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Practice notes | No matter who calls the defense, players know their job doesn't change


Most of the Washington Commanders' defensive players weren't shocked when it was announced that Jack Del Rio was relieved of his duties as defensive coordinator. The unit hasn't played up to its standard, and when things like that happen, it's hard to expect job security in the NFL.

And with their record at 4-8 as they enter the final stretch of the season, there isn't time to focus on anything else.

"All our attention, all our focus has to be on Miami," said cornerback Kendall Fuller. "It can't be on coaching changes. All your attention has to be on the things that we need to do to win on Sunday."

That's the attitude that all the players have as they prepare to play the Dolphins at FedExField on Dec. 3. Sure, there will be some changes with head coach Ron Rivera calling the defense. The scheme will be simplified, but the players don't see it as a drastic change to what they're asked to do.

No matter who's calling the defense, their job remains the same: play the best they can and try to win as many games as possible.

"It's really not that much of a difference," Kam Curl said in the locker room on Wednesday. "We're just gonna play football."

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders getting back to work to prepare for their Week 13 matchup against the Miami Dolphins. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

After weeks of underperforming, the most recent example being a 45-10 rout at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, it was clear that some changes were needed if Washington had any chance of improvement. The defense has given up 377 yards and nearly 30 points per game, and with some of the most potent offenses looming on the schedule, staying on the same path was a non-starter.

"I think some of the things that we need to look at obviously is just creating those opportunities for the players to be successful, paring down some of the things that we've done from the past and just trying to get them to play fast."

Paring down the defense has been a point of emphasis for Rivera since last Friday's press conference. Some of that comes from Rivera having a different philosophy as a play-caller, but it also stems from an effort to simplify the concepts.

The players have been open to that, and for them, Fuller said that all it means is working with a smaller play sheet and making simpler calls.

"My viewpoint has always been to go out there and...execute and make those plays," Fuller said. "That's something Coach Rivera focuses on and why he made the change."

The hope is that will cut down on some of the explosive plays Washington has given up this season. It's become a common trend for opposing wide receivers to be wide open and essentially walk into the end zone, as was the case when Brandin Cooks scored the Cowboys' first points of the night on a 34-yard reception on Thanksgiving.

Rivera has also spoken with some of the defensive players about the direction of the unit and heard their opinions about how they can improve.

"I think giving them the opportunity to have the voice was something they wanted," Rivera said. "So, I listened and talked with several of them."

Another area the Commanders hope to improve is the amount of pressure they put on quarterbacks. The defense ranks eighth in the NFL with 35 sacks, but they also have the league's worst pressure rate. They had just 14 pressures on 54 snaps against the Cowboys, which allowed Dak Prescott to operate with a clean pocket.

Rivera wants to create more one-on-one opportunities that allow the Commanders' best pass-rushers to be more productive.

"That's one thing we've noticed is [that] there's been a little bit more obvious attention being paid to our defensive tackles both Jonathan [Allen] and Daron [Payne]," Rivera said. "So, we've got to try and create some situations where they end up getting singled up a little bit more and hopefully that'll help them."

Allen is eager to see how that will play out, but he does have confidence in Rivera as a play-caller.

"He's gonna give the guys who's working under him an opportunity to showcase what they can do," Allen said.

Rivera's routine has changed since he's taken over the defense. With most of his attention dedicated to making sure the defense, he's not able to spend any time with the other side of the ball. Things have gone well so far, Rivera said Wednesday, and the staff is aligned on making sure the things they do help their players be successful.

For the players, however, not much has changed.

"I have to be in control and accountable of how I play," said KJ Henry. "I don't think whoever's coaching is going to dictate how hard I play or how I play."

And they have faith in Rivera to get the job done.

"He knows what he's talking about," Curl said. "That's the dude who drafted me. I've got complete, 100% trust in him."

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