Manusky puts stamp on defense
Gruden gives coordinator, assistants autonomy on unit
ASHBURN | Jay Gruden wants you to know that he isn’t just an offensiveminded coach.
“Offense is my ‘specialty’ but I am really a defensive-minded coach, just so you know,” Gruden said Wednesday after the Redskins organized team activity session. “I’m a little better at offense, but I understand how important it is to have a good defense, especially in this division.”
For the first time since Gruden has been coach, the Redskins went heavy on defense at the top of their draft and also supplemented that side of the ball in free agency. The team also reconfigured the defensive coaching staff to get the most out of those players and to compliment Gruden’s skillset, which does lean towards offense.
The result? Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his assistants have Gruden’s trust and a good deal of autonomy. With it, they’re using this portion of the offseason to harp on fundamentals.
“I feel like we do have more coaches who are more concerned with the details,” safety Will Blackmon said.
By now you’ve heard it over and over again: the Redskins were 28th in defense by total yards last season, and worst on third downs. That could lead a head coach to micromanage but Gruden hasn’t overreacted.
“These guys are a good staff and I have faith that they’re going to get the job done and you’ve got to let them breathe a little bit, let them do their thing and see how it goes,” Gruden said.
Defensive players have noticed their coordinator’s ability to take ownership and credit Gruden’s willingness to delegate.
“Jay lets Greg run his defense,” said
linebacker Zach Brown.
On the field, the mark of that defense, players have mentioned repeatedly, is aggression. In terms of teaching style, though, two things coming up over and over again are fundamental soundness and attention to detail — priorities of Manusky and his assistants.
“We do a lot in terms of the walkthroughs and the meeting times. So they’re getting efficient reps in their heads once they go out to the OTAs,” Manusky said.
This seems to be especially true among the secondary.
Instead of just teaching scheme, Blackmon said that Manusky, new defensive backs coach Torrian Gray and new assistant defensive backs coach James Rowe spend extra time teaching players to recognize formations and landmarks.
Blackmon, who made the switch from cornerback to safety last season, his 10th in the NFL, feels like he’s learning safety fundamentals for the first time.
“I don’t count last year as switching,” Blackmon said. “I’m doing it this year. They just put me in the post last year, man. I’m actually learning football this year.”
Blackmon played in 15 games last season and made one interception, defensed three passes and made 39 tackles as part of a jumbled group of safeties in Washington. This offseason, the Redskins brought in D.J. Swearinger to play free safety and moved Su’a Cravens to strong safety to address their needs at the position. With Cravens’ adjustment, and with a group of backups who are either young or inexperienced at the position, good coaching will be critical.
“I think that was one area that we really needed to work with was technique from our secondary and I think they’re doing a good job,” Gruden said. “Torrian and James Rowe both are. They speak the same language and they focus on technique.”
Head coaches get lampooned for game management flubs but the impact of coaching, particularly at the assistant level, often flies under the radar. The Redskins had to go defense this offseason and, now that those players are in the building, believe they have the teachers, too, to make them effective.
Jones absent from OTAs for second straight week
For the second-straight week of organized team activities, running back Matt Jones was not at Redskins Park.
Jones, left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed were the three notable absences from the optional workouts Wednesday. While Williams and Reed are expected to rejoin the team, it’s unclear if Jones remains in the Redskins plans as he remains away from the team while returning running backs and fourth-round draft pick Samaje Perine practice together. Gruden said he was still anticipating that Jones would return to the team.
“I hope so,” Gruden said. “I expect him to be. He’s on our roster, he’s eating up a spot. We all know that this is voluntary, so there’s really nothing that we can do.
We’d like everybody to be here without a doubt, but at the end of the day, Jordan Reed is in Miami working out, Trent [Williams] is working out in Oklahoma, Matt Jones chose not to be here, so we obviously want people to work together and learn together, bu it is voluntary at the end of the day.”
Jones was the starting running back at the beginning of last season, but lost the job due to fumbling issues and a surging Rob Kelley. Given that the Redskins drafted Perine and like Chris Thompson as a third-down back, Jones wouldn’t be in a great position even if he were with the team.
Washington Redskins safety Will Blackmon fields a play during practice Wednesday. After switching from cornerback last season, Blackmon feels like he’s learning safety fundamentals for the first time under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
Washington Redskins rookie running back Samaje Perine practiced on Wednesday with the returners as Matt Jones missed offseason training activities again.