- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes entered his first Washington Redskins minicamp with a persona as familiar as his perma-scowl.

It was said that Rhodes was aggressive. He was intense. He would hold players accountable for every move on the field, then bench them if they took a play off. He would bark like an alert Doberman, and breathe fire like a territorial dragon.

Three days later, Rhodes' personality has meshed quietly and unobtrusively with that of the Redskins. While the three new assistants under Rhodes line coach Mike Trgovac, linebackers coach Foge Fazio and, particularly, backfield coach Ron Meeks made themselves heard during minicamp, Rhodes surprised more than a few observers with a rather subdued attitude.

"I contribute a lot of things," Rhodes said over the weekend, "[but] we've got a great defensive staff, and we've got a lot of talented players. So we've just got to work together. [Our success] is going to be a matter of finding common ground, [finding] what's best for everybody."

Rhodes earned a dictatorial reputation when he was the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98) and Green Bay Packers (1999). He was known for being a demanding coach and, when his team didn't give the effort he expected, he let them no about it in no uncertain terms.

If Rhodes has his way, his work will continue in the same quiet manner as it did last week. He intentionally limited interview opportunities during minicamp, in an effort, he said, to show the utmost respect for seventh-year coach Norv Turner and Turner's system.

Nonetheless, all eyes will be on the results of Rhodes' work, if not Rhodes himself. The Redskins' defense should start eight former first-round picks next fall, thanks to the high-profile additions of veteran end Bruce Smith, veteran free safety Mark Carrier and rookie outside linebacker LaVar Arrington, the draft's No. 2 overall pick.

Coming off a season in which Washington's defense ranked No. 30 in the NFL and its offense No. 2, defensive improvement is considered the only thing standing between the Redskins and a deep run in the playoffs. And simple improvement seems a foregone conclusion; many believe this unit has the potential for greatness.

"It does [have that potential], and it starts with Coach Ray Rhodes," Carrier said. "When I first met him, he left no doubt: If you're not getting up the field or getting after people, you're not going to play. That's sends a message."

Like Carrier, other Redskins have been impressed with the as-advertised traits of Rhodes. And some believe that the quiet part of his personality was only a temporary trait something that will evaporate along with the consequence-free environment of minicamp.

"I don't know how long [his quietness] will last," said defensive line coach Rubin Carter, the unit's only holdover from 1999. "I guarantee you he'll be making the necessary corrections and barking out what he wants, on the football field and in the meeting rooms, to get it exactly the way he wants it to be."

One facet of Rhodes' stylistic predilection personal accountability will be a driving force behind his technical system. In this system, each player will be responsible for a tangible duty, rather than reading the play and then focusing on one of several tasks.

The latter system was run last year by Mike Nolan, and it frustrated the defense's talented linemen, who wanted to be let loose.

Explained tackle Dan Wilkinson: "Last year was more of a read, then react. This year, it's more of an attack, then react… . This is definitely the style that we fit in best."

Rhodes, however, is quick to emphasize that the system will include a variety of zone coverages, man-to-man coverages and blitzes.

"You name it," Rhodes said, "it's going to be a mixture of it."

Rhodes' system will emphasize the Redskins' linemen, who on paper look like something out of a fantasy video game. Not only does the line start Smith, Wilkinson, tackle Dana Stubblefield and end Marco Coleman all former first-round picks but it should bring off the bench ends Kenard Lang (another former first-rounder) and Anthony Cook (a solid run-stopper who remains unsigned).

"Last year was more a linebacker-oriented defense," Wilkinson said. "We were keying off the linebackers, and they were supposed to make their plays. Now every man has his gap and his responsibility and a job to do, and each man counts on the next man to do his job. If everyone does that, we'll be 100 percent."

And Rhodes won't have to say a thing.

"I'm pleased with what I've seen so far," Rhodes said. "And I think the players realize that we've got a lot of work ahead of us, in order for us to get where we want to be at. Everybody understands that the work is going to come first and and there's going to be a lot of it."

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