ASHBURN — The changes were obvious right away.
As the Washington Redskins began practice Wednesday, players were lined up to stretch in a different order than usual. The captains were placed at the very front. When stretching finished, the music cut off immediately and the players soon huddled up. After meeting for a brief second, they dispersed — running, not walking, to their position drills.
And when the session concluded, the Redskins did something that is standard operating procedure at practically every high school football practice in America: They ran sprints.
Welcome to the Bill Callahan era.
In his first practice as the Redskins’ interim coach, Callahan sent a clear signal that the ousted Jay Gruden is no longer in charge. The central goal? The 63-year-old said he wants the Redskins to get back to the fundamentals.
“That’s the name of the game,” Callahan said. “If you’re not good in your fundamentals, you’re not going to have them in the latter of the game. That mental toughness about fundamentals is important.”
Callahan wants the Redskins to play tighter, mistake-free football. Over the Redskins’ 0-5 start, Washington has been a sloppy football team — racking up the third-most penalties in the NFL. The Redskins also have been woefully inefficient on third down, posting the second-worst conversion rate (24.53%) in the league.
Callahan wants fewer penalties. So, at practice, the Redskins had college referees brought in to observe and call plays as if they were actually taking place during a game. Washington specifically called the league office to request nearby NFL officials to come to practices.
Callahan said he plans for the referees to show up again in the near future.
“I think it can help,” tackle Morgan Moses said, “because they obviously see something we don’t see. … It helps us to figure out what they’re looking at.”
Multiple players inside the locker room Wednesday noted the tempo in practice was faster;
During team drills, the Redskins focused on “drive starters” — the plays they will run specifically at the beginning of each series.
Callahan outlined his expectations to the group in a team meeting, telling players there is no “magic formula” to get the season turned around.
“We just have to work every day,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said.
The old-school approach is part of why fundamentals are so important for Callahan.
It’s like being a golfer, he said. If a golfer isn’t on the driving range every day, he’s not going to get better. His swing and the timing will be off.
As for the running, Callahan says it’s about conditioning.
The Redskins have had well-chronicled problems with second-half collapses — they’ve been outscored 77-33 in five games. The running and the sprints are aimed at improving conditioning so the Redskins don’t run out of gas late.
Sprints were a form of discipline under Gruden, who made the offensive and defensive lines run sideline to sideline in training camp after a mid-practice brawl. They rarely ran sprints during the regular season.
Moses, though, welcomes the change.
“This thing is not going to get fixed in one day,” Moses said. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go down to Miami and blow them out.’ We have to come together because 0-5 start, for this franchise, it’s just embarrassing. Especially when you have a franchise that has so much history in it.
“We have to put a better product out there.”
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