- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2020

When an NFL coach is hired, the typical maneuver is for that person to assemble a staff of people who have already worked together before, or know each other well.

Ron Rivera is no exception.

As the Washington Redskins‘ coach builds his staff, Rivera has brought on three assistants who were with him in Carolina: receivers coach Jim Hostler, offensive line coach John Matsko and linebackers coach Steve Russ. Another hire, trainer Ryan Vermillion, also comes from the Panthers.

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and secondary coach Chris Harris have not coached with Rivera before, but Harris played under Rivera as a cornerback when the 57-year-old was the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.

“What I have to have is great teachers,” Rivera said last week. “We want to teach these guys how to play football to the best of their abilities, to the best of our abilities and also to be good quality young men off the field.”

Here’s a look at the Panthers roots of the new Redskins staff:

⦁ Hostler (Panthers receivers coach, 2019): Hostler has the least experience with Rivera compared to the rest of the coaches with Carolina roots. The 53-year-old was only hired in 2019, responsible for developing a young unit featuring 2018 first-rounder D.J. Moore and 2017 second-rounder Curtis Samuel.

But Hostler is a longtime NFL coach who has been with nine different teams since 2000 in a variety of roles. With Carolina, Moore and Samuel both enjoyed career years, despite Cam Newton being hurt for most of it.

“Hoss, he did everything he could,” Moore said, according to Panthers.com. “From the little details to even the minor, minor, minor details to make sure we were ready week in and week out. … To have him in the room was something big this year.”

⦁ Matsko (Panthers offensive line coach, 2011 to 2019): Like former interim coach Bill Callahan, Matsko, 68, is an established, respected offensive line guru, with more than 25 years of experience. But he wore out his welcome by the end of his tenure with the Panthers, with one fan tweeting, “the OL is FREE” after news broke that Matsko was joining the Redskins.

Matsko, who was hired upon Rivera’s arrival in Carolina, had mixed success in Carolina. The Panthers had Pro Bowlers in Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, J.J. Jansen and Jordan Gross, but in that span, Newton was the sixth-most sacked quarterback with 291.

While sacks aren’t always indicative of the offensive line — Newton’s style also put him more in danger of quarterback hits — the damage Newton took over the years ultimately cost Rivera his job. In 2018, after a 6-2 start, the Panthers finished 7-9 with Newton not the same with a shoulder injury. The following season, Carolina collapsed again, going from 5-3 to finish 5-11. The Panthers gave up 58 sacks in 2019.

Some of the Panthers’ troubles along the offensive line, however, might have been related to personnel. Carolina whiffed on signing tackle Matt Kalil before releasing him two years into a five-year, $58 million deal. The team also struggled to replace Gross after his retirement in 2014.

Russ (Panthers linebacker coach, 2018 to 2019): A former linebacker with the Denver Broncos, Russ has more coaching experience in college than he does professionally. Hired in 2018, the 47-year-old took over a talented linebacking core with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly.

According to The Athletic, Russ is a very hands-on coach, occasionally instructing linebackers to hit him while he wears a chest plate and arm pads.

With Kuechly, Russ focused on improved the All-Pro’s pass-rushing ability, according to The Associated Press. In 2018, Kuechly had two sacks — the second-best of his career. But the linebacker had zero sacks this past season.

With the Redskins, Russ will inherit a group vastly unproven compared to what he had in Carolina. Starter Jon Bostic is a free agent and fifth-rounder Cole Holcomb had 101 tackles.

⦁ Vermillion (Panthers head trainer, 2002 to 2019): Of the former Panthers to jump ship, this might be the most interesting one — solely because of left tackle Trent Williams’ status. Can Williams, who swore off the Redskins because of a missed cancer diagnosis and missed all of 2019, be convinced to return now that team president Bruce Allen and oft-criticized trainer Larry Hess are gone?

Vermillion will be responsible for helping reduce the number of injuries the Redskins, who finished with more than 20 players on injured reserve from 2017 to 2019, have suffered over the last few years.

In 2018, the NFL and NFLPA launched an investigation over the Panthers’ handling of Newton in concussion protocol over a hit he took in a playoff game, but found no wrongdoing.

In Carolina, the Panthers dealt with significant injuries to Newton — with the quarterback undergoing shoulder surgery twice (2017, 2019) and foot surgery in 2019.

The Redskins, meanwhile, officially announced Vermillion’s hire on Monday.

“The Washington Redskins are very fortunate to be able to add Ryan Vermillion to our training staff,” Redskins team doctor Dr. James Andrews said in a statement. “His experience in the field brings our medical team to the highest level and furthers our goal of being the best in the NFL.”

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