New Leader of the Defense Opens Up
Sunday, May 4, 2008
With microphones and tape recorders pointed toward him again, Greg Blache, the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator, spoke with reporters in one of his longest interviews in years at the start of minicamp. And at times, Blache, who had declined comment to reporters on all matters the last two seasons, citing his desire to retain a low profile, appeared to enjoy the interaction. Or maybe not.
"Going to get my prostate checked or doing this? I think I'd [take] two prostate exams to one press conference," Blache said, only somewhat jokingly. "Trust me, this is like a dental appointment."
Blache, who served as Washington's defensive line coach the last four seasons, now has league-mandated media duties as a coordinator. The Redskins promoted Blache in January when former assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, who now runs Jacksonville's defense, left the team when it became clear he would not replace former head coach Joe Gibbs.
Under Williams, Blache, 59, had significant input in devising and implementing game plans each week, many players and team officials said. And Blache was a successful defensive coordinator for five seasons with the Chicago Bears before joining the Redskins. Blache plans to retain most of the defensive scheme that helped the Redskins produce three top 10 finishes the last four seasons, and veteran defensive players are pleased that owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, executive vice president of football operations, retained Williams's top lieutenant, who said he will keep things simple with reporters.
"I try to be honest with you; get in and get out," Blache said. "I will send Christmas cards, but there won't be any invitations to the house."
Reporters who cover the Redskins daily interviewed Blache regularly in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Blache, in his 21st season in the NFL, was considered to be among most insightful assistants about defense and he often provided colorful quotes. While struggling to explain the defensive line's poor performance during a 36-0 loss to the New York Giants in the 2005 season, Blache said: "I don't know. I haven't talked to Miss Cleo today," referring to the self-proclaimed psychic in television ads earlier this decade. For the last two seasons, Blache declined every interview request. "It was just a choice I made," Blache said.
As is often the case, however, there is more to the story. Blache, who sparred with reporters while directing the Bears' defense, was upset that reporters sometimes used comments out of context, a team official said, and with no interest in pursuing other jobs, Blache decided he did not need the hassle of dealing with reporters.
In fact, Blache last season repeatedly told colleagues he had no interest in another promotion and that he did not plan to coach much longer. Blache acknowledged as much in his first extended interviews after breaking his silence, which occurred in the complex's auditorium after new coach Jim Zorn's introductory news conference in February. But Snyder and Cerrato persuaded Blache to replace Williams.
"Coach Blache was with Coach Williams for four years, but he has been a coordinator in the league and he's just good at what he does," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "He's definitely not a man of many words, but he expects a lot. Guys love him because he's honest with you, he's straightforward, and you want to play hard for him."
Blache has helped the new members of the coaching staff make a smooth transition, Zorn said. "He is a man that's not going to sit back and wait for you to get to know him," Zorn said. "He's been very active within our staff of having functions at his home. He really brings people together."
Although Blache also previously had the title of defensive coordinator, working with the defensive line was his primary responsibility under Williams. Defensive lineman Phillip Daniels was with Blache for four seasons in Chicago and joined the Redskins in free agency before the 2004 season, which was Blache's first in Washington. Daniels anticipates that the transition from Williams's defense to Blache's defense will be smooth because "it's going to be the same defense," Daniels said. "We're going to run the same stuff, pretty much, he's just going to tweak it."
Williams made an effort to simplify things last season after the defense struggled in 2006. The unit rebounded in 2007, finishing eighth in the league, and the defensive scheme will be streamlined even more.
"We will have fewer packages," Blache said. "This is not about building the perfect castle. It's about giving the players something they can execute in the heat of battle and under stressful situations. The biggest thing is being able to execute, get to the football and knock it out.
"We are trying to be a hard, physical defense that's intimidating with our speed and hitting ability. You can't do that when you're thinking about 20,000 different things. You can do that when you're comfortable knowing what you have to do. And that's what we are going to focus on."
Despite their success last season, the Redskins face questions on defense. The group could be without weak-side linebacker Rocky McIntosh and cornerback Carlos Rogers early in the season as they continue to recover from reconstructive knee surgeries. And Washington did not draft an interior lineman or defensive end with superior pass-rushing skills.
"You don't worry about what you want, you make do with what you have," Blache said. "You can try and establish that you'd like to have something and if it comes, fine. But if you don't [get it], you can't sit around crying and worrying about what you don't have.
"We have some very talented people regardless of their age. They compete at a high level. They are capable of winning in this league. They proved it last season. Yeah, we'd like to get some younger players and we do have some younger players that we are going to try to infuse into the program. But you can find football players other than in the first round. A lot of guys on our football team that were fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round players, or some guys that were undrafted free agents, can contribute. It's just a matter of finding guys with the talent, the desire, and putting in the time coaching them. That's why they call us coaches. They don't call us interior decorators."