RICHMOND — Redskins coach Jay Gruden raved about the Patriots’ cornerbacks at Monday’s practice, saying they did a great job of thumping and frustrating his receivers — with a caveat, of course.
“They didn’t have a problem today,” Gruden said, “because there were no referees out there.”
The Patriots made a concerted effort to get bigger and more physical in the secondary by signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in free agency.
Their physicality was on full display Monday at the joint practice with the Redskins, as Revis and Browner straight-up harassed Redskins receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Andre Roberts. The trio had a tough time getting out of the jams and off the line of scrimmage, and it disrupted their timing with Robert Griffin III.
“We want to play physical, that’s what our coaches want us to do, so it’s great,” Revis said. “Browner, he brings that mind-set to be physical in the secondary, and we feed off of it, and it’s great for us.”
Except it might not be so great during the regular season.
NFL officials are visiting all 32 training camps this month to give a tutorial on the league’s new rules and points of emphasis, and a big one this year will be a concerted effort to call more ticky-tack penalties against defensive backs.
Jersey pulling, illegal use of hands, and contact after 5 yards will be called closer than ever this season as the NFL looks to make the game even more slanted toward offense, even as it has seen an increase in scoring each of the last five seasons.
Yes, the Patriots’ DBs looked great Monday, but how much of the clutching and grabbing will they be able to get away with in the regular season? As Gruden noted, there weren’t any officials at practice. The league’s new emphasis is an X factor that could drive a huge thorn into Bill Belichick’s plan to get nastier in the secondary.
“Watching the Patriots DBs, they were grabbing and doing everything,” said Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, a former Patriot. “That’s going to be a hard rule to change, just because it’s impossible to cover guys this good and elite and not touch them at all.”
Several Redskins said the Patriots were a little too hands-on during practice.
“I think there was more of that today, just because there were no refs out here and it was a really competitive day,” Roberts said. “We kind of expected it. We got a little chippy with them and they got back at us, but that’s just football.”
Roberts openly wondered whether Revis and Browner will be able to change their style of play.
“I think both of them are going to have a hard time adjusting to that, but they’re pros like everyone else,” said Roberts, who used to face Browner twice a year when he played for the Cardinals.
“DBs in general are going to hold. I think we do have the advantage with the rules, but as a receiver I enjoy that.”
Of course, the Patriots weren’t the only defense getting physical Monday. Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall harassed Kenbrell Thompkins all the way down the field in a one-on-one drill, and finished the play with a harder-than-expected thump, which led to some smack talk between the two.
“Me and him did a little chirping early on,” Hall said. “It was definitely nice to finish through the ball.”
The new officiating emphasis is being dubbed by some the “Legion of Boom” rules, as many around the league complained about the physicality of the Seahawks defensive backs as they clutched and grabbed their way to a Super Bowl.
That puts Browner, especially, in the crosshairs. The former Seahawk has committed 34 penalties in 36 career games, including nine for pass interference, nine for defensive holding, and six for illegal contact.
Browner definitely is nasty; Thompkins and receivers coach Chad O’Shea experienced that first-hand last week when Browner tossed Thompkins to the ground several times, then got in O’Shea’s face after being flagged for a penalty by the coach.
Browner will need to contain his nastiness and play within the rules to survive this season.
“You’ll love his physical play,” said former Seahawks quarterback Brock Huard, now a radio host in Seattle. “He’s just absolutely nasty, he brings a real intimidating presence.
“But he does not have the quick feet that other guys have. He’s got to just maul you at the line and maul you at certain points coming out of your breaks.”
Gruden wasn’t complaining about the Patriots defensive backs Monday. Quite the opposite, in fact. He said it was good for the receivers to get jammed at the line of scrimmage and have their timing disrupted.
“We got knocked off quite a bit today, so it was an excellent learning experience,” Gruden said. “I like the fact that they’re physical, because teams are going to be physical with our guys, and it’s going to happen until we get off it consistently and make them pay.
“I don’t want to say all our guys got jammed at the line, but it was a learning experience for how physical it will be at the line of scrimmage on Sundays.”
Not if the NFL gets its way, which could be trouble for Revis and Browner.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.