ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — After captains led the rest of the team in stretches, the music cut out and it was down to business.
The Washington Redskins huddled up before practice began, did sprints before leaving the field and it was clear that Club Jay is over and Camp Callahan is here.
Interim coach Bill Callahan on Wednesday ran his first practice since replacing Jay Gruden and made some fairly significant chances he hopes can end Washington’s winless season. Among them were the addition of officials to call penalties, a noticeable faster tempo and a focus on conditioning to alleviate some of his team’s second-half struggles.
“It’s really the focus of fundamental football: just really trying to get back to some really hardcore fundamentals,” Callahan said. “I thought we got through a lot of good physicality and a lot of good fundamental drilling. I think that’s the key. I think that’s the name of the game. If you’re not good in your fundamentals, you’re not going to have them later in the game. That mental toughness about fundamentals is important.”
One criticism of Gruden during his five-plus seasons was he was too lenient on players and didn’t adequately prepare them for games. Far more goes into the Redskins’ 0-5 start, but Callahan appears eager to crack the whip and put a focus on accountability.
Part of that is cutting down on penalties after 45 accepted for 331 yards in the first five weeks significantly contributed to the team’s worst start since 2001. Callahan put a call into the NFL office to find some local college officials being groomed for the pro game and hopes their presence at practice transfers over to the game Sunday at the similarly winless Miami Dolphins and beyond.
“Our officials had the ability to communicate to that player as to what they did, what they did wrong,” said Callahan, who was offensive line coach and whose unit was heavily penalized. “It’s something that takes the burden of the coaches and makes the player more aware of what he should do and having the proper leverage and the proper hand placement to prevent a penalty. So, that’s a huge focus for us as we work hard to try to eliminate penalties within the unit and on each side of the ball.”
Callahan said a segment of practice centered on the first play of a drive. The sprints were meant to improve conditioning as drives and games wear on.
Even before team work, every drill went quicker than under Gruden. That emphasis wasn’t lost on players.
“It was definitely a more up-tempo practice, faster practice, more plays than last time,” defensive lineman and team captain Jonathan Allen said.
The league in recent years has limited padded practices and contact on non-game days, but Callahan is an old-school coach who last ran a pro team with the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003. He spent time at Nebraska after that, though Allen said Callahan would fit in well at Alabama because of his work ethic and mentality.
That mentality is to turn up the physicality several notches above where it was with Gruden in charge.
“Guys didn’t have a problem with it,” Allen said. “He’s a very passionate, energetic coach who’s going to bring the physicality every day. That’s what kind of team we’re going to be on Sunday.”
Callahan gave more snaps to rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins even after ruling out the first-round pick from starting at Miami. He refused to name a starter between Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, citing health concerns, though each was a full participant in the first practice of the Callahan era.
“It was a good work day,” Callahan said. “Some of the structure was different, some of the team periods and how we did a lot of them — just little tweaks here and there. I think all good stuff to keep us all together and keep us accountable.”
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