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Jeff Zgonina named Commanders' new defensive line coach

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Sam Mills III has been relieved of his duties as the Washington Commanders' defensive line coach, head coach Ron Rivera announced during his Tuesday press conference.

Assistant defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina will be elevated to the open position.

"Jeff played the game, so he has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that he does share with the players," Rivera said. "He's got tremendous enthusiasm, so he'll continue to be that guy for them."

As a player, Zgonina appeared in 219 career games (67 starts) at defensive tackle and finished his career with 448 tackles, 26 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries, 11 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one interception in 17 total seasons. During his career he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-94), Carolina Panthers (1995), Atlanta Falcons (1996), St. Louis Rams (1997, 1999-2002), Indianapolis Colts (1998), Miami Dolphins (2003-06) and Houston Texans (2007-09).

Zgonina appeared in nine postseason contests during his playing career and was a member of the St. Louis Rams team that won Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans.

In a press conference with the media after practice, Zgonina said the attitude and goals for the defensive line will not change. He intends to help them play hard, stay healthy and work on their techniques.

"Playing as a unit," Zgonina said when asked about what it will take to help the defensive line take the next step. "Playing hard every play, being accountable for our mistakes. We're gelling. I like where we're at right now in the room. We're not there yet, but we're getting closer and closer every day."

Zgonina began his coaching career in Houston in 2013 where he worked with All-Pro J.J. Watt. Watt finished the season with 10.5 sacks and was named All-Pro for the second time in his career in 2013.

In 2016 with the New York Giants, Zgonina was part of a defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total points allowed per game (17.8) and No. 3 in rushing yards allowed per game (88.6). DT Damon Harrison registered career highs in sacks (2.5) and tackles (86) while working with Zgonina that season.

During his two-year stint with San Francisco, Zgonina played a major role in the development of DT DeForest Buckner. Buckner increased his sack totals from 3.0 in 2017 to 12.0 in 2018. He finished 2018 No. 3 in the NFL in total sacks among defensive tackles and was selected to his first career Pro Bowl.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen has tremendous respect for Zgonina because of what he accomplished over 17 seasons with seven teams. There's so much that he can teach the defensive line, Allen said after practice, particularly the mentality needed to succeed at a high level in the NFL.

"You look at a guy who played 17 years in the NFL, they're not normal," Allen said. "You can't be normal to do what we do."

Zgonina said he isn't going to change who he is with his new position, but it is a chance to help his position group.

"I view it as an opportunity to help these men win a championship. That's the goal."

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