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The origin of Ron Rivera’s appreciation for versatile players

/ by Peter Hailey
Presented By Ourisman Automotive of Virginia
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Ron Rivera's appreciation for versatile players traces back more than a decade and came to be during an AFC West battle between the Chargers and the Raiders. That's how all classic love stories begin, right?

Back then, Rivera was defensive coordinator for San Diego under Norv Turner, and in that contest, their squad's offensive line began to fall apart. According to Rivera, both of the Chargers' guards went down with injury, which forced the team to take a rookie tackle and bump him inside. Fortunately, the first-year blocker handled himself well at the new position and San Diego won.

Afterward, Turner and the rest of the staff learned that the tackle actually had some previous experience at guard, a fact that the coaches weren't aware of. That's when Rivera first realized that such a player could be so useful.

"All of a sudden, the conversation was about position flex and the value of it," Rivera recalled this past weekend in the middle of the 2021 NFL Draft. "Your primary backups at each position cannot just be single slot guys anymore, they have to have position flex."

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The reason Rivera had been asked to explain the roots of his admiration for members of a roster who can line up at multiple places is because, well, he was once again targeting those types of athletes whenever he got the chance to find one in the recent draft.

 

It's how he first went about improving Washington's depth chart a year ago — both in March when it came to signing veterans and in April when it was time to pluck prospects off the board — and it's a theme that carried over into his second offseason in charge, too.

Take a moment and review Rivera's newest haul of college selections. It's not hard to identify the thread that ties so many of them together.

Jamin Davis, the first-round choice, manned all three linebacker spots in Kentucky's defense in 2020. Sam Cosmi, the second-rounder, was Texas' starting right tackle for a campaign and its starting left tackle for two. Benjamin St-Juste is a huge corner who took reps at safety at the Senior Bowl. Darrick Forrest can fill either safety role and is a special teams stud. Camaron Cheeseman is a long snapper and an ascending dentist. 

Fine, the last one doesn't count. But still, it's clear that the trait Rivera initially grew to cherish in San Diego remains critical to him in Washington.

The evidence doesn't just lie with whom he scooped up over the weekend, either.

New Burgundy and Gold pieces like Curtis Samuel and Ereck Flowers will have a kinship with other multi-skilled pros in Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic, Kam Curl, Wes Schweitzer, Cornelius Lucas, Kendall Fuller, Khaleke Hudson, Saahdiq Charles, Darryl Roberts and Keith Ismael. Every single one of those names is a Rivera acquisition, by the way.

In all, that adaptable group helps make Rivera's demanding job just a bit easier. 

"That is what position flex does for you," he said. "It gives you the opportunity to put the best combination of guys out on the field. That has really stuck with me."

And as Rivera continued to reflect on the topic, he drew a connection between it and his own career in the league. 

"When I was a player, I knew all of the linebacking positions, so I was really the first sub that came on the field early in my career because I could play all three of our linebacking positions," he said.

The further Rivera gets into his stint with the Burgundy and Gold, the further the team will truly become his. It's already apparent what kind of locker room he's ultimately aiming to assemble, however, and if you can't bring a slew of capabilities into it, you probably won't make it past the doors.