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Ron Rivera discusses Dwayne Haskins, Trent Williams, Redskins defensive philosophy, and more with Kevin Sheehan

Rivera talk

NFL: Washington Redskins-Head Coach Ron Rivera Press Conference Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera called into the Kevin Sheehan Show yesterday morning and created a few headlines. Most of them stated Rivera confirmed the Redskins were offered a 1st round pick for Trent Williams at the trade deadline last October which he didn't actually say. He also talked in depth about QB Dwayne Haskins Jr., Chase Young, and what he expects from both of them. He talked about his defensive philosophy which started up front in the trenches. He also talked about his relationship with Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith and his chances of becoming the Redskins General Manager. This entire interview was painstakingly transcribed by yours truly.

Kevin Sheehan: How are dealing with the craziness of the last few months?

Ron Rivera: The truth of the matter is Kevin, like everyone else we’re trying to do the social distancing. We’ve pretty much been confined to the house. When the whole lockdown started we were right in the middle of our move, moving the family up from North Carolina. It was pretty hectic because we had the movers coming in, they had to have the facemasks and gloves on. We had to practice social distancing there. It was a little bit of a mess, but once we got settled in, and started getting ready, focusing on the draft, we’ve been real busy with it. So this is really the first time we’ve taken a breath in about 3 weeks.

KS: I can only imagine timing up with the lockdown, the hunkering down with the move at the same time. It must have been chaos there for a while. Obiously concern too, you have all those people coming into your house, and you have to make sure they’re not bringing the virus into the house.

How did the draft work out. We know the players you got, and I want to get to some of them shortly. But how did the process with you and Kyle, and everybody work out?

RR: I thought it worked out very well. You know as I said before, the fortunate thing is I was the first coach hired. I was hired almost immediately in the offseason, and we went to work right away. Put the staff together in a week, week and a half. And we started focusing in on our current team, and focusing on our playbooks. But then once we got into February, we shifted our focus to getting ready for the draft. We had no idea what was going to happen. So our guys were ready to get a jump on those things as well. We went through the Combine, and our guys were well ahead of the curve already. So that was one of the pluses. As we started getting ready, then the lockdown occured. We went into a different way of doing things, using the new technology, using Zoom.

We started having our meetings where Kyle and I would meet with the coordinators and the position coaches, go position by position. Kyle would meet with the scouts, getting their take on the players. Then after each positional meeting, Kyle and I would and we’d talk about what we just got done with. Kyle would arrange the board. Then when we finished that process, then we went back. He and I talked about the board.

Then the weekend before the draft we called out coordinators, we went one coordinator at a time. We went though their side of the ball. We went defense first, offense, then special teams. We finished that on Monday, then Tuesday and Wednesday we did a couple of mock drafts, we went through that process. We were ready for Thursday, and we felt really good going into the draft, and we feel really good now that we’ve completed the process.

KS: Did you get a sense, and there was a lot of discussion heading into the draft that this was going to be a prove it period for Kyle Smith. Did you get a sense that he proved to you that he should be your right hand man as the lead personnel guy in the organization going forward.

RR: I think so. He did a very good job. Going back and looking at the last previous 3 drafts. The thing that I found really good, one thing that did really catch my attention, and really helped influence my decision. The young guys drafted in the last 3 years, some of the personnel moves made in the last 3 years, really pointed to a group of young players getting an opportunity to really develop. That’s probably the biggest thing, first of all to see if you’ve had success in the draft, because that does really impact your salary cap. When you can develop your own, and keep your own, you’re ahead. That’s one of the things I thought was really a huge positive was seeing the players they’d taken previously. So I was pretty excited about this group. Again seeing what we did, seeing how he handled things, watching him do his thing was solid. He’s got a good group of guys working with him. They did some really positive things. We’ll sit down, we’ll discuss everything. I really did like his approach, and I liked the wasy he handled it.

KS: There’s been some discussion about him potentially getting a GM title, are you ready to give him a GM title?

RR: Well that’s not really up to me, that’s something that Mr. Snyder and I will talk about and he has the ultimate say in the organization if it comes down to things like this. He’s done a great job for us, I know we’re very pleased. He’s a young guy that’s developing and growing. He’s done a great job so going forward that will be a thing that we’ll sit down, we’ll talk about, we’ll discuss. He’s a very talented young person who’s growing and learning and we’ll see. Again that’s a little bit above me.

KS: You’ve mentioned several times about the culture here. All of us that have been watching here know that a culture change has been needed. The owner said it the day he introduced you. How do you do it? How do you change a culture like the one you inherited?

RR: I think the biggest thing, first of all, is you come in and you just don’t start getting rid of people. You watch and you listen and you just look and you see things and kind of try to figure it out as you go about it. When I got to Carolina almost 10 seasons ago, that’s the first thing that I did. I kind of looked around and listened, let people do their thing. People will tell you, inadvertantly, they’re going to say something that you’re going to say, “Wow, this person deserves to be here, wow, you what, it’s time to make a move and it’s move forward”

And then when it comes to down to the players, you’ve got see that these are the players that want to be here, first and foremost. You’ve got to have guys that want to be part of what you’re trying to do. You’ve got to sit down and go through the evaluation process. Then as you get a chance to meet them and spend time with them, you can find out if a guy truly, truly wants to be here. If they don’t then it’s time to change, it’s time to move on and go forward.

It’s an interesting thing because I’ve been fortunate, being in North Carolina we have a lot of military. I know we have a lot of military up here in D.C. which is exciting for me. And then talking with some of the soldiers, you come to find that the military believes that it takes 3-5 years to change a culture.

The biggest thing you have to do when you come out is you have to make sure everybody understands and everybody believes in your vision, the same vision. It can’t be somebody over here believes this and somebody over there. Everybody has to believe in the same tings. So when I talk about trying to build a sustainable winning culture, the biggest thing I want to make sure I share with everybody is what the vision is to get to the ultimate goal. And if guys can believe in that, buy into that, be part of it, then I’m excited, I’m fired up, and I want them to be around.

KS: It’s really interesting to hear you say that, the military thing, and the 3-5 years. When you got to Carolina, you inherited a 2-14 team. Now that team had had some success in years previous. They’d gone to a Super Bowl earlier in that decade, but you inherited a 2-14 team. You had the first pick in the draft ad you drafted Cam Newton and you turned that thing around pretty quickly.

That leads me to the quarterback situation, because fans have this conversation all the time, and when you draft a quarterback like the Redskins did in the first half of the 1st round there are expectations for him to become a franchise quarterback, you know the starting quarterback of the franchise for a long period of time. Is that how you see Dwayne Haskins Jr.

RR: Well I do see coming into this situation right now finding out about Dwayne. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far in my conversations with Dwayne is he wants to. Ok now we’ve got to go ahead and put it to work and apply all the things that we’ve done in the past and put it to work.

That’s what’s exciting about having Scott Turner as our offensive coordinator. Scott was part of a group that when went into Carolina, we had a plan on how to develop Cam Newton. So when I sat down with Scott and interviewed him and talked to him, we talked about that plan. That very idea of taking a young guy and trying to develop him. We pretty much had the blueprint, because we did it with Cam Newton.

Then I sat down with Kenny Zampese, our quarterback coach who’s got a pretty good background with young quarterbacks as well. Most notably he was with Baker Mayfield, during his rookie year in Cleveland. And so we talked about the plan that they used, and we kind of looked at it and said we can take these sets of ideas and kind of put them together and put them to work with Dwayne to see how it goes.

We brought Kyle Allen in, a guy that was a part of what we’ve done in the past. A solid young man, a good person, a guy that will be good for that room as well to help and help us develop and compete. And help push Dwayne quite honestly. I think that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to challenge each other, you’ve got to push each other. Nothing’s given, everything’s going to be earned.

That’s one of our motto’s going into this year, “Earn the right” And that’s one of the things we will most certainly harp on with our players. They’ve got to earn the right to be part of what we’re trying to do.

KS: When you watched his games last year, and you coached one against him. I loved when you mentioned the Detroit game a month ago, he competed and delivered in clutch time. He didn’t have a great game statistically, but with the game on the line, he delivered

RR: As I was going through it and watching the tape, I had a nice period of time from the beginning of December, all the way through when I took the job to watch every game he played in. Unfortunately he didn’t play the Dallas game, but I got to watch all those other ones. And the thing that I always went back to was when it was the two minute situations, when it was the hurry up situation, and gotta have it situation. He seemed to show and exhibit a little bit more poise, and things seemed to slow down.

I’m not sure if it was because the way the plays were being called during those two minute stints, or was it because everything just seems to come back to him? I thought they did a nice job trying to gameplan and use his strengths. I liked how they developed the route combinations that he read through. His reads seemed to be very good. His delivery seemed to be good during those periods and that’s what I got excited about.

But the thing that did sell me on it was the Detroit game, because honestly it really did remind me of Cam Newton. One of the things we always said was that when things got frenetic, when things happen very quickly, and had to happen, he seemed to really be most comfortable. What I saw in Dwayne, was I saw he had a level of comfort during that. That gives me some optimism going forward.

KS: I loved watching your teams, and this is the first chance we’ve had to talk. I always thought your teams were smart, and tough. I’ll never forget that playoff game, your last playoff game, the one in New Orleans when you guys were a Wild Card team and you were down a bunch and all of a sudden. You just described it, you put it all on Cam. He got hot and you nearly won the game in the Super Dome there at the end. You lost by 5, and I forget what happened at the end but he got you back into it.

That’s sort of what some of us have seen in Dwayne, there’s this competitive urgency in those situations that’s hard to teach, it’s innate isn’t it?

RR: I think it is, and I think it goes back to the level of competition he played all the way from high school, through college to here. He’s always been that guy that’s always been on a good football team. He’s always been the quarterback on a really good football team.

He’s got certain attributes that you’re looking for in a guy. Now at this level though, there’s got to be a little bit more, there’s got to be a little bit of that it factor. And that he has, and that’s the thing we have to draw out of him. That’s something he has to show more of is that it factor, and it’s not that it factor where you’re distracted by all the things off the field. It’s the it factor where when I walk into the room everyone knows I’m there. When I start taking my steps going forward, I got guys behind me. That’s the thing that we have to have.

With Cam Newton in the building, when he took a step, they were behind him. When he was on the field they were behind him. When they were charging forward, they were right behind him. That’s what we want to get from Dwayne, that’s what we want from our quarterback, that’s what we want to get from our middle linebacker. We want guys, that when we start going forward, everyone gets in line.

I was very fortunate in Carolina that you get a Cam Newton, you get a Luke Keuchly. Those guys had it, that’s what we’re trying to find with Dwayne, that’s what we’re trying to find with Jon going forward, that these guys are going to be guys that people will get behind, they’ll fall in line and they’ll go forward.

KS: Was it important to the owner when you and Dan started to have conversations in November about this job, that Dwayne be given the chance to be the franchise quarterback?

RR: No, what he told me was evaluate the roster and go from there. He has put nothing on me to keep anybody, bring people up. What he did was put it on me to evaluate, and I had time, and we didn’t start until December. When we were in December, he and I talked, and he asked me, he evaluated the roster, and he said tell me what you think. So I broke down every player that I had a list that was on tape. I broke those players down, I wrote a report on everybody, and that was one of the things that he and I went through piece by piece.

We talked about the players, and the thing I told him was that I was really impressed was the way he handled the two times the team had to score in the 4th quarter. He drove them down, they kicked the field goal to tie. Drove them down, kicked the field goal to win. In each one of those situations he did something where he kept the play alive, whether it was he moved in the pocket, found the receiver downfield for the first down. The other time he moved in the pocket, had to scramble, had to scramble, took a big shot, got up, did the first down thing, got back in the huddle, went down to score and kick the game winner.

That’s one of the things that sold me on giving this young man an opportunity to develop. Nothing was pushed on me, that’s one thing I want everybody to understand. It was an opportunity for me to come in and evaluate and decide.

KS: You were mentioning the Philadelphia game too where he made one play after another with the game on the line. They didn’t win that game, but it wasn’t from a lack of him making some plays down the stretch.

Let’s get to some of the new guys. You’ve played with, and you’ve coached, great defensive talents. I mean you played with Richard Dent, one of the all-times, you’ve coached some great ones. How does Chase Young compare talent-wise?

RR: Well talent-wise, he’s got a tremendous talent skill-set. As an athlete, he’s off the charts. That’s one of the things that really, truly impressed us, where he is as an athlete. He’s built to play the position. What he showed in college is exactly what you’re looking for, and that’s why we drafted him #2. He’s got the right demeanor, he’s got the right personality.

Now it’s a matter of us developing him, and bringing it out of him, the rest of his game. So that when he gets into the NFL, when he starts playing for us, he’s that guy that we believe he can be. He’s going to make that kind of impact for our defense, for the guys around him, for the guys that are playing behind him. That’s what you want, is that kind of person.

KS: You mentioned earlier, you’ve mentioned in the past, one of the things that was attractive about the job was the job they’ve done in the draft recently with some of their young players. When you look at that front four possibility, what do you think?

RR: I’m pretty excited about it. It’s interesting because everywhere I’ve been things have started with the front, they really have. When I was in Carolina, when we got the defensive front set, we felt really good about that, we really did. I was in San Diego prior to that, they had the front up there, they had guys that could get after the quarterback. We finished my last year there as the #1 defense. Go to Chicago, and we draft back to back tackles, and next thing you know our front is solidified. We go to the Super Bowl there. I’m in Philadelphia with Andy Reid and Jim Johnson and we put together a heck of a defensive front.

Everything emanates from the trenches, and defensively, when you look at what they’ve done, when you look at the people that were drafted in the 1st round with Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. These are guys that are stout, imposing, physical guys, then you couple them with guys that played really tough football like Matt Ioannidis and you just think, God, we’ve got players. Tim Settle comes in and is just part of that rotation. Now you’ve got Montez Sweat coming off the end, and you’ve got the cagey veteran Ryan Anderson and Ryan Kerrigan. These guys, you couple that with a young guy like Chase.

We’re excited about that group, and you think if that group can play to their ability, it’s going to help the linebackers, it’s going to help the secondary, and we’re now better as a defense. Doing the things they’ve done in the last three drafts, plus coupled with this previous draft being able to draft Chase, and being able to draft a player like James Smith-Williams out of NC State as a guy that we can help develop, and become part of what we do. Our front’s going to be solid for a while.

KS: You know I’m sensing from you, that you believe even in this day and age even with RPO and everything else, that with a great pass defense starts with a great pass rush.

RR: Well absolutely. What’s interesting, a couple of years ago, watching in the playoffs, and watching a couple of things that Bill Belichick was doing. You know, I think the attitude of attacking an athletic quarterback with athletic players is a thing that you have to do. The days of the 290 lb defensive end that’s just a stout physical guy that holds the point. That’s no longer true. Those guys have to active, they have to be attack guys.

Your 3 technique truly has to be the guy that’s going to get vertical, that’s going to get into the pass rush lane, and put pressure on the quarterback, you get him off his mark. Your nose tackle has to be a space eater, that eats the space beyond the line of scrimmage.

Those are the kind of guys you need on the field. Then of course your right defensive end has to be a dynamic pass rusher that’s going to get the quarterback to step up into that rush. Just looking at the guys, the potential is there. We’ve got to coach them and get it out of them.

KS: Is Antonio Gibson a running back, a wide receiver, and H-Back? How do you envision him being used?

RR: What was the playcall? I think that’s going to be the key to it is how Scott Turner and the coaches want to use him based on creating matchups that we can take advantage of. Creating situations for the receivers around him, or the tight end, or the running back. That’s how we’re going to use him. We interviewed him, but we didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with him. The coaches facetimed him, or zoomed in on him, had a chance to meet him, had a chance to speak with him at the Combine. Just from that, we got that this is a very dynamic football player.

He had a stat that 1 in every 9 touches led to a score his last year in college. This is a guy that we’ve got to find ways to utilize him, whether we put the ball in his hands, or use him as a decoy. This is a young man that can help impact our offense.

KS: Speaking of offense, are you going to add another left tackle before training camp? Is it possible the starting left tackle next year isn’t on the roster yet?

RR: Potentially. There’s a couple guys out there that we’ve talked about, but we do like the young guys that we’ve added. We think we’ve got some guys that can come in and compete and we’ll find out. We’re just starting, with Geron Christian Sr., a guy that we want to see what he’s all about. Cornelius Lucas is a guy we went and brought in just to have and compete. Timmon Paris is another guy that we really think can come in and help out.

But a guy that we find very intriguing, and we feel fortunate we could get him in the 4th round where we took him at 108 he was a value pick at that point for us, is Saahdiq Charles from LSU. Here’s a guy that payed high level football at LSU. He had a situation, one time, and he paid the price, and we’re believing he learned his lesson with our support team. With Malcolm Blacken, and Doug Williams as guys that are in our player development program now. We feel we can help this young man, and guide him in the right direction and get him to play some top notch football and be the kind of young man we believe he can be.

KS: Are you concerned with this truly unique world situation we’re in, but as it relates to your sport, the potential for limited work time to get ready for a season that you’re not going to be able to evaluate a guy as you’ve been able to in the past? How are you planning for that?

RR: We went through this my first time I was a head coach in 2011. It was the lockout. The difference is at least now, we get an opportunity to have virtual meetings. Back then we had no meetings, but the difference was back then at least we got to travel during the predraft to meet with the players and watch their workouts. That’s one of the differences, but I feel that we’ll be ready because when we do get the opportunity to start up again, whether it’s in the next month, or it’s not until July or August, is that we as coaches will be ready. We’ll do the best we can at that time, we’ll try to evaluate it as best we can. And again, we’re just getting started. We’ve been through this before.

Jack and I talked about this the other day, the big thing is you just have to be prepared, you have to be ready. Jack went through it too as a head coach in this league. It’s a matter of you being prepared, you’re ready, so when you players get there, they have confidence that you’ve done everything you can to try to put them in a position to have success.

KS: Why was it so hard to trade someone of Trent Williams’ caliber?

RR: Because it was really about value. We had set what we thought was the right kind of value for who he is as a football player. He’s a dynamic left tackle that’s got good years left. And some of the teams we talked to knew that, but we weren’t going to give him away in a yard sale. He was a guy that we just felt that we deserved more and we held out for the right deal. We had a couple that fell through, there was a little too much give that we felt on our part to move him because of his value. And again he’s a quality football player.

When it was time to make that move, when it was time to move on and make sure we got something worth it. You don’t just give away good players, that’s just the way it is. No matter what the situation is or the circumstances, or how contentious they got, we were going to stick true to what we believed. We tried and we tried, and we waited and we were going to be patient. And that much we did, and when it was time to pull the trigger and make the move and send him on his way, we were able to do that.

KS: Without the context though Ron, what would he have been worth? I mean this is a 7 time Pro Bowler. Without all of the baggage, and the year long confrontation, and all of the other stuff, what would he have been worth?

RR: Well I know this much, there was an opportunity, from what I was told, that last year just before the trade deadline, he was worth a first round pick. But for whatever reason a deal was never done.

Because he didn’t play for the year, somehow that number changed. He’s still that kind of player, he still has that skillset, and he’s a guy that’s going to go to San Francisco, and should play well for them. He’s a guy that we moved from, looking forward to the guys that we have on our squad.

A group of young guys that are going to compete against each other, and the best guy’s going to play for us. It’s just that simple. We’re going to play the best guy’s that are going to help us win.