During Jay Gruden’s six years in Washington, training camp practices had one constant: complaining from defensive players.
Gruden, a former quarterback, was known for favoring the offense during scrimmages. He’d throw a questionable flag or declare a receiver to have caught the ball even if his foot looked to be out of bounds.
Now there’s a new regime, led by Ron Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coach.
So are things about to get easier on that side of the ball? Hardly.
“I will try to make it as hard as I can for the defense,” Rivera said. “Because there’s nothing easy about playing defense. There really isn’t.
“This game is not designed for the defense to have it easy. So if I am going to favor one side, I’ll favor the offense, because I want the defense put under as much stress as possible.”
Rivera will lead his first full-team practice in Ashburn on Thursday. Per NFL rules, fans will not be permitted to watch training camp workouts this year.
In describing his general approach to overseeing a practice, Rivera said he’ll try to see as much as he can and keep the pace as fast as he can.
Three things he said he’ll be yelling regularly are “play fast,” “play physical,” and “play hard.”
“Those are things you’ll always hear me talking about,” he said. “You can’t simulate game speed, but if there’s somebody constantly trying to push forward, getting those players to understand how important it is to practice fast, play fast, I think it helps.”
Linebackers coach Steve Russ, who has worked with Rivera in the past, said keeping an eye on the pace will be a shared responsibility with the players.
“My expectations for these guys is to have great energy every day,” Russ said. “We set the tone and tempo for everything that we do as a defense and as a football team, whether it’s our meetings or our walk-throughs, whether it’s our practices, whether it’s playing the game. We’ve got to be those guys that bring the energy.”
Getting up to speed will be especially urgent at this year’s workouts. Thursday marks the start of a five-day acclimation period, which is followed by the first padded practice on Aug. 18, when full contact is allowed.
Most coaches shy away from training camp tackling, but with no preseason games, Rivera sees it as a necessary evil.
“One of the things that we’re going to look at doing is some tackling circuits on the defensive side, some stations in terms of where they can practice their techniques, but don’t necessarily have to practice at full speed,” he said.
He credited his former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott (William & Mary) with the concept.
“He came up with this great idea of having a tackling circuit,” Rivera said. “Working on the technique of tackling so guys understand how to form it up, how to fit it up and how to make a tackle, I think is important because you’re not really going to be able to simulate as much live action as you would like to.”
Note: Washington activated linebacker Reuben Foster off the physically-unable-to-perform list Sunday. Foster, 26, tore the ACL in and caused additional damage to his left knee during offseason workouts in May 2019 and missed last season.
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