ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Football Team quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick woke up to an unusual sight, spotting a deer lingering in his backyard. The air, he said, was crisper and far less humid than he was used to in Miami.
What wasn’t new for Fitzpatrick: getting used to new teammates, another playbook and a coaching staff.
Fitzpatrick this offseason signed a one-year deal with Washington — his ninth franchise — as he hopes to play in a playoff game for the first time in his career.
As coach Ron Rivera said, Fitzpatrick will be counted on to start, but he won’t have to carry the offense.
“One of the positions we relied on so heavily was quarterback in Carolina, in terms of our entire offense,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Here, we don’t necessarily have to rely on the quarterback because we do have good weapons around our QB position.
“One of the goals you want to do when you talk about your offense every year is you want to protect your quarterback and you want to have playmakers around him. I feel this year, it’s a different group of guys, but I feel we’re in better position than we were last year.”
Washington added receivers Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries in free agency and drafted Dyami Brown in the third round last month. They’ll lessen the pressure on Terry McLaurin. At tight end, they drafted John Bates to pair with Logan Thomas.
“It’s diverse,” Fitzpatrick said of the receivers. “We’ve got big guys, we’ve got small guys. We’ve got super quick guys. We’ve got a lot of speed, guys who can go up and get the ball.”
But it’s up to Fitzpatrick to get to know those players and make it work. Washington did not draft a quarterback, in part, because none excited them enough in the draft to trade up. But also because the coaches like the quarterbacks already in the room — Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen and Steven Montez — enough to put off the search for another year.
That means Fitzpatrick has to make it work — and a 16-year career spent changing teams has helped formulate a plan to ease another transition.
“There are certain things that maybe it is easier for me to switch teams than other guys because I’ve done it so many times,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve been through the process.”
That means getting to learn the building as well as his teammates — seeing where the cafeteria is and the meeting rooms are located. That means learning what sort of tempo the coaches want, what drills they’ll be doing. And that means communicating with the other offensive players about what’s expected on a play. That ability to quickly learn helps explain why Washington’s workout was more up-tempo than in last year’s training camp. Fitzpatrick could call a play and get to the line, as could the other quarterbacks.
On Tuesday, he connected with receiver Cam Sims on a deep back-shoulder fade. Another time, he took a shot downfield to Sims, putting it in a tight spot along the sidelines — but giving his guy a chance. The ball glanced off Sims’ fingertips but Fitzpatrick said plays like that help.
“Part of it for me is I put it in a spot where I think it needs to be and that results early on is some incompletions,” Fitzpatrick said. “Then we can talk about expectations and why I threw it where I did. The one to Sims was nice because he reacted to that. I don’t know if he ever had that ball thrown to him in that trajectory on the back shoulder, but he went after it and got the ball.”
Another time, Rivera said, there was a last-second line call that resulted in a botched snap.
“Ryan told them, ‘Hey we can’t do that. Once we got it, we have to stick with it,'” Rivera said. “So, it was kind of neat to see him step up and correct his teammates as well. You see that savvy, veteran leadership.”
After one miss with Thomas on a pass play, he chatted with the tight end about what he wanted or saw.
“Communication is a huge thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “When that communication gets crisp, you can play faster and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. I have a lot of discussion with the guys up front. I’m the one having to catch up right now with what they’re doing.”
He’ll also stand near offensive coordinator Scott Turner during practice, picking his brain about various plays so he can later anticipate play calls. They talk about when Fitzpatrick might want a reminder during a play call vs. when he just wants Turner to call the play.
“Those are things I try to fast forward as you get to new teams,” Fitzpatrick said. “Those are things that are really important for me in those sessions.”
He and his wife also must figure out where his seven kids, who are still in Florida, will attend school next fall and which sports or activities they’ll pursue.
But this is nothing new — and that’s a good thing for Washington.
“That is one of the really cool things is that he can come in and assimilate very quickly,” Rivera said. “The teammates around him gather around him and assimilate to his style as well.”