ASHBURN, Va. – The skirmishes, as they called them, were good to see. For the Washington Redskins, it was another sign of increased intensity in practices. They hope that leads to more good signs on Sunday.
The Redskins say they had a couple incidents in practice Wednesday, but used them to illustrate how players are competing more than anything else. No fists were thrown, but points were made.
“It’s a good thing if nobody gets hurt,” Redskins defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. “We already know you have the intensity that some people go hard. We can’t tackle each other, so it’s good. I say it’s good as long as nobody gets hurt and they want to get their steam out about whatever’s going on. I’m happy with it. As long as you don’t get hurt and I see you on Sunday playing with that same attitude you had in practice, that’s good.”
That’s what the Redskins want and it’s a mindset they said helped them beat New Orleans by 33 points last Sunday. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last week was their best one for practices. Part of it stems from finally having all their players healthy – only end Jason Hatcher sat out yesterday, as is custom to rest his knees.
But the veterans know that with seven games left, every day seems to matter even more.
“It’s nut-cutting time,” Hatcher said. “It’s time to start playing really good football.”
The players always have believed they’re capable of more than what others predicted before the season. The coaches say they’ve seen their confidence increasing as they win games. It wasn’t so much that they beat the Saints, who are now 4-6, but the manner in which they did so.
“The intensity level is rising,” Gruden said. “You can see it — the confidence, the intensity, all that — which is good. We’ve got to keep that up. There is no room. There is no time for us to become stagnant in our approach or become lackadaisical when we go out to practice. Luckily so far, that hasn’t been an issue.”
A few weeks ago, Chris Culliver got into a competitive exchange with a practice-squad receiver. It’s uncertain what happened Wednesday, but it really doesn’t matter. The veterans say this is just the way it is. And it’s not as if every good team practices in this same manner. Quarterback Kirk Cousins recalled the 2012 season when they won seven in a row– and the one full practice a week in pads was, as he said, more relaxed.
“So I’ve seen that work, and I’ve seen having a spirited practice at the end of the season that was very physical and very competitive lead to a win as well,” he said. “There’s different ways of doing things, but I like the fact that we’ve had some competitive periods and guys are coming out to practice engaged and locked in and having an edge to them. I think all of that lends itself well to having a good performance on Sunday.”
That, of course, leads to a question that Jean Francois had: Why wait until now?
“It should be like that from Week 1 all the way to damn Week 17,” he said. “But you get in the second half of the year and get around November and December and those games really start to mean something and you don’t take no s---. You feel like it’s a game outside so that game on Sunday, you feel you’ve seen that same game on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday all the way to Sunday. I like stuff like that.”
There’s a benefit that carries into games, too.
“You see another player we don’t know and you can go out there with that same attitude and you don’t know how he’ll adjust to it,” Jean Francois said. “He may back down, he may stand up. But if he stands up, you’ve already had your teammates stand up, so now you know what type of player you’re dealing with.”
At this time in each of the last two seasons, the Redskins had just fallen to 3-6 and knew that it would take a miracle run, like 2012, to reach the postseason. But unlike that season, they lacked the confidence or belief. They say this time is different.
“It’s just the energy,” Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson said. “Guys are flying around knowing we have a shot to make the playoffs. That’s in the back of our minds.”