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Drew Terrell is a renaissance man in the commanders receiver room

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One day in training camp, with the offense struggling, Washington Commanders wide receiver coach Drew Terrell didn’t like the way his players reacted to chest-pounding defenders. Receivers lost their rebound, sagged shoulders and complained about being held up. One word comes to mind: calm.

Later, in the meeting room, Terrell excerpted a passage from “Lone Survivor”, the book about a group of US Navy SEALs in Afghanistan. In it, Marcus Luttrell, the only SEAL who had survived a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades, was hiding from Taliban soldiers who were pursuing him while standing motionless in a mountain crevasse with a broken nose, broken back and left leg. full of shrapnel. Terrell remembers telling his players, “Think about it. It’s real composure.

“When you bring examples like that…it changes their humility,” Terrell explained. “They’re locked up, like, ‘Yeah, that’s a real s—.’ …How do you get guys to understand what they’re doing? Be grateful for what they’re doing? Just give them examples of things they can use in situations like that, when there’s chaos around.

In training, Terrell usually wears a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and a serious expression. He is quiet and intense and often approaches players individually to discuss technique. Terrell doesn’t come from a military family — he became obsessed with SEALs after watching college videos of “Hell Week,” the notoriously grueling part of SEAL training — but his players describe him as methodical and demanding. .

Terrell, 31, is one of the NFL’s youngest post coaches. He is closer in age to his star players – Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson – than to his peers. His youth is sometimes apparent on the pitch, such as when he challenges his players to hot potato games or when he celebrates their big plays with phrases like “You’re him!” or “I got them!”

Sometimes Terrell’s players compliment his intelligence, mechanical adjustments and mental preparation. But the root of his effectiveness, they said, lies in his ability to build relationships as a former player and young black man. Terrell uses familiar cultural touchstones — he opened the receivers’ meeting Aug. 24 with a photo of Kobe Bryant — and McLaurin said he engages players by asking them to think things through. He recently told the room about Southwest Airlines’ “brown shorts” method of hiring, which prioritizes attitude over skill, and sparked a debate by asking his players what they would look for in a potential player. .

Terrell’s mix of skill, youth and ambition to be a head coach makes him one of Washington’s most promising staff members. Last year, NFL.com named him one of its young coaches to watch, and during camp coach Ron Rivera said, “The future is very bright for a young man like him.

“He’s just getting started, really,” McLaurin said.

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This season will be one of the biggest tests of Terrell’s young career. He’s got the best receiving corps in the franchise in years, perhaps the most talented group on the team behind the defensive line, and it’s his job to get those players to produce, to help maximize the quarterback Carson Wentz.

“I preach this to guys all the time: …You have to respect people’s respect,” Terrell said. “The potential, the hype and the excitement? Of course it is. But it could all end quickly if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.

For years, the idea of ​​being a coach irritated Terrell. He had played at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, and dreamed of playing on Sundays. But at Stanford, even as Terrell studied, trained, and carved out a role as a deep receiver and punt returner, coaches saw his passion surpass his abilities. They teased him by calling him “Coach”.

“He knew everything,” said Philadelphia Eagles wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who coached Terrell in college. “He understood where the ball was supposed to go in relation to certain covers. He knew the ball carrier [responsibilities], where the ball was supposed to hit, what shortcomings. … He was a quarterback in the receiver room.

In May 2014, Terrell graduated, packed up, and drove southeast to minicamp with the San Francisco 49ers. He spent three days wearing the NFL jersey he’d been working on for years, and after that, when it didn’t work, Terrell felt at peace. He had pushed his dream as far as he could go.

Back home in Chandler, pondering what to do next, Terrell spent the first long stretch of his life without football on four- and five-mile runs. Arena League? Canadian Football League? Faculty of Law?

Eventually he missed the game too much and called his old coach. Moorehead had offered him a position as a graduate assistant, and Terrell joined him at Virginia Tech and began the tedious work. Terrell has helped coaches with various tasks – once he slept in the office for an entire week while helping create a new playbook – and found he enjoyed coaching more than he expected . He loved helping players, reusing the lessons he had spent years learning.

Quickly, Terrell climbed the ladder. In 2015, he rejoined his former head coach, Jim Harbaugh, at Michigan, and two years later met Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner, then a Wolverines offensive analyst. In 2018, Turner and Terrell left for the Carolina Panthers, and in 2020, after the collapse of the Rivera regime in Charlotte, Terrell traveled with most of the staff to Washington, where he became an assistant wide receiver coach. .

Last season, Washington promoted Jim Hostler to senior offensive assistant and Terrell started running the room. He curated a distinct style by infusing technical lessons, like how to run certain routes against certain covers, with accessible trivia from his favorite books and podcasts.

Over the summer, he had read “Think Like a Monk,” which included the story of Biosphere 2, an earth science research facility in Oracle, Arizona. One discovery made by the scientists was that when the trees reached a certain height in the facility, they simply fell. The trees hadn’t experienced enough natural wind, so the roots had never grown strong. Terrell, who never wanted to be a coach, couldn’t help thinking like a coach anymore: he made a PowerPoint on Biosphere 2, stressing the importance of adversity.

Last season, wide receiver Dyami Brown hit a rookie midseason wall, with a strike on two targets in eight weeks. But in late December, he ran a post route against Dallas All-Pro corner Trevon Diggs and jumped into double coverage for a 48-yard gain. Brown credited Terrell with helping him regain his confidence and get out of his funk.

“It all comes down to trust and that trust that we have with each other,” he said.

The stock of wide receivers has increased. This NFL Draft could show just how much.

This season, Terrell needs his unit to start fast. He needs a reliable second option to finally emerge against McLaurin. The team has candidates in Samuel, Dotson, and Brown, and everyone in the room seems to have absorbed Terrell’s message. In three interviews, the recipients, spontaneously, said they had to keep their “coolness”.

Now, in the last weeks before the regular season, their coach needs them to keep him up to expectations.

“We can change that narrative every Sunday,” Terrell said. “Whatever the perception…I want to see you do it and prove it for yourselves.”