NFL Wire News

Minicamp report: Washington reunites grade-school pals


The Sports Xchange

ASHBURN, Va. — Chris Baker and Terrance Knighton have been best buddies since they were in third grade in Windsor, Conn., more than 20 years ago. This season for the first time since they were in high school, Baker and Knighton are teammates again with the Washington Redskins.

“Me and Bake always wanted to play together,” said the 28-year-old Knighton, who signed a one-year, $4.45 million contract to likely supplant Baker as the starting nose tackle. “We dominated in high school, went our separate ways in college. Washington was the first team to call. They wanted me here. It just felt right.”

The Redskins, who began their three-day minicamp Tuesday, certainly believe that the massive Knighton, currently carrying upwards of 350 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, can make a big difference for a defensive front that wasn’t stout last season while recording just 10.5 sacks, 5.5 of those by right end Jason Hatcher.

During his previous six NFL seasons, including the past two with the Denver Broncos, Knighton was athletic enough to record 12.5 sacks and two interceptions, bat down 10 passes, force three fumbles, and recover two. In other words, Knighton doesn’t just eat space, he has made some impact plays.

“We have high expectations for (Terrance),” Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. “When you put him out there on first and second down, it’s going to be hard to run the ball between the tackles. He takes up quite a bit of room in there. He has great hands and great get-off. You see how big he is, but you don’t realize how quick his first step is, which is really rare for a guy of his size.”

–While Knighton is, literally, the biggest addition up front, cornerback Chris Culliver might claim that distinction on the back end of Washington’s revamped defense.

After just one season as a full-time starter with San Francisco, the Redskins signed Culliver to a four-year, $32 million contract, half of which is guaranteed.

“The building standpoint, what the organization is trying to do, I want to be a part of that,” said Culliver, whose four interceptions last season were just one fewer than the total of Washington’s entire secondary. “(I’m) just trying to come over here and help.”

With three-time Pro Bowl pick DeAngelo Hall doing little on the field since tearing his left Achilles’ twice last October, Culliver came in and showed the Redskins that he can be their No. 1 corner. At worst, he should start opposite either Hall or second-year man Bashaud Breeland, who was their best corner in 2014.

“He can play press,” Gruden said of Culliver. “He’s a great bump-and-run corner. He’s a great man corner. He can play off (the receiver). He can play zone. He’s got decent ball skills. I like the fact that he’s a tough, physical corner. So if there’s a running back that gets outside and he has to make the tackle, he’s gonna make the tackle. He does a great job of fighting off blocks and making tackles. We feel very good about him.”

–Like predecessor Raheem Morris, who was let go after last season along with all but one member of Washington’s defensive staff, new defensive backs coach Perry Fewell is a former NFL head coach (Buffalo’s final seven games in 2009) and coordinator (Bills, 2006-09; New York Giants, 2010-14). So Gruden was pleased to add another veteran to his coaching staff.

“Coach Fewell brings great experience and … he’s been productive,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the division. He knows the division, knows the Giants, obviously. We have a young defensive coordinator (44-year-old Joe Barry); you add a guy like Perry Fewell to help in that transition process … it was a great addition for us.”

After being let go by the Giants, whom he had helped win Super Bowl XLVI, Fewell might have sat out a year to see if he could land another coordinator’s spot, but he wanted to stay in the game.

“I want to be a coordinator, I want to be a head coach again,” said the 52-year-old Fewell. “Being a position coach is kind of refreshing. I like to think of myself as a teacher, a hands-on (coach). I like to try to encourage the guys, but I want discipline.”

Since Fewell was hired, the Redskins added two likely new starters, Culliver and safeties Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson.

“It’s a new group of faces and that can be a good thing,” said Fewell, who saw Washington’s struggles during the matchups with the New York Giants the past five seasons. “We think we’ve done a good job with the personnel. There’s nowhere to go but up. I think we can improve what’s happened. I think we have a good group and we’re gonna compete.”

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