“He blew me away in his interview — how organized he was and his teaching progression,” Shanahan said. “All a coach is is a teacher. He’s very organized with his thoughts. He has a very solid scheme. He’s got a lot of passion, enthusiasm for what he does, and that’s why we hired him.”
Burns, who attended Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School, joined a coaching staff that includes three-year assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower. Hightower’s familiarity with players helps to ease the transition. The Redskins have not made Burns available for media interviews.
Tight end Niles Paul, Washington’s third-leading special teams tackler last season behind Alexander and Doughty, explained how Burns has assigned those on the kickoff coverage team different responsibilities than they had under Smith.
As a result, the Redskins will have four “people coming in hot to the ball making the play” instead of the two they had last season.
“It’s different rules,” Paul said. “You’re in different areas. Now I have the freedom to kind of roam, so I’m loving that one.”
Scheme changes have limited effects, though, as players so often said in defending Smith. Players ultimately are responsible for executing the scheme, which is why losing Alexander, a Pro Bowler, figures to be a significant detriment.
Doughty and others try to view his departure opportunistically.
“From my perspective, he was a one-man wrecking crew,” Doughty said. “He would make some absolute outstanding plays. We’ve got some players, I think, that are ready to step up and take a dominant role.”
“Maybe it’ll just be more of a team thing,” Doughty wondered aloud. “You might not see one person standing out, but I think we’ve all got each other’s back.”