Last season's offseason program was unlike any other in NFL history, but there are signs of things slowly returning to normal.
The Washington Football Team kicked off its Offseason Workout Program Friday morning, starting with a two-day rookie minicamp that saw 16 players, including its 10-player draft class taking the field for the first time in the burgundy and gold.
It is more in tune with what head coach Ron Rivera and his staff have been accustomed in previous seasons and more hands-on than last year's completely virtual offseason program. Still, this is the first time Rivera is seeing many of his new players in person, so there is still a learning curve for players and coaches alike. It is a chance for the players to make a memorable first impression, and the main goal for Rivera and his staff is to learn as much as possible about their players to help them continue their development.
"What we're really looking to do is look at these guys individually and assess where they are with their skillset," Rivera told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson, "[We want to see] what can we do to help our players and have them work on as we go through this minicamp with them and the veteran minicamp."
Under normal circumstances, the practice fields behind Inova Sports Performance Center would feature enough players to at least put together an offense and defense to run a set of plays. But with COVID-19 still part of everyone's lives, Washington pivoted by putting the smaller number of players through more individual drills to get a gauge on their athleticism and how fluidly they moved from one session to the next.
On that front, Rivera was pleased with what he saw. He saw how explosive Jamin Davis is and how flexible he can be with his hip movements. He watched as Sam Cosmi showed off his power and explosiveness. Ideally, he would like to see more than just the snapshot of their skillsets, but there were some positives to the limited number of players on the field, namely the amount of individualized coaching they and the other players received.
"We got an opportunity to really focus on guys," Rivera said.
As Rivera surveyed the field, he saw fifth-round pick John Bates and Sammis Reyes get extra attention from tight ends coach Pete Hoener. Then he moved over to another end of the field, and he saw offensive line coach John Matsko working with Cosmi and tackle Rick Leonard during sled drills. Jaret Patterson was the only running back on the field, so running backs coaches Randy Jordan and Jennifer King were able to dedicate all of their time to him.
Rivera also noticed that some players looked differently in person than they did on tape. Wideout Dax Milne, for example, came across as a lot bigger and stouter than Rivera anticipated. What's more, Rivera thought he moved well at a bigger size, which was pleasantly surprising to the head coach.
"I think they were all what you are hoping for. That was pleasing," Rivera said. "A big reason for the surprise was because it was the first time seeing most of these guys in person. That is something that you go 'OK, he is a little different than I had thought.' You can only tell so much on tape and once you get to watch them in person you get a better feel for them and how they are going to fit us."
For the players, it is another opportunity for them to stand out amongst their peers, and there are certain things Rivera and the coaches are looking for from them. He wants them to be attentive and ask questions, but he also wants to see how much information they retain throughout the weekend.
"That's going to be the hard part these guys have to understand," Rivera said, "because we're going to throw in a few more things tomorrow and compound that with what they've learned today and see how they handle those things. So that's all part of the understanding process for us, getting to understand and getting to know those players to see if those guys have that kind of ability."
And Rivera has some advice for players on how to get the most out of their first experience on the field: "If you don't know, ask."
"The worst thing you could do is go out there and you make a mistake and go out there and compound it by not knowing," he said. "That makes it worse. I told them to me the biggest thing is that if you are not sure, ask."
It was only the first day of action for the rookie class, but the first impressions they make on the coaches are important, especially since the staff is still getting to know them. Rivera believes there are times when people draw conclusions too early, but at the same time, these first moments are going to help him and his coaches learn how to help develop the rookie class in the best way possible.
It is only the beginning of the coaches' in-person evaluations of the young players, but it was a good first start.
"We accomplished what we wanted in terms of getting a chance to watch the guys," Riviera said. "I'm going to be interested to hear the coaches and their impressions of the guys that we had out there, that will be interesting to see."