Redskins defensive line coach Robb Akey said the 2015 season for his unit, culminating in a division title, was "just a taste" of what it wants moving forward.*
There were some big fellas lining up along the Washington Redskins' defensive front in 2015.
So you when those guys get a "taste" of something good, you can bet they'll be back for more.
That's the attitude of this unit in 2016, according to defensive line coach Robb Akey, who said the team's NFC East title in 2015 was, of course, something to be proud of. However, lots of work remains to not only get there again, but to make an even bigger impact moving forward.
"It's a great first step," Akey this week told host Larry Michael on "Redskins Nation." "I know the way we look at it, and I'd like to think the way our players look at it: this is just a taste. And I think they liked the way it tasted, and (we're) anxious to get that next bite and keep on rollin'."
Akey came to the Redskins last season with just one year of NFL coaching experience, having been an assistant defensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. But prior to entering the NFL, the Colorado Springs, Colo., native had built up almost 25 years of football coaching experience at the lower levels, getting an up-close-and-personal look at what it takes to build a professional football player from the ground up.
Akey said it didn't take long once he was hired by the Redskins to get on the same page with his linemen, particularly a group led by veterans like Kedric Golston, Terrance Knighton, Jason Hatcher, Ricky Jean Francois, Chris Baker and Stephen Paea.
"My time in the NFL might be short, but my time in football is not," said Akey, who had various coaching roles at the college level at Weber State (his alma mater) Northern Arizona, Washington State and Idaho. "Football is football; it's done at different levels. So I think when it gets right down to it and it's football that we're talking about and how to make things work, I think we all hit where we were all speaking the same language and we kind of hit the floor running."
What Akey learned along the way was that technique and proper conditioning far outweighed any other attribute for a successful defensive lineman. Akey barked that message – quite boisterously – day in and day out at practices and meetings, whether speaking to a veteran or a rookie.
"It's a street fight in the trenches up front, and so the better they can be with their technique, the better off that they're going to succeed," he said. "And so, I think for a youngster coming in, that's something he's gotta learn and he's gotta work towards and master, and I think that's where our vets help bring in some of those young guys along. And I think even the vets, sometimes you can get into something and let it slide a little bit, so being able to press on those things and just make it be automatic, and then there's some great things that can take place within the game."
Harping on technique certainly helped the likes of Baker, who turned in a career year in 2015. Originally slated as a backup at defensive end behind Paea, an incoming free agent signee, Baker "was on a mission," Akey said, for a variety of reasons.
"He wanted that starting job and he wanted to be a factor and he wanted to be an impact player, and he made those things happen," Akey said.
In all, Baker had 56 total tackles (13 for loss) with six sacks, 28 quarterback pressures/hits – the second most on the team – one pass breakup, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
By coming in and going through his game and practice film this offseason, Akey thinks Baker's 2015 season is just the tip of the iceberg of what he's capable of doing.
"He put a lot of work into it and he's got a lot of pride in it, and I think there's still a lot that Chris can do, that Bake's going to be able to accomplish," Akey said. "That's what I'm looking so forward to getting going this offseason – he can make some of those little things be habit that will take what he's doing well and make it be even better."
With some possible changes coming up for the defensive line – Hatcher is considering retirement while Knighton, Golston and Frank Kearse will be unrestricted free agents come 4 p.m. March 9 – Akey is excited to get his group together by the time offseason workouts begin to embark on what he hopes is an even more special 2016 campaign.
"Like I said, it was a good start for where we're headed," Akey said of last season. "And now we've got a chance to have guys coming back and it's their second year in the system and it's a little more old hat to them and I think we can develop a little bit more.
"So we're excited to get the guys back in the building and be able to get rollin'. It'll be here before you know it."