ASHBURN | Practice had commenced for all of five minutes before Greg Manusky was hurling agility bags at his outside linebackers’ legs.
“I’m your fullback,” he bellowed. “Five bucks every time I cut you down.”
The drill was simple. The Washington Redskins’ outside linebackers coach instructed his players to engage the blocking sled, then charge at him as if they were pursuing the quarterback. Manusky threw the bags at their feet to simulate a block from an oncoming running back or fullback in pass protection, challenging them not to break their stride.
“This is like taking candy from a baby,” Manusky howled after the first two reps. “Cuttin’ ‘em down like lawn dogs today.”
On the third rep, Trent Murphy engaged the blocking sled and karate-kicked the bag when Manusky tossed it, causing his fellow outside linebackers and the coach to nearly keel over with laughter. Murphy regained his concentration, restarted his rep and the drill continued.
Throughout the preseason, Manusky, who’s in his first year as the Redskins’ outside linebackers coach, has buzzed around practices with unabated enthusiasm. On the field he’s as relentless as a jackhammer, pushing his players through drills with an energy more suited for gamedays than a sunny Tuesday in August.
“My heart’s probably going to explode, but I want enthusiasm,” Manusky, 50, says with a grin. “The thing is, as a coach or as a teacher, you want them to be involved and have some excitement. The way you coach your players is the way they’re going to act and how they’re going to perform. I like energy and that’s what they’re giving me.”
In the meeting room Manusky is sharp, keying in on what he wants to see from his outside linebackers as well as the rest of the defense, pointing out little nuances such as the expected safety rotations on a certain play.
The players have responded well to Manusky’s presence, especially after not having an outside linebackers coach last season. The responsibilities were split among defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his assistants. During pass-rush meetings, the outside linebackers piled in with the defensive linemen and coach Robb Akey. Other times, they worked with inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti
“It helps a lot because you have that individual attention,” said second-year outside linebacker Preston Smith. “He breaks down film only for us, only for the outside linebackers and it’s great because we sit down and get to break it down one by one.”
Manusky swears that his energy on the field now is dialed down from his playing career. He played 12 NFL seasons with the Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs from 1988-99 after going undrafted out of Colgate. The hard hits he’d deliver to opponents matched his intensity.
“I was throwing up, psyched out, butting heads and stuff like that,” Manusky said of his pregame routine when he was a player. “I’m downplaying it now as a coach, but I emphasize every [freaking] snap is important because it is, it can turn the tide and they’re in that position to turn the game around.”
What has helped the Redskins’ outside linebackers the most throughout the preseason is that Manusky can break things down from different perspectives. He’s as intense as he is educated, having spent the last nine seasons as a defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. He coached the Redskins linebackers in 2001 and moved on to the same position with the Chargers from 2002-06.
“He’s awesome, I haven’t been with him too long and he’s one of my all-time favorites ever,” said Trent Murphy, who had transitioned to defensive end this offseason but switched back to outside linebacker after Junior Galette tore his right Achilles tendon before training camp.
“He’s hilarious. He talks about it all the time, that it’s a long season with camp and preseason and postseason, so you’ve got to be able to get your work done and keep it light, take time for that too and he does a good job balancing it. I appreciate him a lot for that. He’s a damn good coach.”
Greg Toler, who played cornerback with the Colts from 2013-15 while Manusky was the defensive coordinator, has had a first-hand look at the coach’s positive influence. Toler pointed to Manusky’s ability to breakdown a defense through every assignment and how it helped him develop into a more consistent cornerback.
Toler was eager to sign with the Redskins this offseason and join Manusky, even though he’d be working solely with the outside linebackers.
“When you don’t see him, it’s a drag of a day for me personally,” Toler said.