Raheem Morris’s voice boomed all over Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
“Respect the vertical grass!” he yelled to defensive backs competing in interception drills.
“Don’t cheat!” he warned a cornerback eying the snap instead of his assignment.
Morris, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned Redskins defensive backs coach, is bringing the energy and enthusiasm to the Senior Bowl.
The Redskins’ staff is coaching the South squad this week. The team’s practices are typically up-tempo, but working with draft prospects unfamiliar with ways of the NFL presents its own set of challenges.
Overthrown passes? Wrong routes? Missed assignments? Poor coverage?
Think about it: the Redskins’ coaches are basically installing an offensive, defensive and special teams game plan and getting to know the personnel in less than one week.
Coaches are challenging prospects to get up to speed quickly. And they're not backing down.
At Wednesday’s practice, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spent a lot of time working with quarterback prospects Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Arizona’s Nick Foles and San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley.
All three quarterbacks looked well-coached, but they seem to focus their movements on their technique, especially footwork. They are not always fluid in their throwing motion, resulting in periodic misfires.
Weeden, the 27-year-old, former Major League Baseball draft pick by the New York Yankees, took reps first and was followed by Foles and Lindley.
Weeden appeared to have good zip on intermediate range passes but one of his deep throws seemed to float in the air, allowing the coverage to catch up and break up the play.
Shanahan spent time with each of the quarterbacks discussing the play call and the receivers’ routes. He wanted to make sure they knew where to go with the football.
“I’m trying to give you a realistic [defensive] look here,” he shouted to Foles as he lined up under center in passing drills.
Foles’ pass was off target to Arizona teammate wide receiver Juron Criner. Shanahan went over to Criner and gave him instruction, suggesting that it was Criner who ran the wrong route.
WIDE RECEIVERS vs. CORNERBACKS
No matter if it’s an NFL practice or a college all-star practice, some of the best action occurs when wide receivers go up against cornerbacks in one-on-one passing drills. Some highlights:
-- Arkansas speedster Joe Adams got a step on South Carolina safety Antonio Allen, but Brandon Weeden’s pass was overthrown.
-- Juron Criner pulled in a deep pass ahead of Furman defensive back Ryan Steed. Shouted Raheem Morris: “You just got beat, that’s okay, now shake it off.”
-- North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins flashed impressive speed, closing in on North Carolina wide receiver Dwight Jones on a deep route. Jenkins broke up the pass in the end zone.
-- Antonio Allen established great position on a deep sideline route so that Joe Adams could only make the catch out of bounds. Said Raheem Morris: “Good play, big safety.” Allen, incidentally, stands at 6-1 and 202 pounds.
-- Dwight “Bill” Bentley of Lousiana-Lafayette broke up a deep pass to Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller.
RED ZONE ACTION
The red zone is one of the critical areas of the field. In a series of 7-on-7 drills inside the 20, the defense shined up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. Some highlights:
-- Brandon Weeden eluded pressure from North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and was able to extend a play by scrambling right. His pass to a receiver along the sideline was hurried and incomplete.
-- Miami linebacker Sean Spence, 5-11 and 228 pounds, showed he can provide coverage on tall wide receivers by breaking up a pass to Jeff Fuller, who stands at 6-3 and 217 pounds.
-- Janoris Jenkins continues to look sharp – he broke up a pass to Juron Criner in the end zone. Head coach Mike Shanahan would later say that Jenkins should be one of the top-rated cornerbacks.
-- Texas inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho stayed with a running back on a short route and shadowed him in coverage, taking away Brandon Weeden’s checkdown. Weeden was forced to throw a pass to the end zone that was incomplete.
-- Vanderbilt defensive back Casey Hayward kept his eyes on Juron Criner running an inside route to the end zone. Nick Foles’ throw hit Hayward in the back and fell incomplete.
DEFENSE SHINES EARLY
It shouldn't be surprising that defenses appear to be ahead of the offenses.
On offense, execution takes time. On defense, reading, reacting and tackling is oftentimes more instinctual.
The offense would only beat the defense when there was a blown coverage or a missed tackle.
The defense excelled stopping the run, especially up the middle.
The South squad has some top talent up front, including Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, Clemson's Brandon Thompson and Texas's Kheeston Randall.
"This is a dominant group of guys I'm playing with," Upshaw said after practice.
Credit Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway with finally breaking through the defense. Running the Shanahan's familiar stretch play, he ran left and found a rushing lane to his liking. He charged through it and raced downfield for about 15 yards.