LEESBURG - If there is one thing nearly every new defensive coordinator says, it’s that they plan to be more aggressive. They’re going to get in your face, ratchet up the pressure, knock some people on their behinds – you name it.
Greg Manusky is a new defensive coordinator.
“Just a lot of pressure with him,” linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “You look at the install sheets for when we’re installing our defense, you see a lot of lines going forward.”
Install sheets are one thing. A defense can plan on blitzing an opponent back into the stone age, then have defensive backs start blowing coverages, the front of the defense overcompensates and everything turns to milk toast. The Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL on defense last season under coordinator Joe Barry and dead last in third-down defense.
After spending the vast majority of their draft capital on defense and adding linebacker Zach Brown and safety D.J. Swearinger in free agency, though, the Redskins have reason to be optimistic that Manusky has the players necessary to execute his plan.
The defensive line, coached by Jim Tomsula, will be critical.
“From a conceptual standpoint, DBs are on the back end. They play from distance and vision. The next is the linebackers which is off the line five yards. But from our defensive line, it’s like they’re right here,” Manusky said, coming in very close. He had a poppyseed or a fleck of pepper lodged between his right incisor and canine.
“It makes you feel uncomfortable, you know?”
Both coach Jay Gruden and Manusky believe that winning games starts by dominating the line of scrimmage. The Redskins made defensive line a priority by drafting Jonathan Allen and hiring Tomsula, a former coworker of Manusky’s in San Francisco. The one thing Manusky associates with Tomsula?
“Toughness,” Manusky said. “Across the board, he’s going to get these guys up front, we might not win a game but we’ll surely beat the crap out of a lot of people.”
With a new coordinator, new coaches, and several new pieces expected to take on starting roles, the defensive holdovers are noticing all the changes.
“He’s a lot more man-to-man based. I always say he’s more aggressive, it seems like anyway,” linebacker Will Compton said of Manusky’s scheme.
As an example, Compton suggested Manusky might use more peel blitz concepts instead of fire zone blitzes.
In a fire zone blitz, a defensive lineman drops back into zone coverage underneath, hoping to confuse a quarterback. The aim is for the quarterback to think the defense is rushing six and that he has an open receiver, who winds up covered by the dropping lineman.
Peel blitzes involve an edge rusher whose job it is to pressure the quarterback, as long as any back on his side stays in pass protection. If the back releases out, the rusher “peels” off to cover him. Peel blitzes can provide some security when there’s no safety help available to come down and cover the back.
“He might [be] adding on instead of hovering over the back, he might add in an extra man on the blitz, so different things like that I feel like he might add that flavor a little bit more than we’ve had in the past,” Compton said.
Compton, like Kerrigan, is excited that the rest of the Redskins defense will get to know former linebackers coach Manusky, a jokester who keeps things light at practice, and likes to share quotes or tips about athlete psychology at the start of meetings.
Manusky has already been the man for the job when it comes to breaking the ice with the rookies.
“They stood up today and said okay, their name, where they’re from, you know, their girlfriend and then okay, what was their signing bonus,” Manusky chuckled. “Everybody hooped and hollered when Jonathan [Allen] got up, it’s a little bit different.”
Manusky’s job is to make sure Allen earns his money. His preferred method, as with his other players, involves getting up close and personal.