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Ron Rivera believes the defensive line has overcome his maturity concerns

Ron Rivera believes maturity was a major culprit behind the defensive line issues in 2021. But this year, their maturity has improved in his eyes, and it may provide dividends for Washington.

Washington Commanders Off-Season Workout Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Ron Rivera could have taken several approaches to address depth at the defensive line over the past couple off-seasons. In 2021, the Commanders unexpectedly lost young defensive stars Montez Sweat and Chase Young for an extended period on separate occasions throughout the year. Young and Sweat's backups were primarily Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams, both of whom were in their 2nd NFL season and have had even less playing experience than Chase Young. Rivera's approach to back up Young and Sweat was with young and inexperienced players. Acquiring a veteran or two never appeared to be on his radar, and it also appears that he is content with that decision.

Rivera choosing youth and inexperience at the team's strongest position also comes with expected bumps in the road. "I think probably just consistency of what we were doing," Rivera said on Thursday about what was missing from the defensive line last year. "You know, it is one of those things too, and we can't forget that coverage and rush all go hand in hand. If one element of it is really being successful, it'll help the other, the other."

As Rivera began with consistency, he then identified the roles and traits that Smith-Williams, Toohill, Shaka Toney, William Bradley-King, and Efe Obada bring to this unit.

"James is more of a six technique type player. He's got a good body, good physical style player. He's gonna get a little bit more push, more so than he's gonna get more of the finesse on the outside on the edge. Casey, who gets upfield, physical, try-hard guy that gets upfield use, relies on his initial quickness, and then goes from there. Efe Obada is a very by-the-numbers guy. I mean, he's learned the game. He's still learning the game, but he's got some good natural skill sets that fit well for a pass rusher. He's just gotta learn to continue to develop who he is as a pass rusher. {William] Bradley-King, he's been very interested to watch he's done some really good things. He's got a little bit to him. He's got heavy hands. He does a nice job on the edge. I think he'll win even more if he can get his pad level down. Probably the guy that gives you a little bit of something that's a situational pass rusher is Shakka Tony. He's a guy that's got great anticipation, gets off the ball, has a nice dip, and can lean and make that turn on the edge. He's a guy that's intriguing for us, a guy that we're watching and paying attention to. So, just really like what he's bringing to the table."

Understanding the player's fits in this defense is one thing, but how good are they in their role? That part of the equation is currently unknown, but Rivera is showing support for this unit, and it appears that if they can put all the pieces together, they can be an x-factor for this team. "Yeah, I do because I think they've had to play a lot." Rivera on if he felt the decision to keep the youth of the defensive line paid off.

"If you look at the transition that this roster's gone through in terms of the age, you notice it's a young group of guys, but those guys have played a lot of football already, and so they're learning how to play the game because they've been on the field and exposed to being on the field. As I talked about last year, my big concern last year was just maturity. I think we're where we need to be in the sense of that, now it's just continuing to grow and develop."

Smith-Williams has been the primary defensive end playing with the ones in place of Chase Young and will likely get the nod as the starter until Young is healthy enough to return. After last season, this unit has a lot to prove; Rivera gave public backing for his guys, but who will come through for their coach when the games start?