far because he's shown that he can work well with his teammates and make the occasional big play. There's plenty of talent in Washington's secondary, though, so he's trying to make his case that he deserves to round out the position outside of Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III and Benjamin St-Juste. He'll have his best opportunity to do that on Saturday.

-- There are some high expectations placed on James Smith-Williams entering his second year. Jack Del Rio has been pleased with what the former seventh-round pick has shown over the past month. He had to play on the inside last year out of necessity, but now he's back to playing defensive end. Smith-Williams, who had eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss at N.C. State, has become the third defensive end in the rotation behind Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Rivera said he's in position to grow in Year 2, and Del Rio is excited to get him more involved.

-- Ask any of the defensive backs about Chris Harris, and they will always have something positive to say about him. Harris was a player himself -- he played safety for the Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars -- and Del Rio believes that helps him relate to the defensive backs. Del Rio wants his coaches to bring energy and be a teacher to their players. Both of those are areas Harris excels in, as his players have praised his attention to detail. He's also the first person to celebrate with a corner or safety anytime they make an interception.

-- Every player has a way of showing their worth. For Curl, that has come from him being a "super intelligent guy," Del Rio said. The defensive coordinator and Harris have praised Curl's ability to play multiple positions in the secondary -- he's even done so on the same drive -- and mentioned how difficult it is to achieve that flexibility. Del Rio feels comfortable playing him at any position, whether it be in the slot or at nickel. He's a good football player, Del Rio said, and he's been a versatile piece since Day 1. It paid off in a big way last season, and even though the secondary is more crowded now, he's still found a way to be valuable.

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