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Darryl Tapp excited to pass on knowledge, elevate players in return to Washington as DL coach

Washington Redskins linebacker Darryl Tapp (54) reacts after a play against the Buffalo Bills in the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington Redskins linebacker Darryl Tapp (54) reacts after a play against the Buffalo Bills in the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Life has come full circle for Darryl Tapp.

Flash back to 2013, and Tapp, a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, was wearing the burgundy and gold as a player getting ready for his eighth NFL season. He and his former teammate, Ryan Kerrigan, reminisced about sitting in the linebacker room studying film with Bobby Slowik as their position coach.

Things are a bit different now. Slowik was a head coaching candidate this offseason after turning around the Houston Texans' offense; Kerrigan is entering his third season as a member of the Washington Commanders' coaching staff; and Tapp, recently hired by head coach Dan Quinn, is coming back to the DMV as the team's defensive line coach.

Tapp, who retired as a player after the 2017 season, is still in the infancy of his NFL coaching career but has earned his peers' respect, both as a former player with a 12-year career and a promising young member of the staff. Though he only spent one season in the DMV, he's happy to be back, and he's ready to help elevate the Commanders' defensive front.

"We're gonna work our butts off and make sure we're at maximum shape and conditioning to do that," Tapp said. "I'm gonna work my butt off with [defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr.] and coach Quinn to put them in position to make plays."

Tapp did plenty of that during his own career as a player. While he was only a full-time starter for two seasons, he was a key piece of the defensive line for the Seahawks for four seasons before moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles, Commanders, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He showed flashes of being a productive pass-rusher, accumulating 18 sacks with the Seahawks and 29 overall to go with 332 tackles and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.

Tapp being a former player is not a unique quality on the Commanders' coaching staff. Quinn has filled the staff with multiple coaches with similar resumes, whether it's Kerrigan, linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., receivers coach Bobby Engram or offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. Quinn is known around the NFL for relating to players, so he would naturally want his assistants to possess that quality as well.

As important as establishing a bond with players is to making sure they trust the system they need to follow, coaching still needs to be the priority. Tapp wants to keep himself aware of that.

"Sometimes, former players don't necessarily put all the work in and kind of assume because they were a former player, they understand how to coach," Tapp said. "Coaching is a different world."

As a player, Tapp said, you're more worried about what you need to do to better yourself. As a coach, you must worry about the entire position group on top of your own responsibilities.

For Tapp, adapting to that has been a challenge and a joy.

"It seems in a crazy way that my 12 years of playing were preparing me to be a coach," Tapp said. "All the different scheme, all the different coaches were preparing me for this moment."

Tapp is taking charge of a defensive line that could use some new guidance in 2024, both because of some lapses in statistical results and some reshaping of the group's hierarchy. Pro Bowlers Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are still on the roster and will be the foundation of the position going forward, but Chase Young and Montez Sweat are playing for different teams. What's more, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada are all set to be free agents when the new league year begins March 13.

The defensive line isn't solely to blame for Washington going from third to last in yards allowed, but they aren't blameless, either. They played a part in giving up 126.8 yards on the ground, and they were one of the worst teams when it came to producing sacks. Granted, not having Young or Sweat for half the season contributed to that regression, but the results are what they are.

Still, Tapp sees "a lot of talent" on the Commanders' defensive line, whether it's from Allen and Payne or younger players like KJ Henry and Andre Jones Jr., and he wants to do whatever he can to get that out of them.

And Tapp has already developed a history of elevating his players. Aside from helping Nick Bosa become of the best defensive linemen playing today with NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors and Pro Bowls to back up his legitimacy, he also worked with Arden Key to record a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2021. In the college ranks, he played a role in Virginia Tech defensive linemen Amaré Barno and Justus Reed lead the Hokies with 6.5 sacks each, accounting for more than one-third of the team's 36 sacks in 2020.

Tapp, 39, isn't much older than some of the Commanders' defensive linemen, but he wants to impart as much knowledge as he can to them.

Asked about his message to his players, Tapp said, "Whatever vision you have of yourself and the player that you want to be, I'm here to help us try to bridge that gap."

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