After ranking 27th last season, it’s safe to say that the Washington Football Team’s defense has room for improvement. It’s also safe to say that head coach Ron Rivera is expecting to see those improvements sooner rather than later.
Rivera has already gone from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense and is looking to see his changes come into fruition at the start of training camp.
Rivera will lean heavily on safety Landon Collins, now in his second year with the Burgundy and Gold, to help get his message across.
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“He’s a guy that can circle the troops. He was very active last year and did a lot of good things for this team. We’re expecting the same thing going forward,” Rivera said after the first day of padded practice. “But we’re also expecting the leadership role from him. He’s been very good about it. You see him working with the young guys on the sideline. You see him buying in, trying to get a good feel and understanding of how we’re trying to do things. As long as he continues to grow, he’s going to be a guy that can truly help us.”
Collins echoes the coach’s statement on this upcoming season.
“He’s expecting a lot and wants us to be the best players we can be and that’s what he’s harping on,” Collins said. “He’s pushing us to the limit, so that’s a good thing for us.”
The three-time Pro Bowler understands what it takes to be a top defense in the league and that starts with talking to each other.
“Like I said, my biggest thing is communication,” Collins said. “I move around a lot. I decide what side I play on the side of the ball. So, just being on the same page as the guy next to me is the biggest key, and knowing what you’ve got to do.”
It’s still early in training camp, so most of the rotations have not been established yet. That gives players like third-year safety Troy Apke an opportunity to prove to the new head coach why he deservesa starting job. Collins has already noticed Apke’s work ethic in getting ahead of the curve.
“He’s picking my brain on my knowledge about how to play different things and playing within the defensive calls and how we’ve got to see things and see different adjustments,” Collins said.
As for what will makes a strong set of defensive backs? Rivera said it’s all about chemistry.
“Like any relationship, if you have the type of relationship where things can go unsaid yet you know what that other person is going to do, that’ll come in time. That’s probably the best thing you love to have, but that’ll come in time,” the head coach said, adding, “You’re looking for great communication, a great combination of leadership between the two of them, and guys that understand and get it that they’re working with the rest of the defensive unit.”