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Real dude, real coach: Washington's new players love Quinn's leadership

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Bobby Wagner has been around the NFL block more than most players in the league today. Though he's spent most of his career with the Seattle Seahawks, he's learned from several coaches in that span, all of whom have their own teaching styles and approaches to the game.

It's been about a decade since Wagner played for Washington Commanders head coach Dan Quinn, but his old defensive coordinator left a lasting impression on him. That relationship was enough to convince Wagner, who has never played for a team on the east coast, to help build a new era in Washington.

"I think DQ does an amazing job of just putting players in the right positions and getting the best out of everybody," Wagner said.

Wagner was not alone in having thoughts about Quinn. Washington signed nearly two dozen free agents over the past week, and nearly all of them highlighted Quinn and his ability to build bonds with players as one of the key reasons for them joining the Burgundy & Gold. That was something Managing Partner Josh Harris tabbed as one of Quinn's best traits, and judging by all the activity since the new league year began, that's already paying off.

"Playing with him for three years, we definitely got better each and every year," said defensive end Dorance Armstrong. "I think that's the best thing that you could ask for."

For Armstrong, center Tyler Biadasz and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., all three of whom saw Quinn work firsthand as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator, they're aware of how much Quinn deserves his reputation as a coach and person. As Armstrong and Fowler can attest, players tend to improve under his tutelage.

Armstrong might be the best example of Quinn's handiwork. There was a clear difference in his production once Quinn became Dallas' defensive coordinator, particularly as a pass-rusher. 21 of his 23.5 career sacks came in the three seasons Quinn coached for the Cowboys.

Fowler, whose ties to Quinn go all the way back to when the two were at Florida, has liked playing for Quinn so much that he spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, where Quinn was previously a head coach, and two seasons with the Cowboys.

Joining Quinn again in Washington was a "no-brainer" to Fowler.

"Dan Quinn is just a real dude and a real coach," Fowler said. "[He's] A guy that just trusts and believes in me, so why not want to go and play for a guy like that?"

Excitement was in the air the Washington Commanders' incoming free agents made their first trips to the facility. Check out the top photos of their arrival.

Fowler, the No. 3 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, has had solid seasons with Quinn as his coach, recording 10 sacks and 40 tackles during his two seasons in Dallas. Quinn's biggest lessons for Fowler, however, are for things off the field like how to act like a professional and approach the game the right way. They also share a bond about how important the sport itself is to them.

"I love the game a lot," Fowler said. "This game has done a lot for me and my family, and he treats it the same type of way."

Biadasz technically never played for Quinn, since he was on the other side of the ball, but it was always clear to him just how much he valued building relationships with the players. Whether it was in the locker room, at lunch or in the hallway, Quinn would stop just to have a conversation with any player, no matter the side of the ball they played on.

So, when Quinn said during his introductory press conference that he intends to oversee the entire team, rather than focus solely on the defense, there's evidence that points to him being able to back it up.

It also helps that there's no misunderstanding exactly what Quinn is all about.

"He's all about grit, tenacity and winning," Biadasz said. "That's him. He's a great guy ... He really does care about you genuinely."

But players don't need to have played for Quinn to appreciate how unique he is as a coach. Just ask newly re-signed defensive end Efe Obada. His time with Quinn was brief; he was invited to the Falcons' training camp and spent three weeks with the team. But when Obada broke his leg last year, Quinn was one of the few coaches who reached out to him to offer emotional support.

"He messaged me that I was a warrior, that I would get back [on the field]," Obada said. "It meant so much to me, so for everything to play out the way it played out, and for him to be here, honestly he's the only coach I'd want to play for right now. He's the only coach I want to go to war for."

Quinn's approach as a team builder is attracting talent from around the league and convincing them that Washington is the place to be right now. Safety Jeremy Chinn, who has never played for the head coach, has watched and appreciated what Quinn built in Dallas from afar. He's seen a unit that was one of the worst defenses in 2020 turn into one of the stoutest, ranking among the top five in yards and points allowed last season.

To Chinn, that sounds like the right kind of environment for him to elevate his skill set.

"Just run-and-hit-type defenses," Chinn said. "I think that's perfect for my game and what I can do on the football field."

There's no such thing as a real "winner" of the offseason, but so far, Quinn has lived up to the expectations he and others have set for himself. We'll see whether that amounts to more wins in September, but it doesn't sound like his players have any doubt about that.

"The leadership, the mentorship," Wagner said when asked about what he remembers most about Quinn. "The fun that we had. Those were the biggest things."

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