Entering his second year as the Redskins' defensive coordinator in 2016, Joe Barry says the unit has encouraging steps to build upon.*
If Super Bowl 50 taught football followers anything, it was that a dominating, swarming defense with playmakers all over the field can make all the difference, even against the likes of one of the more dynamic playmakers in recent NFL history in Cam Newton.
So while Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry knows his unit didn't play at the same level as the champion Denver Broncos' defense in 2015, he saw enough progress and enough pieces in place to confidently say that Washington is certainly heading in the right direction on that side of the ball heading into 2016.
"You know what – I think we did some great things," Barry told host Larry Michael Thursday on "Redskins Nation." "Looking back, I think we played good enough defense to go 9-7. We played good enough defense to be the Division Champions, and I do think, statistically, I do think we did some really good things."
Indeed, the Redskins' defense did have plenty of marks to be proud of in 2015. It finished first in the NFL in assisted tackles (351), forced fumbles (21), fumble recoveries (16), opponent first half time of possession (13:30) and percentage of fumbles per touch (2.3 percent), and made marked improvements on third and fourth down, as well as inside the opponent's red zone.
Barry's unit overcame a slow start in 2015 to become one of the more opportunistic defenses in the league, making the hard work started in offseason workouts and OTAs and into the season well worth the effort.
"I have a saying, 'You become what you repeatedly do,' and I preach that constantly," Barry said. "You have to spend time on it in OTAs, you have to spend time on it in training camp, you have to spend time on it every Wednesday in practice, every Thursday in practice, every Friday in practice, during the season, and you've got to keep hammering it, and like I said, if you repeat something long enough, it's going to become habit, and that's something that we preached from Day 1."
Perhaps Barry's favorite moments in the 2015 season came when the defense was able to overcome the loss of numerous starters and contributors by utilizing quick-learning veteran free agents, and even a few surprising rookies here and there.
Suffering major injuries throughout the season were pass rusher Junior Galette, linebackers Perry Riley Jr., Keenan Robinson, Adam Hayward and Martrell Spaight, defensive end Stephen Paea, cornerbacks Chris Culliver, Justin Rogers and DeAngelo Hall (who later returned to take on duties at safety) and safety Duke Ihenacho.
In their place emerged guys like Mason Foster, Will Compton, Will Blackmon, Quinton Dunbar and Kyshoen Jarrett.
Barry said it was important not to "whine and cry when a guy got hurt." While the losses certainly hurt on a personal level, the coaches and the rest of the defense had to make sure they did their job getting the next guy ready to go, staying true to Barry's "starter-in-waiting" mantra.
"The guys on the bench, they guys that were behind the scenes, when they got their opportunity we kept it moving, we kept it marching, 100 percent," Barry said. "But it all started with the approach that our coaching staff took, (which) was we're not going to wait around for you to learn the defense. Learn it right now. You're a starter – play like a starter. And those guys did it."
While Barry is certainly happy with the direction of his defense, he knows it will take a lot of hard work this offseason to jump up yet another level to reach their goals next season and beyond.
The defensive staff has been breaking up its days recently at Redskins Park: the first half is spent looking at "every single play from last year" to make evaluate and improve schemes and individual players; the second half is spent with general manager Scot McCloughan and his personnel staff, as they are "getting familiar with the guys that are going to be available in free agency and the guys that we're going to start evaluating at the Combine."
To get to that elite level – to be considered be that Broncos-esque defense wreaking havoc week after week – Barry said it's important for everyone to buy in early and often this offseason. After achieving the all-important goal of winning a division title in 2015, it's important to take that next step – and soon.
"That's the thing that I'm fired up about with the fans here, at least the fans that do approach me and talk to me – they see that. Our fans are smart, they're educated, and they understand that," Barry said. "Do I want to have the No. 1 defense in the National Football League? Absolutely. That's our goal and that's what we strive for, but our job on defense is to make sure our opponent scores one less point than we score, and I think we did a great job of finding ways to get victory. And that's what I'm most proud of."