- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

MOBILE, Ala. New Washington Redskins defensive coordinator George Edwards said yesterday he will make only small changes and that his defense will look a lot like the one under Marvin Lewis that the Redskins used last season.

"We're going to keep the same terminology and pretty much work within the system that we have in place right now," Edwards said after a morning practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl. "We'll continue to build on it."

Lewis was hired to be the Cincinnati Bengals' coach Tuesday after guiding the Redskins to a No.5 ranking in his one year with the club. Edwards was promoted to fill the vacancy and becomes Washington's fifth defensive coordinator in as many years. He said "there's no doubt" continuity is among his biggest priorities in coaxing a repeat performance out of the unit.

Continuity was one of the biggest reasons players championed Edwards for the promotion. Having to adjust to new schemes and new staffs the past few years, players were hopeful that the team would keep Lewis' defense even if Lewis left, as expected.

Respect seemed to be the other big factor. Players contacted Tuesday night said Edwards clearly had won their respect, something the coach attributes to his up-front personality.

"It's just like I tell them and I tell anybody: I'm going to be who I am," Edwards said. "That's who I am. I'm not going to be someone who I'm not."

Continuity and respect could ease this adjustment. Washington's defense endured rough performances in Lewis' second and third games a 37-7 loss to Philadelphia and a 20-10 defeat at San Francisco. But the unit got better as the season progressed and closed with its two best performances in wins over Houston and Dallas.

Under Edwards, players might be able to start with the sense of unity and confidence they had at the end of 2002, rather than working all season to finish with it.

"You look at [the fact that] some of these guys have had four or five coaches in that many years," Edwards said. "I think that continuity allows them to feel comfortable within the scheme and get better."

Part of the problem from 1999 (Mike Nolan) to 2000 (Ray Rhodes) to 2001 (Kurt Schottenheimer) to 2002 (Lewis) was that the schemes had different principles and terminology.

Nolan ran a read-and-react system that emphasized linebacker play. Rhodes implemented a more straight-ahead scheme that allowed the defensive linemen to attack. Schottenheimer employed some of Nolan's basics, letting the linebackers run more freely and make plays. Lewis mixed defensive principles, trying to confuse opponents with a shifting line and at times even a 3-4 set.

Edwards foresees "nothing radical" in the way of changes, such as a full-time 3-4 scheme. But he does hope to employ some of Lewis' adaptability the ability to mold a defense to attack the weaknesses of a certain offense.

"We're just going to try to get our guys in position to succeed," Edwards said. "We've got some good talent there on defense, and we're going to try to get them in the best position that we can."

Although Edwards spent one year under Lewis, he and a number of other Redskins assistants in separate conversations said the coordinator offered a tremendous amount of knowledge.

Other strong influences for Edwards include the ties he made during four years in Dallas Dave Campo (now Cleveland's defensive coordinator), Jim Bates (now Miami's defensive coordinator) and Chan Gailey (now Georgia Tech's head coach).

"I've been able to work with some good football coaches," Edwards said. "They all played a part in me being in this position that I am right now."

The promotion of Edwards was in the works for several weeks, even though Lewis didn't depart officially until Tuesday evening. Edwards now will work with coach Steve Spurrier to round out the defensive staff, which could lose an assistant or two to Lewis in Cincinnati.

Spurrier would have to allow assistants under contract to interview with Lewis, but that shouldn't be a problem based on Spurrier's traditionally welcome approach to such movement. NFL sources said one potential departure is that of line coach Ricky Hunley, who is expected to interview for the Bengals' linebackers post.

The Redskins lost an offensive assistant yesterday, when quarterback coach Noah Brindise was hired as the offensive coordinator at East Carolina.

Edwards expressed a strong interest in maintaining two of Washington's free agent priorities, re-signing linemen Daryl Gardener and Carl Powell. Though the futures of many current Redskins are dependent on coaches' film review over the next few weeks, Gardener and Powell already are identified as targets.

"I hope we're able to get them back," Edwards said. "Those guys are good players, and we definitely want to have them as part of our scheme."

Defensive end Bruce Smith remains a touchier subject. Team sources have said the club isn't looking to have Smith as a starter in 2003, but that he might be brought back as a third-down pass rusher especially considering his low 2003 salary ($755,000) and high 2002 production (nine sacks).

"I'm not at liberty to say right now what the future of anybody is," Edwards said when asked about Smith. "I just got this [promotion]. But Bruce Smith definitely brings some things to the table that could help us be successful. I'm sure we'll have to look at and reassess some things."

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