Redskins linebacker Zach Brown knows the NFL season can take a toll on him.
There's certainly the physical toll, which reared its head late last year, when Brown couldn't shake a nagging Achilles injury that prevented him from playing the final three games of the season. There's also the emotional toll, which keeps him from spending quality time with his family.
That's why he rearranged his priorities over the last few months, spending time with his four daughters – ranging in age from three to 10 – and missing some of the team's OTAs to move into his new home in McLean, Va. The missed voluntary practices will ultimately be a footnote on the year, but Brown's time with his kids – taking trips to the zoo, the beach, Disney World and track meets – will stay with him, and them, throughout the year.
"I made it a priority this offseason to spend a lot more time with them," he said before calming any ancillary worries. "I was still preparing even though I was gone."
Indeed, Brown looked like his healthy, speedy self again on the practice field this week in minicamp. He reacquainted himself with teammates and coaches, yelled out signals and felt comfortable after signing a multi-year contract in the offseason, keeping him in Washington after leading the team in tackles in 2017 as the center of the defense.
"I've finally got a place that I can call home," Brown said. "From Tennessee, to Buffalo, and now here, I can call this home now. So for me it's just great that I can grow with a group of guys, and a lot of them are back, and we've added a couple new pieces."
He's also feeling 100 percent healthy. "For the first time in a long time, I actually feel good," he said. "All the injuries that were nagging me last year are not nagging me now."
Aside from feeling at home, Brown returns with a better understanding of Greg Manusky's defense, working in the middle of the field and making sure those in front of him are lined up properly.
"I should be able to do a lot more because everyone is more comfortable with the people around me," Brown said. "So now it's just about getting to the next level on the defense. We've just got to make sure we step up."
Here's photos from the Washington Redskins Minicamp practice that took place Wednesday, June 13, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
The Redskins, as has been stated many times, ranked last in rush defense last year, a product, Brown believes, of the multitudes of injuries. With a healthier unit returning up front, however, and the addition of first-rounder Daron Payne, Brown has high aspirations for improvement.
Specifically, Brown mentioned the need to clean up the defense's first step, which dictates the kind of gaps that will form for the offense. "When you make your step, you've got to make sure your eyes are correct," he said.
"We've got to be a top-five, top-10 defense," Brown said. "If you're a top-five or top-10 defense, it's almost guaranteed that you're going to the playoffs. And that means everyone is doing something right. So for me, it's doing your job when you're on the field. Don't try to do anybody else's job, and then everybody will be good."
"I think Zach Brown physically, when you look at him, he's as gifted a linebacker as there is, really," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He can run, he can hit, and all that stuff. I think learning a new defense, there were some times where we were out of place – and not just him, but whoever – the defense wasn't quite in sync. I think him being in his second year with his athletic ability, adding Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen in the middle in front of him with Matt Ioannidis and Ziggy [Hood], whoever else is in there with [Ryan] Kerrigan and Preston [Smith], I think it's going to make him all the more freer to roam and play fast."
As he continues to work out this summer in preparation for training camp, Brown understands that over-communicating will be just as important to achieving some of the more granular details. That will be easier with a beefed up defensive line that should ideally take away some of the tackling workload.
"Somebody is going to get messed up when they try to run that ball and cut back," Brown said. "We've got big boys down the field. If we got a big guy coming down the field, nine times out of ten I'm expecting the ball to be out. They're not stopping; they're going to run right through whatever is right there. So for me it's great because when you look at the good defenses, a lot of big guys cause fumbles."