- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even though he was in his 18th year of coaching football, Greg Blache felt like a rookie in 1988 when he began his NFL career as the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line coach.

After presenting his part of the game plan early that season, he was peppered with questions about the opponent’s protection and blitz pickup schemes by defensive backs Dave Brown and Mark Murphy.

“I thought they were making fun of me because I was the rookie,” Blache said last week.

Blache quickly discovered the difference between the NFL and his stops at Notre Dame, Tulane, Southern and Kansas: The study habits are much different.

“That was my first exposure to real pros,” he said.

Two decades later, Blache sees the same kind of self-study habits in the Washington Redskins’ locker room, a work ethic led by veterans Cornelius Griffin, Santana Moss, London Fletcher and the entire offensive line.

“By far the most studious and most professional group I’ve been around,” Blache said.

Said coach Jim Zorn: “That’s how they work. They see that it’s work that pays off. They just don’t show up and play.”

For most of the players, work begins Tuesday, the only day off of the week. Although the players don’t meet with the coaching staff, a steady stream arrives at Redskin Park - first for treatment, then to pick up a DVD of the next opponent (either the full game or the “cut-ups” divided by down-and-distance or formation) to watch at home or in a separate meeting room.

When the players arrive Wednesday morning to receive the game-plan binder and a briefing from the coaching staff, the veterans are ready to discuss concepts.

“I have a staff that gives them phenomenal information,” Blache said of his four assistants. “I have excellent teachers, and the players recognize that. If you give them a piece of information, they take it, and [if] it helps them be successful, they’re going [to] stick their hand back in there another time. Guys are willing to listen more and more.”

A veteran sets the example in each position group. Blache said Shawn Springs has counseled Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers, Fletcher was a leader from the day he signed as a free agent in 2007 and the young defensive linemen have great respect for Griffin. On offense, Moss is mentoring the young receivers, and each starting offensive linemen is a veteran.

“The locker room generates an atmosphere and a culture,” Blache said. “Our locker room, we have that on both sides of the ball.”

Asked what it would be like if players did the bare minimum and didn’t serve as influences to younger players, Blache interrupted.

“Seen it. … Seen it,” he said.

And?

Blache shook his head and said: “If you’ve got a bad culture, you better get out because it’s a leech that will devour you. There are places like that. I don’t care how much talent you put into it; there will always be something chaotic about it.”

The coaching staff clearly respects the players’ attention to detail, even if they don’t practice. As many as 12 Redskins - including 10 starters - might not practice Wednesday as they nurse injuries, but most of them will be on the field observing their position groups.

Zorn’s unofficial policy appears to be that if a player can stay sharp mentally while watching, they can afford a break from the daily wear and tear.

“I think they appreciate the rest,” he said. “The thing I look for: Are they actively getting themselves ready, even though they can’t participate on the field? Are they still doing all the things off the field? Are they interested in practice? Or are they using the time to sit and visit with their friend? That would really bother me.

“I’m always watching to see if they’re into it. This group is into it.”

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