SNIDER: Del Rio gives Redskins an edge – 'You have to perform'

Rick Snider
May 28, 2020 - 5:01 pm

The Redskins defensive problems over the last few years haven't come from lack of talent. The front line included two first-rounders and another that played like one. The secondary included two big names.

Yet, they allowed 31 or more points eight times last season. Players pointed to each other after allowing touchdowns. Safety D.J. Swearinger's frankness caused his release in 2018.

The solution wasn't drafting edge rusher Chase Young or signing free agent cornerback Kendall Fuller. They'll fill two slots well, but the real reason the Redskins defense might rise into the top-10 this fall is the man on the sideline – coordinator Jack Del Rio.

As an NFL linebacker, Del Rio foamed at the mouth much like former Redskins cornerback Pat Fischer. People questioned their sanity, but not their toughness. And that's exactly what Del Rio is bringing to Washington along with coach Ron Rivera – toughness.

"I think you have to be tough," Del Rio told reporters via Zoom on Thursday. "The toughness part is not just physical. A large part of that is mental and that is where we are going to see a lot of growth. Defenses that play fast and are able to bounce back when they are discouraged."

NFL coaches talk about toughness all the time, but it's a cliché. The last "tough guy" coaching the Redskins defense was Gregg Williams in 2004-07. Indeed, he was too tough to handle when owner Dan Snyder looked for Joe Gibbs' replacement in 2008. Jim Zorn over Williams – what a joke. Williams looks for kill shots. Indeed, maybe too much, given he was suspended by the NFL in 2012 for an illegal bounty fund rewarding injuries and knockouts of opposing players.

Del Rio isn't that extreme, but he's Williams' spiritual brother in knowing defense wins games by pounding opponents. While saying "it really comes down to leverage and tackling," Del Rio knows the bottom line is the sharp mental game. The Redskins let up too often last season. It's the only way to explain why a talented group was regularly overrun.

Players knew their coaches were going to be fired at season's end. There was no accountability. Now Del Rio looks at film searching for weaknesses by opponents and his unit. Maybe the Redskins can't stop everything, but they sure can improve off allowing everything.

"(Opponents) are talented people in the NFL. They are going to make some plays from time to time," he said. "You have to be able to keep going and go to the next play. We will work hard at that in terms of mentally being tough and physically being able to tackle people. . . . It is all about competition and that is really what the league is all about. You have to perform."

Or get out, which has been too constant in Washington for years.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks