RICHMOND — The handshake begins with a series of fist bumps and progresses to what Deshazor Everett calls “adding sauce” — a gesture in which Landon Collins acts like he’s sprinkling and stirring ingredients into a pot, or in this case, Everett’s fist. As practice ended Monday, Collins stopped his jog midstride to conduct the routine with his fellow safety.
If it seems elaborate — and it is — that’s by design.
Since signing a six-year, $84 million deal with the Redskins in March, the former Giants safety has perfected individual handshakes with a number of his teammates in the secondary. And they’re just as expansive. Collins‘ handshake with Montae Nicholson, for instance, concludes with both players imitating James Harden’s signature step back. Even Josh Norman has embraced the routine, dabbing up Collins in a sequence that ends with a firm handshake.
“That’s pretty impressive that he can remember all those,” assistant defensive backs coach James Rowe said.
“It looks like it’s gonna be a good year in that secondary,” former Redskins safety Will Blackmon tweeted. “(Norman) has NEVER had a secret handshake with ANYONE!”
Handshakes alone won’t improve the Redskins’ defense in 2019. But they are a way that Collins has imposed his will onto a unit that became increasingly scattered as last season progressed.
When the 25-year-old arrived in Ashburn in March, Collins understood the expectations of his new situation. The Redskins needed leadership, and Collins was willing to provide it — to the point where he wanted to wear the late Sean Taylor’s “No. 21.” He knew the burden it would come with, telling reporters he welcomed the pressure.
Collins and the Redskins ultimately decided to go a different route. This year, Collins will wear No. 20, but he told the team’s website that his goal is to “earn” the right to wear Taylor’s number in the future.
Collins will have to have an extraordinary season for that to be seriously considered. But so far, the safety has been “everything and more” the Redskins thought he could be, coach Jay Gruden said.
In camp, Collins has grabbed two interceptions — including a one-handed grab in the end zone that the 2016 All-Pro took back the other way. Gruden called Collins a “pro,” adding the safety hasn’t even been able to play to his strength at the moment: Tackling.
Nicholson said Collins is the type of player who can get the best out of everyone.
“It’s not really him speaking on it, it’s his level of preparation,” Nicholson said. “He speaks, but it’s not really much. When he does, you want to listen to him because of the career he’s had thus far. We’re all trying to get to that point and we’re all trying to raise our level of play up to his.”
Collins‘ approach is certainly different from D.J. Swearinger, whose booming voice could be heard yards away on the field. Swearinger, who was cut in December following a postgame tirade directed toward defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, also wasn’t shy in providing honest feedback to teammates and coaches.
Collins also spent time with some of his teammates in the offseason as a way to bond off the field. For two weeks in July, Collins, Everett and cornerback Greg Stroman worked out with nine to 10 other defensive backs around the league in Scottsdale, Arizona. Former Redskins safety Ryan Clark organized the trip, which focuses on improving footwork, conditioning and weight lifting to stay in shape.
Everett and Collins, as it turns out, used to work out in the offseason before they were even teammates. Both are from Louisiana and the two have trained together for the last few years. In that span, Everett says he’s gotten to know Collins on a personal level.
“He’s out there making plays,” Everett said. “He’s being the leader, as he should be. I mean you expect nothing less out of a guy like that — especially a guy you bring in and pay that amount of money.”
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