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The Redskins Defense Embraces A 'Wolfpack' Mentality


Taped to the backs and sides of each defensive player's locker on Wednesday hung a small laminated poster with a photograph of a large pack of wolves in a forest. Above them sat a message.

"The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."

The quote is taken from the "Law of the jungle," a repeated passage in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book," which was given a cinematic adaptation last spring. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry calrified Thursday that he hadn't seen the movie but stumbled upon the quote over the summer and thought bringing it up to the players before the second preseason game – because of its relevance and relatability –  would be beneficial for his group.

"It's kind of been a cool little deal for us the last month or so. But it's true," Barry said. "It is the greatest quote that I have ever seen talking about, as an individual, you can be great. You can play great, but in a team sport, which football is, obviously, playing defense is about the team. It's about the unit, it's about the pack, it's about all 11 playing as one. If you've got a bunch of individuals out there doing their own thing, nothing happens. But if you have individuals playing great together, as a pack, there's strength in the pack. There's not strength in the individual."

But this mentality isn't something new, at least for the linebacker group, which, according to inside linebacker Will Compton, "has been going on for a while now."

Compton, who has posted photos of wolves and tagged his teammates on Twitter and Instagram, said the idea of the wolfpack was started last year by linebacker Adam Heyward, who was released by the team in July, and that now, as a newly defined defensive captain, he is trying to carry on his legacy.

"It started off me and him just calling each other 'bash brothers' or 'wolfpack,'" Compton said. "Mason [Foster] came in, and Mason is a big fan of the wolf, so we kind of created our own little wolfpack. It's a mindset thing we kind of like to remind ourselves with and play around with all the time."

Compton jokingly clarified that Barry had infringed upon their niche identity, that not just anybody can join the wolfpack. Similar to the animals themselves, he's become a bit territorial with it.  

"[He] watched 'The Junglebook' one time and thinks we are all the wolfpack, but that's not the case," Compton said with a smile. "Not everybody is a wolf…At Nebraska, everybody on defense isn't just a black shirt. At Nebraska we just don't throw them out to everybody. So I was like, 'It's a little more sacred, you are kind of blowing it up too much.' We love it."

Compton has reached for just about any other pop cultural allusion he can for this collective nickname. He's keen on referencing the New World Order, abbreviated as NWO, an old wrestling group featuring Hollywood Hulk Hogan that, for reasons this writer won't be able to explain, has a similar meaning.

But the wolf has remained the persistent metaphor. Foster, who played with Heyward during his time in Tampa, said he developed the mentality down there, and so it was easy joining the team in the middle of last season. It's created a bonding effect.  

"Everybody buys in. It's a way of life," Foster said. "You hunt or you starve. We just try to keep that going, keep ourselves going, a lot of energy and stay together. It helps you when you're down, you can feed off each other, and keep on going."

"[It's] an everyday mentality," Compton said. "The energy, you bring it all the time. You can't be a some-of-the-time guy, you have to be an all-the-time guy, somebody who just has a little bit of dog in them, and we just use it for fun with defensive guys. [We] use it away from the field, on the field, everything. It just kind of creates a good environment, and I think everyone else would agree. We all have a good time with it though."

The sense of belonging is felt and shared in different ways. Most of the linebackers have posted some sort of photo to social media with a wolf or wolfpack. Linebacker Houston Bates said he sent Foster a clip of "The Jungle Book" once he realized how well the quote fit with the group's philosophy.

"They kind of took the lead with it and ran with it," Barry said of the linebackers. It's cool," Barry said. "We've got a bunch…we've got young guys, we've got old guys, we've got veteran minimum salary guys, we've got high-paid guys, but that doesn't matter. When you're in the huddle, it's just about being a unit, being together – 11 guys playing as one. So it's been a pretty neat deal."

Unlike Compton, however, Foster is more accepting of the name being transferred to the entire defense.

"The more the merrier," Foster said. "I feel like the defense was already like that…We already had that going. Wolves are always hunting, stay together, and I feel like that's what our defense is about. Now that we have a name to it, land of the wolves or wolfpack, whatever you want to call it, I love it." 

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