Blache Keeps Defensive Charges in Check
Friday, January 6, 2006
Greg Blache's neck bulged and his temper boiled as he screamed at defensive tackle Joe Salave'a from the sidelines Sunday evening. Salave'a was pursuing Philadelphia offensive lineman Jon Runyan, who had felled him with a dangerous block, and barking at the officials. But with the Redskins trailing 20-17 in a game they needed to win to clinch a playoff berth, the grizzled defensive coach was in no mood to sympathize with his player.
Salave'a was nearing a personal foul, if not an ejection, and Runyan's unnecessary roughness penalty had already negated an Eagles first down and forced a second and 20 from the 15. Blache sensed the gravity of the situation, and by the time he got the 6-foot-3, 295 pound tackle's attention, the problem was diffused.
Salave'a headed meekly to his coach's side, two plays later Lemar Marshall intercepted a pass, and one play after that tailback Clinton Portis scored the game-winning touchdown in a 31-20 win to clinch Washington's first postseason appearance since 1999. The scene was but one of many that symbolize the respect and authority the Redskins' defensive coordinator/defensive line coach commands, and the intimidating presence he can impose upon the giants of the NFL.
"The moment he took his headset off, I knew it was time to calm down," Salave'a said. "Because I swore I saw a fist getting knuckled up, and I knew my place then. I'm just glad I didn't make a mistake to hurt us. I wouldn't test Greg even if you put money in front of me to egg him on. I knew my place, and that was that."
Salave'a dreaded the repercussions of a costly penalty, and, like the rest of the defensive linemen, gives the bulk of the credit for his tenacious performances to Blache, the likely successor to Gregg Williams if Williams (who signed a contract extension this week) ever left for a head coaching opportunity. Blache's occasionally caustic delivery has meshed perfectly with the blue-collar group, with veterans and younger players embracing his tough love tactics and striving to please him.
For as much as Blache, who declined to comment for this story, critiques their technique and demands their unyielding focus in practices, meetings and games, his impassioned approach to his job is infectious and his dedication to improving his players is seen as an endearing trait.
Blache adroitly juggled his personnel for much of this season, cultivating a corps of capable backups, with stalwarts like Salave'a, tackle Cornelius Griffin and end Phillip Daniels battling injuries. With his unit finally approaching full health in the last six weeks, the results have been good, with the defensive line keying a revitalized pass rush and producing turnovers as Washington heads to Tampa Bay for a first-round playoff game tomorrow.
"It goes unnoticed, but he's a genius in his own right with the way he communicates with us, the materials he gives us, and he expects a lot out of us," Salave'a said. "During the course of the past few games he has a way of pushing your buttons and letting guys know, 'Hey, come on now, it's time to go get this thing and seize the moment.' I see why guys go out and play so hard for him, because of what he means to the players, and I'm just excited to be a part of his group."
After each victory, the Redskins select a player from offense, defense and special teams to win the "Lazy Boy" award, getting to sit in a plush chair in the meeting room for his efforts, rather than a normal hard-backed seat. For the last three weeks -- with Washington beating NFC East rivals Dallas, New York and Philadelphia to reach the playoffs -- Blache has been awarded the distinction on defense. His line has 7 1/2 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a host of blocked passes in that span.
"He's earned it, and it's a big deal," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Coach Blache's guys, for some reason they just play their guts out, and I think the defensive staff and Gregg and everybody, they've kind of been honoring Coach Blache and said, 'Hey, if your guys can play like that, then you get the chair.' "
Gibbs admits he knew little about Blache when assembling his staff prior to the 2004 season, but Williams thought highly of him and at his urging owner Daniel Snyder made a considerable push to land him. Blache, who was a candidate for the Notre Dame and San Francisco head coaching vacancies last year, has coached 18 seasons in the NFL and was Chicago's defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2004. He served as a defensive line coach with Indianapolis and Green Bay for 11 seasons prior to that. His experience -- and the fact that he ran one of the league's top defenses for several seasons in Chicago -- gave him immediate cache with the players, and the consistently positive results of his teachings has created a legion of willing disciplines in Washington's locker room.
"His experience in the game kind of speaks for itself, and we learn so much from him," second-year tackle Ryan Boschetti said. "He's constantly coaching, and when he stresses something to you in the film room and then he has to stress it again to you on the field, that's one too many times he's had to say it -- and it might be two too many times.