- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

A few years ago, if asked his potential objectives for Labor Day 2008, devising a game plan to beat the defending Super Bowl champions, worrying about the health of his best pass rusher and supervising a staff of five coaches would have been way down on Greg Blache’s list.

By now, Blache’s plan was to be retired and his intentions enjoyable.

Wisconsin.

Fishing.

Cocktails.

Grilling.

His defensive coordinating days behind him, Blache arrived in Washington in 2004 with a modest goal: coach the defensive line and then glide into retirement and a well-earned life of the aforementioned activities in the aforementioned locale, spending time with family and friends following a career that started in 1971 as a Notre Dame graduate assistant.

Often, though, the best intentions fall by the wayside; as a result, Blache will be in New Jersey on Thursday night running a defense for the first time since 2003 when the Washington Redskins open their season against the New York Giants. And suffice it to say, it’s not the same as a weekend in rural Wisconsin.

Meadowlands.

Fear.

Nausea.

Indigestion.

“It’s the not knowing that works on you the most,” Blache said. “You want to win, but you’re not certain of the outcome.”

But listen to Blache and the impression is he wouldn’t have it any other way. Tabbed by owner Dan Snyder to replace Gregg Williams when Snyder and Vinny Cerrato decided Williams wouldn’t be their new coach, Blache agreed to inherit a defense with nearly all of the same faces in the locker room and coaches’ conference room. He’s a football guy. He lives for game day, no matter how it tears up his insides. And for at least this season, it beats retirement.

“I like this,” he said. “I’m having fun. I really am glad I did this. We have one plan in life. The Lord has another. For some reason, his plan always works more than ours.”

A departure in tone from Williams, it’s Blache who must devise ways to help the Redskins wait out the offense’s adjustment to a third new system in five seasons while maintaining the standard (except for the 2006 debacle) set by Williams that had the Redskins among the top 10 defensive teams in the NFL.

“I have a great group of guys,” Blache said. “They do some phenomenal things and work their rear ends off, but sometimes we do some things that are frustrating and knuckle-headed, and I go, ‘Where did that come from?’ Hopefully we keep that tucked away in the cupboard. All in all, I feel very good about this group. I would go anywhere with this group because they have character and would fight. I just hope we always play as smart as we do hard.”

One of Jim Zorn’s first decisions once he became coach Feb. 9 was to give Blache carte blanche over the defense. The two men didn’t know each other when they were hired as the new coordinators Jan. 26, but after several meetings between then and Feb. 9, Zorn got a good feeling about the former college defensive lineman.

“It’s been a great transition,” Zorn said. “Our temperaments fit each other very well. He will get after the defense, and I like that because he pays attention to the details I do on offense. I can concentrate on my area of expertise without worrying about how he’s handling his details.”

Blache raises his voice and singles out players in the meeting room, practice field and on the sideline. But his method to madness differs from the bombastic Williams.

“Not as loud, but he gets his point across,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “But his first name is still Greg, and when that’s the case around here, you’re still going to call people [idiots]. I don’t expect that to change.”

Said safeties coach Steve Jackson: “Now he just cusses everybody out except for the [defensive] line. He has free reign - he doesn’t have to keep it compartmentalized. He’s in control, and he puts his stamp on everything.”

Told of those comments, Blache gave a bellowing laugh.

“I just try and be me and be fair and be honest,” he said. “Really, it’s up to other people to have to explain me.”

The eligible list of those who know Blache is long. Through a coaching career that began 37 years ago at Notre Dame when his playing days ended with a leg injury, the Louisiana native also coached at Tulane, Southern and Kansas collegiately and in the pros with Jacksonville of the U.S. Football League and Green Bay, Indianapolis, Chicago and the Redskins of the NFL.

From those within the Redskins, Blache’s modus operandi is:

He lets his assistants do most of the talking Monday through Saturday.

“He wants his assistants to coach their guys,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “He stands back and stays out of the way - just cool and calm. But we know what he expects from us.”

He doesn’t want much chatter on the headsets during the game.

“He doesn’t want to hear a lot,” Jackson said. “He wants to be focused on only the game.”

He expects his veterans to police themselves.

“A little more hands-off and looking for the older guys and their leadership to step up,” cornerback Leigh Torrence said. “If we’re performing up to our standards, he won’t say much.”

He doesn’t talk just to hear his own voice.

“He interjects when he needs to,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “When he does, it’s usually because there are issues.”

Blache’s primary issue during the preseason was the starters’ shoddy tackling during the Carolina loss, a game that also saw Taylor suffer a knee injury (he’s a game-time decision tonight). How he uses Taylor and the Redskins’ other top players remains to be seen - Blache opted for 4-3 base defenses and nickel packages combined with four-man rushes in the preseason.

Blache has removed some of the personnel groupings Williams used but also added some of his own stamps. Taylor’s addition gives Blache a luxury the Redskins haven’t had since Bruce Smith.

In his final shot as an NFL coordinator, Blache’s first decision is to keep essentially the same system and keep the philosophy that earned him praise in Chicago - formulate packages that suit his players and will cause problems for the opposition.

“We as a defense don’t feel like we’re starting over because his beliefs are somewhat similar to Gregg’s,” Smoot said. “Greg Blache is going to be a chameleon. He’s going to do what’s best on that day. He won’t say, ‘This is the way I’m going to do it, and it’s the only way we’re going to do it.’ He feels like this group has made plays in the past, and he’s going to put us in position to keep doing that. We feel like he’s that guy for us.”

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