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As Ron Rivera Gets Ready To Build The Redskins, He Wants To Build Around A Strong Core Of Players

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For most, the days leading up to Sunday's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV have been the slow buildup towards the grand finale of the 2019 season.

Don't count Redskins head coach Ron Rivera as one of those people, though. For him, it's an opportunity to reintroduce the league to his new team and lay out his plan for breathing new life into the franchise.

The NFL Combine, free agency and the NFL Draft are all fresh on Rivera's mind, but before he can focus on any of that, he and his coaching staff must do what he referred to as "setting the core."

"The core" is a group of players on offense, defense and special teams the team will build around moving forward, and on Thursday afternoon he sat down with Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael and staff writer Kyle Stackpole from Radio Row to discuss everything involved in establishing that group.

"Philosophically speaking, you have six positions that are your primary positions, and then you build around those positions in all three phases," Rivera said. "And once you do that and you establish that, now you have to make the moving parts fit."

If Redskins fans feel as if they have heard something similar from a previous coach, they're not wrong. Former head coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Joe Gibbs spoke often of his core of Redskins players who were the foundation of his football teams. That structure clearly worked out for him, as he led the Redskins to three Super Bowl wins.

Rivera is still in the process of evaluating his new players, but he does know that he has a solid group of young players from the last three NFL Drafts who saw plenty of action and were productive.

On offense, Rivera listed wide receiver as one of the key positions on that side of the ball. He's fortunate to have Terry McLaurin, who had one of the best rookie campaigns in franchise history. Rivera sounded confident that when it comes to identifying key players, McLaurin is certainly one of them.

"Here's a guy who had a very good rookie year, and as you think about that ... I get excited about a young man, a rookie, who played as much as he did and had as much success as he did. Now, you go, 'Okay, it's not too big for him,'" Rivera said.

A third-round pick in 2019, McLaurin quickly became the Redskins' No. 1 receiver and best offensive threat. He finished the season second in receiving yards (919), tied for second in receptions (58), tied for third in touchdowns (seven) and second in yards per game (65.6) among rookies.

"Wow, a guy like that coming in and competing, next season will not be too big for him," Rivera said.

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins is another player Rivera targeted as potentially being one of his core players. The Redskins drafted him with the 15th overall pick in 2019 to be the quarterback of the future. He got his first-career start in Week 9 before being named the permanent starter during the team's bye week, and he remained in that role until a sprained ankle in Week 16 against the New York Giants kept him out of the season finale.

Haskins played sporadically throughout the season, but he showed improvement in each game. That much was clear to Rivera, who spent time watching every player in the weeks leading up to his eventual hiring on New Year's Day.

"I always go back to the Detroit game," Rivera said. "I always go back to the fourth quarter and his last two drives that put him in position to score points when he needed to score points. That's exciting. That means this kid is beginning to understand and grow."

After beating Rivera's Carolina Panthers, 29-21, the Redskins lost all four of their remaining games. But they only lost by 10 points or fewer in three of those games, which showed Rivera that the players never gave up.

That was the subject of many conversations he and Redskins owner Dan Snyder had as Snyder was courting Rivera to become the team's next head coach.

"That's one of the things I really appreciated," Rivera said. "With the exception of the Dallas game, those guys competed. The second half against Dallas, it got away from them, but in three of those last four, those guys fought to the end. They had a chance to win."

Rivera listed quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, center and either guard or left tackle as primary positions for core players on offense. Some, such as the running back position, have answers; others, like tight end, do not. There's also uncertainty surrounding left tackle Trent Williams, who sat out last season. Rivera said he wants to sit and talk with Williams to get a clearer answer on his future.

However, there are others like Cole Holcomb, Montez Sweat and Daron Payne who played significantly last year and could be key pieces moving forward, Rivera said.

As Rivera said in his introductory press conference, the Redskins have raw talent on both sides of the ball. The next step is to evaluate that talent so that in the future, Rivera and the Redskins are in position to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

"We're going to do our homework," Rivera said. "We're going to do our studies on all the guys. …We want to make sure that when we make decisions, we're making the best decisions for the Washington Redskins."