Jack Del Rio was hired to replace Manusky by new Redskins coach Ron Rivera after the season. The former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders isn’t interested in bragging about the talent level of the group he inherited.
“To me, I see a great opportunity to improve,” Del Rio told the “RapSheet and Friends” podcast this week. “Look, every team has talent. To say, ‘Hey, yeah, we have some talent.’ Yeah, no kidding. Who doesn’t? In the NFL, it’s college all-stars, so we all have talent. … We’re not going to sit around and pat ourselves on the back because we’ve got a couple guys that are pretty good players. We’ve got a lot of work to do. To me, it’s about digging in. It’s about working that process of getting better. It’s about learning the fundamentals. It’s about understanding where you belong in the defense and what your responsibilities are and developing a mentality of playing fast and those things. We’re going to focus more on that, and not so much talking about how good we think we might be or have the potential to be. To me, that’s a waste of time.”
Del Rio’s assessment echoes the one defensive lineman Jonathan Allen gave before Washington’s final game of the season last month.
“When everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s doing their job effectively, we have success, and I feel we can do that against any offense,” said Allen, one of three defensive players the Redskins have drafted in the first round over the past three years. “The games where we give up 30-plus points and just can’t do anything, it’s guys not being on the same page. It’s not a talent issue. It’s not a trying issue.”
Del Rio has a track record of success as a defensive coordinator, with the Carolina Panthers in 2002 and the Denver Broncos from 2012 to 2014. In three of those four seasons, his defenses ranked in the top five in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric, which measures a team’s efficiency relative to the rest of the league. The Redskins ranked 11th, 20th and 24th in defensive DVOA in Manusky’s three seasons, and they haven’t finished in the top five in defensive DVOA since 2005.
During his introductory news conference, Rivera said he wanted to create a “player-centered culture” in Washington. The former Panthers coach also stressed the importance of discipline. Based on his own experience during an 11-year playing career and two decades coaching in the NFL, Del Rio suggested it falls on the players to hold each other accountable.
“The coach provides a vision, but at the end of the day, the players in the locker room, it’s their team,” Del Rio said. “… The very successful teams are player-led. I was part of a Super Bowl-winning team [as the linebackers coach] in Baltimore in 2000 that was player-led. Brian Billick and the staff did a great job of creating that atmosphere where players understood it was their team. We went through that season, we never had a bed check the whole year, including Super Bowl week. There wasn’t any babysitting. To me, it’s not about babysitting. You’re talking about grown men. You want to get the right men that are dedicated and determined to win. That’s what a successful culture looks like.”
From a strategy standpoint, Del Rio has said he plans to switch from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 to better utilize the skills of some of the players on the roster. Manusky was occasionally criticized for having rookie pass rusher Montez Sweat, a first-round pick last April, drop in pass coverage too often.
“What it does do is give us an opportunity to have people like Montez Sweat and [Ryan] Kerrigan doing more going forward and more getting after the quarterback, and less trying to play in space and cover people as dropping outside linebackers,” Del Rio said. “More of those guys going forward and more of an attacking front.”
Led by Matt Ioannidis (8½ sacks) and Sweat (seven), the Redskins ranked 10th in the league in sacks with 46. Washington is widely expected to use the No. 2 pick in April’s draft to select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who had 16½ sacks and forced six fumbles for the Buckeyes this season. Coincidentally, Del Rio’s dominant defenses in Carolina and Denver were both anchored by a pair of No. 2 overall picks. Defensive end Julius Peppers was a rookie during Del Rio’s one season as defensive coordinator of the Panthers, while linebacker Von Miller was entering his second year in the league when Del Rio began his stint with the Broncos.
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