The Redskins completed the first full week of training camp on Wednesday and it was evident that several players on defense appeared to have practiced with a chip on their shoulder all week.
The players have had four consecutive days of padded practices in 90-plus degree heat. But the hot temperatures have paled in comparison to the play on the field, which has been downright chippy and competitive in the secondary.
The player that seemed to be in the middle of every physical play on the field, or verbal exchange after the whistle, is safety newcomer Brandon Meriweather.
Meriweather earned a reputation for himself around the league as a ball-hawk and big-hitter, but would just like to be called a playmaker. He is working hard to secure that label from his coaches and teammates, as he has been making big plays everyday throughout the early part of training camp.
After bouncing from New England to Chicago last season, Meriweather has strongly stated his case in Washington, for either the free or strong safety position. The two-time Pro Bowler (2009, 2010) insists that he's just doing his job, and he expects his fellow defensive backs to do the same.
"Personally, I take it as I'm going to go out there and do my job and do what the coaches ask me to do," Meriweather said. "If that means step up, then we have to step up.
"I just expect us to go out and give our best every day and to get better every day. We're going to take every day as if it's our last."
Meriweather has challenged teammates to do their jobs but he's being pushed at the safety position by incumbents DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty, as well as newcomers Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson and Jordan Bernstine.
"I love the competition out here, man," Meriweather said. "The competition is only going to make us all better and when you see your teammates out here going hard then you have no choice but to go hard yourself."
Meriweather admitted that practicing across the line of scrimmage from Robert Griffin III provides added motivation to compete in practice.
"I really hadn't thought about it before now, but I think [Griffin III] does motivate you to do what you're supposed to do and be where you're supposed to be," Meriweather said. "When you have a guy that can make all the throws with his arm and can make dynamic plays with his feet, you have to always be on top of your game. He can embarrass you."
Although Meriweather speaks glowingly of Griffin III and the Redskins' offense, Meriweather notes that the defensive unit will continue to dial up the intensity in practice.
"I know all these fans came out here to see RGIII run and throw the ball all over the field on us, Meriweather said with a grin. We do have a very good offense but we have a really good defense as well. So we'll continue to go hard out here against those guys and hopefully we'll all get better together."
I'm not sure if this underdog is known more for his bark or his bite, but Meriweather insists there is no animosity between defense and offense--any incidental contact is nothing more than "love taps."
"I love all my teammates," Meriweather said. "We have a great group of guys but we're all out here competing. When you get a bunch of professional athletes out on the field going hard, things like that happen. We're just out here having fun."
Meriweather assured me that he was pulling up and going light on his offensive teammates, but when gametime begins, he won't show the same consideration.
"That's not hitting out there," Meriweather said with a laugh. "You guys haven't seen any hitting yet. You're going to have to wait to that first [preseason] game up in Buffalo for that."
Another player who has been particularly feisty during training camp this past week is cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
Hall called his teammates in the secondary "a bunch of misfits," and said they are focused squarely on improving on last year's performance—not making friends during practices.
"We want to get better, keep the intensity up," Hall said of the unit's attitude. "We get out there [on the field] and we don't have any friends. Then we get in here [off the field], we're the best of friends.
"That's kind of how it goes, especially during training camp."
Hall and other members of the Redskins' secondary have put an increased emphasis on tracking offensive players downfield and finishing plays, even treating incomplete passes like live fumbles.
"Guys are just running to the ball," Hall explains. "We're trying to get our conditioning in, trying to get better. Guys out there aren't giving up. It's hot out there, but it's supposed to be."
Hall is entering his fifth season with the Redskins, making him the senior member in the secondary.
The nine-year veteran attributes much of his own approach to trying to lead the younger players by example. He hopes this mindset will carry over into the regular season.
"We want to run after the ball carrier and try to get strips," Hall said. "We try to get as many guys to the ball as possible. When me and [London Fletcher] are doing it out there, it's kind of hard for everybody else not to follow along. We're all just out there trying to bust our [butts], trying to give some good effort."
"We were a top defense last year. We feel we can go out here and challenge these guys and try to get them better. We're out there talking trash back-and-forth to each other."
Veteran safety Reed Doughty suggested the competitive environment was founded in offseason workouts by defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive captain London Fletcher.
"[Coach Morris] is definitely bringing a lot of energy," Doughty said. "A lot of guys are responding to it well and hopefully it'll relate to success in the games.
"We've always had that motivation. I mean, when you got a leader like London Fletcher, we don't need any extra motivation."
Doughty proclaims that none of the added intensity during training camp has to do with the enormous amount of interest that Griffin III is drawing, and feels that the attention that Griffin III gets is justifiable.
"I think it's good," Doughty said with a shrug. "I mean, he's a first-round draft pick and a type of player that this franchise hasn't seen in a while."
"[Our secondary] comes out here at training camp, and we realize that we have to put in the work to get better. [Griffin III] obviously has the tools so we'll see what happens."
Doughty, who has played all seven years in Washington, doesn't believe the Redskins' defense is being overlooked because of the attention surrounding Griffin III, saying, "No, you'll get respect when you earn it. I'll put it that way."
"Of course we were solid last year," Doughty said of the 13th ranked defense. "But we'd like to take it a step further."
One of the new faces brought in to help that happen is veteran cornerback Cedric Griffin, who brings a physical playing style to the cornerback position. Griffin has 379 career tackles and has forced 14 fumbles over his first six seasons in the NFL, all with the Minnesota Vikings.
After arriving in Washington for offseason workouts, Griffin explained that physical defense is something that started with head coach Mike Shanahan, and has successfully trickled down to the players.
"I think as a team it's coming from all of us, but obviously it starts with our head coach," Griffin said. "Then it goes down to our defensive coordinator, then obviously it goes down to [Morris] and us.
"They preach it all the time, and us as [veteran] players we want to go out there and express it to the young guys. It's contagious, so when you see the ball on the ground, you run to the ball, pick up the ball, and try to score.
"It's going to carry over to the games."
Griffin agreed that Morris has injected life into the defensive backfield.
"When Raheem first got here he had control of the room," Griffin said in reflection. "He had to put down the law, he's a player's coach, and we all love playing for him.
"[Many of us in the secondary] really just got here with him. He's a great guy along with [assistant defensive backs coach] Richard Hightower. They're doing a great job of encouraging us and we're going out there and playing ball for them."
Griffin did admit that the secondary has exhibited extra motivation during training camp knowing all eyes are on Griffin IIII and the Redskins' offense.
"No question—we always want to feel like the underdog just because it sparks something inside of us. We want to play a little thirstier, a little hungrier.
"It works for us when the crowd raves for the offense. We're going to rally and continue to play."