Raheem Morris will give out handshakes and hugs, many to his former players, before the Washington Redskins play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The Irvington, N.J., native feels as though he actually were born and raised in Tampa because of everything he experienced with the Buccaneers during nine seasons as quality control coach, head coach and everything in between before becoming the Redskins' defensive backs coach in the offseason.
Morris' homecoming won't be a happy one, though, unless his secondary plays better and the Redskins avoid a third straight loss. He oversees a maligned unit that has surrendered more than 300 passing yards in each of the first three games.
Morris shares his players' sense of urgency this week, and that trumps any reminiscing about serving as Tampa Bay's head coach for the previous three seasons.
"There are a lot of people in this game that had a lot to do with [me] coming to Tampa, and knowing these guys, it's always emotional," Morris said. "I've got a bunch of good guys there. This is just the Washington Redskins trying to go get a victory to make us 2-2 at the end of this first quarter [of the season]. That's the most important thing."
Morris developed a reputation as a player's coach in Tampa Bay, and that has followed him to Washington. He's only 36, and he has a vibrant, outgoing personality. He interacts easily with players, talking trash to them and building them up. He's one of the guys.
"Coach is awesome, man," safety Brandon Meriweather said. "He brings a lot of energy. He's like an older version of me. He talk a lot of crap. He think he can back it up. He feel like he's the toughest guy on the block."
That's what endeared him to Buccaneers players from the time he joined the organization as a quality control coach in 2002 until his dismissal after last season.
"Whether it's in the morning, you always see him up-tempo about everything, always positive about stuff and always finding a way to build a relationship with a player," said Redskins receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who played for Morris in Tampa Bay last season. "When you wake up in the morning, you've usually got that aw-another-day kind of feeling. When you've got that kind of coach, you're ready and willing to go work for him."
Morris also was brash as a young head coach. When the Buccaneers were 4-2 in October 2010, he publicly declared them "the best team in the NFC." They went on to finish 10-6 but missed the playoffs.
As a 10-game losing streak last turned a 4-2 start into Morris' ouster, he faced media criticism that his close relationship with players affected his ability to discipline or lead them.
Morris learned lessons that stuck with him.
"You write all those things down,' he said. "You put them all down in some book that you hopefully can use again once you get that opportunity again."
For now, though, he is focused on improving Washington's secondary. The Redskins have surrendered five touchdown passes of at least 33 yards, including three during last Sunday's loss to Cincinnati.
"It's not necessarily struggles," Morris said. "We keep giving up big plays that come in bad timely fashion. We've got to eliminate those plays. That's just a man being accountable for themselves, and we're right in the barrel with all those guys."
Opponents also have moved the ball against Washington using quick, accurate throws. It's a league-wide trend Morris believes can be traced to quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
"We've just got to go out there and play tighter man coverage, or if we get into our zones, we've got to get them on the ground with the first tackle," Morris said.
Morris believes he's responsible for that.
He helped the Redskins game plan this week by sharing his beliefs about Buccaneers personnel. Executing sound technique in the secondary, however, is paramount.
"I've definitely got to do a better job for these guys, and we'll be accountable to that," he said. "I'll be right there in the barrel with my guys as we come out this week and see what we can do."
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