Dyami Brown did not have a chance to show off his knack for catching deep bombs downfield during rookie minicamp, but the sample size the media got to see during the Washington Football Team's first day of OTAs was worth the wait.
Brown was lined up on the right sideline and burst into a sprint as soon as the ball was snapped. He breezed past Troy Apke, who was lined up at cornerback, as Taylor Heinicke launched a pass in his direction. Brown stopped, leaped high enough to beat the safety's reach and tucked the ball to his body. As it became clear that Brown made the catch, his offensive teammates led out an audible "oooh" from the other end of the field.
Those kinds of returns are what Washington hopes it will get from its investments at wide receiver. There were games last year when Terry McLaurin, a third-round pick in 2019, was the only drafted wideout in Washington's lineup. That will no longer be the case, as the group is now filled with experienced veterans. They, along with the players who were already on the roster and impressed the coaching staff, are what Washington believes will make the offense faster, quicker and more dynamic.
"We have big guys, small guys, super quick guys, a lot of speed," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Guys that can go up and get the ball. Just early impressions, very, very excited for the diversity of the group."
It is not often that Brown, who ran an official 4.4 40 at North Carolina's pro day, would be considered one of the slower pass-catchers on a team, but that is the situation Washington finds itself in with its abundance of speed. McLaurin's blazing 4.3 40-yard dash is already well-known and documented, but now Samuel, who also ran a 4.3 at the NFL Scouting Combine, has been added to the mix. Steven Sims Jr., an undrafted rookie from 2019, also has 4.3 speed.
OTAs are more of a simulation with the focus being more on technique, but it has been clear that Washington's receivers are generally faster than those on other teams. It stood out to head coach Ron Rivera during Tuesday's practice, and it was also clear to the secondary as the team went through 11-on-11 and 9-on-9 drills.
"They're fast, man," cornerback William Jackson III said with a smile. "They can run. It's a great group of guys who are out there ready to compete."
Speed is a fine thing, but it is not the only trick that Washington's wideouts have at their disposal. Brown is known for being a deep threat, but he has spent the last few weeks honing his intermediate routes. McLaurin spent the majority of his time on the outside, but he played a significant amount of time in the slot as well. The same can be said for Samuel, who also has experience being used as a running back with the Carolina Panthers. That kind of versatility is what Samuel believes will make them a dangerous unit.
"I feel like that's good for an offensive coordinator just being able to scheme up defenses," Samuel said, "do different things, put defenses in positions that they don't want to be in, show them different looks, being able to go in the backfield, being able to go out in the slot."
There are also players like newcomer Adam Humphries who do not necessarily possess rare speed but are still productive. Humphries, who has been reunited with Fitzpatrick from their days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has a career catch rate of 71%. In the games where Fitzpatrick was the Buccaneers' starting quarterback, he caught 76% of his targets to go with three touchdowns.
Others, like four-year pro Cam Sims, have developed a strong work ethic that has earned Rivera's trust. That, along with catching passes from four different quarterbacks in 2020, has helped Sims adapt quickly to different throwing styles. Fitzpatrick was already a witness to that skill when completed a back shoulder fade to the former undrafted receiver.
"I do not know if he has ever had that ball thrown to him in that trajectory on the back shoulder. He reacted to that and went and got the ball," Fitzpatrick said. "Those are the types of things that as we continue through this process other guys are going to see and we are all going to be able to learn from each other."
But working hard is a skill that all Washington's receivers share, which is not a surprise given that McLaurin is notorious for having such a trait, and the younger players follow his leadership. A veteran signal-caller like Fitzpatrick, who has been with plenty of young receivers in his 16 seasons, can appreciate that kind of approach to practices.
"It does not seem like there is much attitude. They want to get better," Fitzpatrick said. "They are all trying to still work at their craft. I was really impressed today. I think as we get going here, the consistency is something that is big in this game. Something we will look for out of that group. A great start today. Very impressed with how they work."
Washington was ranked 25th in passing offense last season, averaging 216 yards per game. The team intends to change that by bringing in a quarterback who likes to take chances with his throws and surrounding him with a multitude of options. There will be a competition to see who ends up being part of the final group on the 53-man roster, but it's sure to be a more talented group regardless of who lines up for Week 1.
"We wanted to get a complement to Terry," Rivera said, "and I think we went out and got a few complements to Terry. I think that group can be very dynamic for us, so I am excited about that."