ASHBURN — Jack Del Rio says it’s easy enough to see how the Redskins defense was dysfunctional in 2019 — just watch the film. It’s all there on the tape says Washington’s new defensive coordinator.
“Countless examples” of players not in the proper position before the snap. Players looking around and talking, as if asking each other what was going on. A lack of urgency.
“There was an issue there,” Del Rio said.
As head coach Ron Rivera’s chosen pick to lead his defense, Del Rio is charged with fixing the problems. The 56-year-old NFL veteran, hired two weeks ago, talked about his approach Wednesday in his first comments to reporters since taking the job.
It boils down to a five-word philosophy he said: Respect everyone, fear no one.
Del Rio said the Redskins have a lot of work to do to improve. He rattled off a list of statistical categories — third down, yards allowed — in which Washington ranked at the bottom in 2019.
Expectations going into the season had been high — former linebackers coach Rob Ryan boasted the unit was a top five NFL defense back in training camp. But as losses mounted this season, neither players nor coaches had an explanation — the defensive squad had too much talent to struggle as it did.
But every team has talent, Del Rio said. It only takes you so far.
“Potential really doesn’t matter,” Del Rio said. “It doesn’t really amount to much. To me, it’s more about what we can get done and the work that we’re willing to put in and the idea that ‘Look, we’re going to become a respected unit, OK?’”
Under Del Rio, the Redskins will switch a 4-3 scheme. That system starts with the defensive linemen creating pressure and being disruptive, Del Rio said. In the past, Del Rio’s defenses have had success up front and featured a dominant pass rusher — most notably Von Miller in Denver and Khalil Mack in Oakland.
Del Rio said he wants his players to have a mix of physical and mental toughness. He stressed the importance of teammates and coaches holding each other accountable and being prepared for opposing offenses.
The Redskins are Del Rio’s first job in the NFL since the Raiders fired him in 2017. He spent his first year off with golf and travel, then was hired as an analyst for ESPN in the second. He said he’s studied league trends, observing a “greater need for speed” on defense with teams’ increased use of motion.
Despite the time away, Del Rio’s experience appealed to Rivera. At a press conference earlier this month, Rivera said he wanted to have a guy who’s “been there” and understands the NFL.
“He’s been a very successful coach in this league, he’s had opportunities in this league, and he’s succeeded in this league,” Rivera said. “I have a saying, don’t draw me a map unless you’ve been there. Well, Jack’s been there.”
When Del Rio was hired, there were questions over how much input Rivera, given his defensive background, would have in Washington’s new scheme. But on Wednesday, Del Rio recalled a conversation in which Rivera made it a point to reassure him it would be the coordinator calling plays and be “his defense.”
But Del Rio said he more than welcomes feedback. He added it’s important to blend ideas and thoughts to ensure the Redskins would “have the bullets” to compete defensively.
“I know there’s some proud people in this building that want to get this thing going the right way, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Del Rio said. “We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”