RICHMOND, Va. -- It’s the matchup to watch this summer, pitting a cornerback who was nearly the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year versus the receiver who gets open deep better than anyone else. So there’s just a little extra buzz when Josh Norman faces DeSean Jackson in Washington Redskins training camp.
It’s not as though other matchups are bad. Bashaud Breeland's development continues to impress, so when he faces Pierre Garcon, it’s a must-watch as well. But the other one is simply more high-profile.
“We’re here to get better, make each other better,” Jackson said. “Have a little fun, talking just kind of communicating, going back and forth a little bit.”
Each player could feel OK about some of the plays he made against the other Thursday.
First, a caveat: It’s hard to always know what a player is trying to accomplish in a particular situation. For example, in a one-on-one drill, Jackson drove off Norman a couple times, coming back for the ball.
Now, Norman could have been trying to just take away the deep pass, knowing that on a particular play he would have had help inside. Or, maybe, he was just beaten. Regardless, Jackson showed that his speed remains dangerous, and it opens up other routes. It’s not as though he’s even the best route-runner, but he doesn’t always have to be. He just needs to come out of his cuts quickly because he does create separation just with his presence.
Jackson did get open for a deep ball, a result of busted zone coverage (not involving Norman).
They faced each other in 11-on-11 work a few times and, on one play, quarterback Kirk Cousins delivered a pass to Jackson in a tight window. A good, confident throw into a narrow opening. Jackson leapt to catch the ball, but Norman’s size and length helped out here: He was able to strip the ball as Jackson couldn’t block him out on the play.
Among other observations:
I want to explore this more later, but it’s been interesting to watch Breeland’s development. I’ve always thought he was a smart corner and good learner. But watching him Thursday I recalled how he used to hold quite a bit his rookie year, especially in practices. A key was getting him to keep his hands down. Well, Thursday, that’s what he did: When facing Garcon, his hands were low and down around the receiver’s hips: not visible to officials, and it lessens the desire to hold. Smart. Breeland looked really good, and coach Perry Fewell was probably as enthusiastic about him during practice as any player.
When it comes to the outside linebackers, Willie Jefferson and Houston Bates are working with the second unit. Jefferson definitely has length, but he also would need to work on setting the edge against the run. That would increase his chances of becoming a quality backup if nothing else. But his length stands out.
Linebacker Preston Smith is a big man; he seems to be thicker in his lower body and he just looks stronger overall. Meanwhile, Lynden Trail is a tall man at 6-foot-7; he blocked a Cousins screen pass. Not sure what else Trail can do just yet, but he has that height.
I've focused plenty on Cousins and will have a story on him Friday morning, so I’ll save some observations on him for that time. He again likes to go to tight end Jordan Reed. And this goes back to what you don't know sometimes. On one deep ball down the side to Reed, the pass was underthrown. Some quarterbacks do that on purpose, if the target is not beating his man but you still want to give him a shot. And we know that Cousins trusts Reed to come down with the ball. On this play, though, Reed did not hang onto the pass. Of course, it could have simply been underthrown (I'm not going to ask about every pass to find out) and if that's the case, then it was a missed opportunity.