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Ron Rivera wants to turn his attention to the defensive side of the ball before training camp

JP Finlay of NBC Sports in Washington tweeted out a great interview with Commanders coach Ron Rivera on Thursday. Finlay talked with the coach after Terry McLaurin’s press conference. While coach Rivera was excited about the Captain’s extension, when asked about the next step organizationally, Ron had some interesting things to say.

Here’s the part I was most interested in:

We’ve got to look at the defensive side. You look at what we have with the defensive line; you look at where we are with tight end, running back, and now the wide receiver position after feeling very good about our quarterback position with Carson, with Taylor and with Sam and Cole, you feel that’s a good young room. It’s the right kind of room.

Now, look at the defense. Look at where we are....linebacker, you know, adding some depth probably. Looking at the defensive backs and feeling good and confident about that group.

So, there is still some work to do. We’re not where we wanna be in terms of that yet.

I mentioned this earlier; I talked about a 3-year plan and how it has to be adjusted each time you do something. Well, bringing Carson in, we had to readjust and reevaluate. Getting Terry done, now we’re gonna readjust and reevaluate, and that 3-year changes, and how you can do things.

There’s a lot of work for us to do between now and the time to get ready to go to training camp.

Rivera’s last line here seems to make it clear that he’s talking about roster additions that will happen during the next 3 weeks (Training Camp is scheduled to begin on July 26th), and not just as part of the ‘3-year plan’ he is referencing.

He clearly mentions adding to the linebacker group — a move that has been anticipated all offseason. There are a number of veteran free agent linebackers who are currently unsigned by any NFL team:

  • Alexander Johnson (Den) 30 y.o.
  • Anthony Barr (Min) 30 y.o.
  • Jamie Collins (NE) 32 y.o.
  • Dont’a Hightower (NE) 32 y.o.
  • Anthony Hitchens (KC) 30 y.o.
  • Malcom Smith (Cle) 33 y.o.
  • Jaylon Smith (NYG) 27 y.o.
  • Kwon Alexander (NO) 28 y.o.
  • Joe Shoebert (Pit) 28 y.o.

KJ Wright is also unsigned, but said recently that he would only consider playing for the Seahawks, and that if they aren’t interested, then he plans to retire.

In short, there is no lack of linebacker talent available, and there seems to be a good chance that the Commanders will be able to identify and sign the one they want.

Rivera’s comments about the defensive backs are a little more ambiguous, but indicate that the coaches and front office are at least having conversations about improving the depth at the defensive secondary positions.

Coach Rivera’s comments about a “3-year plan” are interesting, if only because they seem to have cropped up in his public comments for the first time this week. While Rivera is undoubtedly a strong communicator when it comes to players, he has struggled with his public messaging at times during his tenure in Washington.

Last year, for example, the coach talked about the importance of having a quarterback competition, citing the mistake he’d made the previous offseason when he anointed Dwayne Haskins the starter before seeing him in camp, but then followed up that statement by all but anointing Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter without the benefit of the promised competition. Undoubtedly, the coach felt as if he’d been consistent in his messaging, and that the ‘competition’ was real since he and the coaches evaluated all the QBs side-by-side in camp. But the public perception was, I think, quite different although I don’t think many fans were critical of Rivera for choosing Fitzpatrick over Heinicke and Allen or concerned about the inconsistency of his message.

On the other hand, the Washington front office took a little heat this offseason from the agent for Matt Ioannidis, who said that the team had told him at the Combine that they wouldn’t be trading or releasing his client, but then did exactly that just prior to the start of free agency in March. Coach Rivera and GM Martin Mayhew explained later that the organizational plan changed after the trade for Carson Wentz had been agreed to, necessitating the release of Ioannidis, but the explanation, largely due to its timing, hit a bit of a sour note.

I think that Rivera’s new focus on the rolling and constantly adjusted 3-year plan is a clear attempt to give him a platform for explaining to fans any apparent inconsistencies or directional changes that may come in the future. It’s easy to see how it can be applied:

“Yes, we planned to have a quarterback competition, but that was before we signed Ryan Fitzpatrick; obviously, now that we have him, our plan has been updated.”

“No, we hadn’t planned to release Matt Ioannidis, but after trading for Carson Wentz, our 3-year salary cap plan changed, and we had to change with it. Matt was released because we could no longer afford his contract.”

“We always wanted to address the defensive side of the ball this offseason, but we couldn’t make any contract commitments until we had clarity about our salary cap situation vis-à-vis Terry McLaurin. Now that Terry’s been signed, we understand where we are in our 3-year salary cap plan, and that allowed us to extend Cole Holcomb and sign a veteran free agent.”

All in all, I think this is a gold nugget of a tweet by JP Finlay, who got some really great comments out of Coach Rivera that will probably fly under the radar, but which seem to foreshadow some significant roster news coming out of Asburn between now and July 26th.

I’m excited to see what’s on the near horizon for the Commanders roster.