Youth is served

Red­skins’ rook­ies mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions ahead of sched­ule

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - STORY BY LIZ CLARKE IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY DANWORTHINGTON

In a Washington Red­skins locker room given to spon­ta­neous out­bursts of song, oc­ca­sional bust-out dance moves and as­sorted card games, the best mem­bers of this sea­son’s rookie class stand out for not stand­ing out.

Mon­day through Satur­day, Bran­don Scherff, Matt Jones and Jami­son Crow­der go about their work at Red­skins Park with unas­sum­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism. But on Sun­days, they’re draw­ing no­tice and sur­pass­ing the draft-day ex­pec­ta­tions of most NFL per­son­nel eval­u­a­tors, who didn’t pro­ject them quite as highly as Red­skin­sGen­er­alMan­ager ScotMcCloughan did.

While four games are hardly enough to eval­u­ate a rookie class, Scherff, Jones and Crow­der, who were cho­sen in the first, third and fourth rounds of this spring’s NFL draft, re­spec­tively, haveshown­thus far that the pro game “isn’t too big for them,” as Coach Jay Gru­den puts it.

Scherff, a 6-foot-5, 319-pound left tackle from Iowa, started at the un­fa­mil­iar po­si­tion of right guard on Day 1 and has stood tall on an of­fen­sive line that has paved the way for the NFL’s top-ranked rush­ing at­tack (139.5 yards per game) and has al­lowed just five sacks.

Jones, a6-2, 231-pound run­ning back from Florida, has emerged as the mus­cle in a

three-man med­ley of backs that, rounded out by steady vet­eran Al­fred Mor­ris and speed­ster Chris Thompson, is car­ry­ing the Red­skins’ of­fense.

And af­ter re­liev­ing vet­eran An­dre Roberts of punt re­turn du­ties, the 5-8, 185-pound Crow­der un­seated Roberts as the Red­skins’ start­ing slot re­ceiver in Week 4. Then, in last Sun­day’s vic­tory over Philadelphia, Crow­der hauled in 65 re­ceiv­ing yards to lead the team in the cat­e­gory — be­com­ing the first Washington rookie to do that since tight end Jor­dan Reed did it in Week 8 of 2013. An all-pro in the mak­ing?

Those pri­mary three aren’t the only rook­ies to make a mark, as out­side line­backer Pre­ston Smith, who spells in­cum­bent Trent Mur­phy, reg­is­tered his sec­ond sack of the sea­son against the Ea­gles. And sixth round pick Kyshoen Jar­rett has carved out a niche as a slot cor­ner­back— a crit­i­cal area of need en­ter­ing Sun­day’s game at At­lanta (4-0), given that the Red­skins (2-2) will be miss­ing both of their start­ing cor­ner­backs, Chris Cul­liver (knee) and De An­gelo Hall (toe).

But to Dan Quinn, At­lanta’s de­fen­sive-minded, first-year head coach, Scherff is the one who jumped out most.

“You feel the tough­ness; you feel the quick­ness that he has off the ball,” Quinn told re­porters of Scherff, whom he noted had been well-schooled at Iowa and wellpol­ished by Red­skins of­fen­sive line coach Bill Cal­la­han. “When you’re try­ing to iden­tify, ‘Okay, here are some ways, whether it’s in pass pro­tec­tion, that he may have got beat,’ there’s just not many pic­tures of those there.”

Trent Wil­liams, the Red­skins’ Pro Bowl left tackle, said he saw a po­ten­tial all-pro NFL guard the first mo­ment he watched Scherff in ac­tion. Drafted by McCloughan as a prospec­tive right tackle, Scherff was switched to guard dur­ing train­ing camp.

Now, just four games into the sea­son, Wil­liams said Scherff re­minds him of Dal­las Cowboys guard Zack Martin, who like­wise had been a tackle in col­lege (Notre Dame).

Wil­liams’s re­spect only grew af­ter watch­ing how Scherff car­ried him­self at Red­skins Park. In­stead of act­ing as if he’d “made it,” as many top-10 picks do be­fore they’ve even played an NFL game, Scherff blended into the wood­work, to the ex­tent that a 320pound man can truly dis­ap­pear. And in in­ter­views with re­porters, he of­fered a stock reper­toire of brief replies that re­vealed lit­tle about him­self and shifted the fo­cus in­stead to his line­mates.

“Off the field, he’s such a cool, hum­ble guy that you’d never know he was a first-round pick,” Wil­liams said.

Wil­liams was im­pressed even more with Scherff ’s per­for­mance in Cal­la­han’s of­fen­sive line meet­ings, which can be as gru­el­ing as his work­outs.

“Some­times he’s the only guy in the room who gets it right off the bat when Coach asks a ques­tion,” Wil­liams said. “A lot of the guys, even my­self, have to sit there and pon­der for a minute: ‘Okay, letme see where we learned this at.’ He spits it out. He’s ex­tremely tough on him­self. He’s his worst critic. He’s ex­tremely ma­ture to be a firstyear player.”

Sec­ond-year player Mor­gan Moses, who stepped into Scherff ’s ini­tial role at right tackle, put his best foot for­ward to make their pair­ing work.

“I told him when we first got to­gether on the right side, ‘Look, I only got one start un­dermy belt. I don’t know ev­ery­thing. But what I’ve seen, I’ll com­mu­ni­cate to you,’ ” said Moses, who said he con­sid­ered Scherff “a hell of a tal­ent” and “light years ahead” of where he was as a rookie in terms of his com­mand of football.

Added Wil­liams: “If he con­tin­ues on this path, he could be Pro Bowl this year. You never know. We keep run­ning the ball like we are, we keep pro­tect­ing like we are, peo­ple are gonna no­tice the job he is do­ing.” A do-it-all run­ning back

Jones’s phys­i­cal gifts were ob­vi­ous the mo­ment he suited up in train­ing camp, as he in­stantly be­came the of­fense’s big­gest, most im­pos­ing skill player and a back who rel­ished de­liv­er­ing hits as much as he prided him­self on ab­sorb­ing them. It was Jones’s hit on a Hous­ton Tex­ans rookie de­fen­sive, in fact, that trig­gered the all-out brawl that ended a train­ing-camp scrim­mage.

Nonethe­less, Gru­den cut back on Jones’s car­ries af­ter he fum­bled twice in a game this sea­son. But the coach in­sisted this past week that the rookie wasn’t in his dog­house.

“He has never lost my trust,” Gru­den said of Jones, who is sec­ond on the team to Mor­ris with 43 car­ries for 200 yards and two touch­downs.

The key, ac­cord­ing to Gru­den, is that Jones con­tin­ues to work on the ball-se­cu­rity drills that run­ning backs coach Randy Jor­dan drills into his play­ers.

As long as he shows strides, Gru­den said, Jones should get a dozen or so car­ries each game to the es­tab­lished Mor­ris’s 17 to 18. A hard worker, a hard run­ner

Though Crow­der com­piled an im­pres­sive ré­sumé as Duke’s lead­ing re­ceiver and fea­tured re­turner, many NFL scouts viewed his size, 5-8, as a li­a­bil­ity.

In the eyes of McCloughan, as well as Red­skins re­ceivers coach Ike Hil­liard, Crow­der’s per­for­mance on film at­tested to a player with an enor­mous heart and the ath­leti­cism of a big­ger man.

What jumped out at Hil­liard, a for­mer sev­enth-over­all draft pick who played 12 NFL sea­sons, was Crow­der’s quick­ness off the line and elu­sive­ness in traf­fic.

“He’s one of those kids: You can put him in a phone booth and you prob­a­bly wouldn’t get a hand on him,” Hil­liard said.

That’s what Red­skins fans saw in the third quar­ter of last Sun­day’s game against Philadelphia. With the score knot­ted at 13 and the Red­skins fac­ing a third and 13, Kirk Cousins lofted a throw to Crow­der as three de­fend­ers closed in. The rookie locked on to the ball and leapt, flash­ing the ver­ti­cal jumphe was fa­mous for in help­ing Monroe (N.C.) High to the state 1A bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship in 2010.

“I could feel the three guys around me,” Crow­der re­called this past week. “I knewI was gonna get hit. But in the heat of the mo­ment, I knewI just had to make a play.”

So he kept it sim­ple.“Catch the ball,” he told him­self. Brace for the hit “as­muchas pos­si­ble.” “Hold on to the ball.”

The rookie im­pressed im­me­di­ately in off­sea­son work­outs, mak­ing one head-turn­ing play each day, Hil­liard said. In meet­ings, he was quiet and at­ten­tive, tak­ing notes as if pre­par­ing for an exam.

“He comes to work and he at­tacks ev­ery­thing ev­ery day like a pro,” Hil­liard said. “He has an even-keeled de­meanor, kind of ahead of his time in how he ap­proaches it, which is re­fresh­ing. He comes to work, doesn’t say a lot. He just comes in and works. He’s only go­ing to be more of a fac­tor in our of­fense as we go for­ward.”

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Trent Wil­liams thinks right guard Bran­don Scherff, top, “could be Pro Bowl this year.” Matt Jones, mid­dle, has helped spark the run game, and Jami­son Crow­der, bot­tom, is quick and elu­sive.

ALEX BRAN­DON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.