Training camp is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its second season under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Have you ever wondered what Jack Del Rio looks for as he watches practice? It has to be something like who's making big plays or where his players are in presnap scenarios, right? Well, yes, although there's a lot more to it than that.
Details matter to Del Rio. The attention to the finer points of managing a defense is part of why he's been heralded as an exceptional coordinator, and sure, that includes execution and making sure players are in the right spot. But what happens outside of the play is just as important to Del Rio as the action itself.
"One of the things I'm really after is body language, how we impact each other, how a guy responds if he gives up a play," Del Rio told Joe Theismann.
Washington's defense was No. 2 in yards allowed in Del Rio's first season, and even though the unit is expected to perform just as well in 2021, there are going to be moments when it slips up. So how do the players react to that? Do they beat the ground in frustration, or do they pop back up and get ready to do better on the next snap? Those reactions will be noticed on film, and the players will be graded accordingly for them.
"So, we're looking for energy, effort, those types of things," Del Rio said. "We want that from everybody."
If there's an "Exhibit A" for how to positively respond to a missed play, it can be found in the secondary. The defensive backs have been good about coming up with interceptions in camp, but occasionally they will let one slip through their fingers. Not only will they get asked if they like nice things by Chris Harris, they automatically drop down to do 10 push-ups.
And that isn't something Del Rio had to implement; the secondary came up with the idea themselves.
"The DB room, they have their own deal," Del Rio said. "Chris Harris does a good job in the back end. I saw him [in Richmond, Virginia] he dropped a pick, and he got down and gave us ten."
That might be the most obvious example, but there are other ways that the players have found to give positive reinforcement to each other in between plays. Players like Chase Young can be seen roaming the sidelines when he's not on the field encouraging his teammates. He'll even join the offensive huddle before a series begins just to wish his teammates good luck.
There's also the increase in confidence the defense has shown over the past two weeks. Whenever someone makes a play, the unit makes sure that the offense knows it. It's in their nature, Ron Rivera said after practice Aug. 3, and the players did it all the time last year.
"I think that's football," said Kendall Fuller. "You compete anytime you get out here, guys working hard, guys want to win. You're going to get that year in and year out."
Washington's defense is going to make plays; the talent alone suggests that much. But there's more to being a top tier unit, and as members of a Del Rio defense, how players handle themselves between plays is just as pivotal to success as stats.
That philosophy worked last year, and it's one the team plans to keep going forward