At the Red­skins’ rookie camp, ev­ery­one faces a learn­ing curve.

As­sis­tants in new roles still get­ting ac­cli­mated dur­ing rookie minicamp

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY LIZ CLARKE liz.clarke@wash­

Jim Tom­sula’s eyes never leave his player. Arms in per­pet­ual mo­tion, the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ de­fen­sive line coach demon­strates the pre­cise hand place­ment and punch he wants from each of his four charges as they at­tack the tack­ling sled at Red­skins Park. “Ex­plode!” Tom­sula barks. “Eyes up!” he adds. “Punch and post!”

It’s Day 2 of rookie minicamp. And as Tom­sula in­structs firstround draft pick Jonathan Allen, the 6-3, 286-pound de­fen­sive line­man from Alabama, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Manusky ob­serves their in­ter­ac­tion.

The scene cap­tured one small step in the off­sea­son over­haul of the Red­skins’ de­fense — a process that be­gan with Jan­uary’s fir­ing of de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Barry and much of his staff; con­tin­ued in free agency with the ac­qui­si­tion of vet­eran line­men Ter­rell McClain and Stacy McGee and safety D.J. Swearinger; and took a sig­nif­i­cant step in the re­cent draft, in which the team in­vested its top three picks on Allen, Alabama line­backer Ryan An­der­son and UCLA cor­ner­back Fabian Moreau.

Fol­low­ing back-to-back sea­sons in which the Red­skins’ de­fense fin­ished 28th in the NFL, the in­fu­sion of tal­ent was over­due.

But it falls to a largely over­hauled de­fen­sive coach­ing staff — led by Manusky, the for­mer NFL line­backer whom Coach Jay Gru­den el­e­vated from out­side lineback­ers coach to de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor — to trans­late the prom­ise of these rook­ies and re­cently signed free agents into im­proved per­for­mance.

“It’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge,” Gru­den con­ceded Satur­day. “Any time you have a new de­fen­sive staff, I don’t care how ex­pe­ri­enced you are, it’s your job to get the team to jell. The sec­ondary, lineback­ers, de­fen­sive line — they’ve got to play to­gether as one, and that’s a chal­lenge.”

In terms of tal­ent, Gru­den said Satur­day he felt the Red­skins did a good job ad­dress­ing their de­fen­sive needs af­ter let­ting line­men Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Fran­cois de­part via free agency, as well as adding sorely needed depth.

“I feel like the tal­ent is there for them to work with,” Gru­den said of Manusky and his staff.

Allen, re­cip­i­ent of the 2016 Chuck Bed­narik and Bronko Nagurski awards as the na­tion’s top de­fen­sive player, was a du­ti­ful stu­dent Satur­day, lis­ten­ing at­ten­tively to Tom­sula’s corrections and watch­ing closely as the coach tu­tored col­lege free agents Brandon Banks and On­dre Pip­kins and try­out player B.J. Sin­gle­ton.

“It’s fast, but I love it,” Allen said af­ter com­plet­ing his se­cond day of on-field work as a Red­skin.

As for Tom­sula, the for­mer San Fran­cisco 49ers head coach known for his hands-on, ex­u­ber­ant coach­ing style, Allen said: “He’s ev­ery­thing you could think of. I don’t think one word could prop­erly de­scribe him . . . . He has done this be­fore; I haven’t. So I’m just try­ing to take ev­ery lit­tle nugget I can from him and put it into my game.”

Gru­den said he liked the strength and work ethic he was see­ing in An­der­son but added that the rookie line­backer had ar­rived a bit heavy, at 260-plus pounds. The coach voiced con­fi­dence that An­der­son would soon re­gain “foot­ball shape” work­ing with the Red­skins’ strength and con­di­tion­ing staff.

“The type of guy he is, he’ll work his tail off and get in shape,” Gru­den said of An­der­son, whose NFL draft pro­file lists him at 253 pounds. “All of these guys, they have been off re­ally since the [NFL Scout­ing] Com­bine, so they are all a lit­tle bit be­hind.

Look­ing on was Moreau, the cor­ner­back re­cov­er­ing from a torn pec­toral mus­cle. Gru­den of­fered no timetable for his par­tic­i­pa­tion but said the rookie would ben­e­fit from “men­tal reps” as an observer.

From Manusky’s van­tage point, there wasn’t a de­fen­sive player on the field he didn’t con­sider a con­tender for a start­ing job — whether that was Allen and An­der­son, the Alabama draft-day stars, or the long shots among the 40 or so play­ers in­vited for try­outs.

“I was a free agent do­ing the same thing,” Manusky said in an in­ter­view af­ter prac­tice. He earned his spot on the Red­skins’ 1988 ros­ter as an un­drafted free agent from Col­gate and went on to a 12-year NFL ca­reer that in­cluded stops in Min­nesota and Kansas City. “When I came into the league, I was ex­pected to play. And that’s what I ex­pect of ev­ery player once they get into the room. They’re ex­pected to be starters.”

It’s now Manusky’s job to give them the tech­nique, the skills and smarts to get there. To that end, Manusky said he felt great about his staff. He shares a his­tory with Tom­sula, hav­ing served with him on the 49ers’ coach­ing staff. And he worked last sea­son along­side in­side lineback­ers coach Kirk Oli­vadotti and Chad Grimm, who was el­e­vated this off­sea­son from de­fen­sive qual­ity con­trol to out­side lineback­ers.

“The way I look at it, they’re not coaches; they’re teach­ers,” Manusky said of the Red­skins’ de­fen­sive staff. “That’s what I’m look­ing for, more than any­thing.”

Asked what sort of gains he thought were pos­si­ble for the Red­skins de­fense next sea­son, Manusky de­clined to of­fer specifics, ex­plain­ing that he wasn’t fix­ated on goals as much as he was process.

“Ev­ery­body in the NFL wants to go to the Su­per Bowl. That’s ev­ery­body’s goal,” Manusky said. “But it’s the sys­tem and the process that’s go­ing to get you there. That’s what we’re work­ing on.”

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