- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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ASHBURN, Va. -- The drill unfolded poorly, with Roy Helu getting chastised and Lache Seastrunk getting knocked over and Alfred Morris lowering his head. It's not what Washington Redskins coaches wanted to see in this pass-protection drill in Thursday's practice.
But they, and the players, also know that if they're going to handle this job well in the regular season, it's drills like this that will help.
It's a drill designed more for the defense to win. But it can be revealing about how the running backs handle protection. In the past, players such as Clinton Portis in particular and Tim Hightower were much more consistent in this drill. Fullback Darrel Young has been solid this year.
For the passing game to work, the Redskins need a good pass protector at running back. It starts in drills like this.
"It's a somewhat superficial drill," Helu said. "But it's a harder drill than game situations. The first thing we have to do is be physical because it's one-on-one and second we are going to win with technique."
Both aspects translate into when the backs have to handle this role in a game. That means keeping your head up or attacking the defender and moving your feet. In this drill, a linebacker is aligned a couple yards off the line and can bull rush them or beat them to a side. In a game, they likely would be reduced to one or two options because of congestion around them. Still, it's effective -- and if the same guys keep getting beat and making the same mistakes then it's eye-opening, too.
"It makes us work harder and focus more on our technique," Morris said.
"On a blitz in a game you have guys containing and you're in a tunnel," Helu said. "This one is a lot of space so it makes it harder. That's the hope of the drill."
The third-down pass-catching role obviously entails a lot of protection work as well. That gives Helu an edge, despite his rough showing Thursday. Chris Thompson has been sidelined with a sprained ankle, which hasn't helped him.
"I feel most confident with him on third down other than Alfred," Gruden said. "[Lache] Seastrunk has got a little way to go and Silas Redd's doing a much better job coming in here. [Evan] Royster's done some good things. It's just a matter of getting them out there and picking up some blitzes and seeing how they do -- if they stick their face in there and protect. We'll go from there and make the decision."
It helps that Monday's opponent, Cleveland, has a tendency to be aggressive defensively. That will give the coaches more chance to evaluate the running backs in pass protection.
The holdovers also had to learn a different way to protect than they used in the past.
"They changed the protections quite a bit," Morris said. "It puts more on our plate."
But offensive coordinator Sean McVay said the new protection scheme isn't a big difference from what they did in the past. He said where they have to look might be different, but as far as triggers to make them alter their assignment or forces them protect the backside hasn't changed.
"It will be the same thing that triggers it for them," McVay said. "It should be a smooth transition as far as what they're keying and the safety rotation and who's responsible for [the side of the play]. It's very similar."