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Changing defensive coordinators might help Redskins accomplish long-standing goal: Maximize Josh Norman

Changing defensive coordinators might help Redskins accomplish long-standing goal: Maximize Josh Norman

UPDATE (7:40 PM): The Cleveland Browns are working on a deal to hire Steve Wilks as their defensive coordinator, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

Three seasons of Josh Norman with the Washington Redskins are in the books. 

The results are good, not great and certainly nowhere Norman’s magical 2015 campaign with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers. Zero playoff appearances, no Pro Bowl berths for the cornerback, zippy top 15 team defensive rankings. 

Neither of the team scenarios falls directly on Norman. His status as the highest paid player on the defensive side warrants scrutiny, which is among the reasons why it’s possible he doesn’t return next season.

So does the way the Redskins coaching staff used the $75 million man. 

We all remember the early debates over why Washington passed on having Norman travel with star receivers in coverage even though that’s not how his former team, the Carolina Panthers, deployed him. Other squabbles emerged with Norman’s role under two defensive coordinators, Joe Barry and Greg Manusky, the current holder of that title.

The corner passed on adding to the discussion the day after Washington’s season ended when asked about whether the coaching staff made the most of his abilities.

“I don't break rank. I don't break rank at all. I try to do what I can do to help out the team. I don't impose my will or Bogart a situation. That's just not who I am as a person. If that's something you want to do, then OK, (then so forth). You got me here, you're the coach, and that's what you pay a player to do is to follow in suit,” Norman said.

Now rumors swirl of a DC switch ahead of the 2019 season. If a change occurs, strongly considering the coach who oversaw Norman’s best career season simply makes too much sense. 

Let’s be clear: Nobody is or should suggest hiring Steve Wilks, Norman’s defensive backs coach in Carolina, becomes a magic elixir for a defensive unit that labored over the second half of 2018. 

Wilks joined the ranks of the unemployed when the Cardinals relieved the former Panthers defensive coordinator of his duties after only one season. Arizona finished 3-13. Cardinals team president Michael Bidwell put ample blame on Wilks’ decision to switch schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3. 

One year isn’t enough time for such changes to take root. There were other missteps, including with some assistant hires. Wilks also no longer benefited from the presence of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Be leery of acclaim for coordinators when the head coach comes from the same side of the ball, as was the case in Carolina (Please ignore the Jay Gruden-Sean McVay parallel).

The upside of Wilks in Washington stems from his insider knowledge with Norman. 

"It was just a relationship that we built outside of football," Wilks said of Norman ahead of the Week 1 Redskins-Cardinals game this season. "I was able to relate to him and get him to play at his best on the field."

They both joined Carolina in 2012, Norman’s rookie season. By 2015, Carolina turned into NFC champions and Norman a playmaking Pro Bowler attacking offenses from all angles. That version captivated the NFL and had the Redskins swooning when the Panthers made Norman available the following off-season.

Washington continues waiting for THAT version. Norman finished 2015 with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three tackles for loss and two touchdowns. Over his three years with the Redskins, six interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three tackles for loss and zero touchdowns. 

Don’t get it twisted. Norman holds down his end as Washington’s top corner. There is also a viable financial reason for his possible release, namely saving $21 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons. 

The release of another talkative defensive back, D.J. Swearinger, may lead to Norman staying. For a team already with a lengthy list of needs, creating a major hole at corner would add another concern.

Adding Wilks may boost Norman’s value should he stay. The reunion might help maximize the cornerback’s strengths.

“Try to stay in rank and do the things you're supposed to do, the things you're asked to do. I do what I'm asked to do. But can I do more, of course,” Norman said. “I would like to come off the edge a couple times, be impactful in that sense. But, I do whatever I'm asked to do and do it to the best of my abilities. That's all I can do, you know.”

Manusky remains the defensive coordinator. Who knows if Wilks would want the job if offered considering the swirling chaos at Redskins Park over the final weeks of the 2018 regular season. There’s value in kicking those tires if the Redskins plan to keep Norman. 

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Jonathan Allen wants Jim Tomsula back - but he understands if he puts his family first

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Jonathan Allen wants Jim Tomsula back - but he understands if he puts his family first

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Redskins offseason thus far comes from the lack of change. Bruce Allen, Jay Gruden, Greg Manusky are all coming back. 

One name that is less certain, and is widely loved, is defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. 

For Tomsula, there is no pressure on him to perform better. His work in developing Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle probably ranks as the most impressive on the team. 

"Jim [Tomsula] is definitely my favorite coach I've ever had," Redskins defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said this week. "I don’t really count [University of Alabama] Coach [Nick] Saban because he wasn’t my position coach, but as a position coach, love Jim Tom."

The Alabama product's comments came during a charity even at National Children's Hospital, and they came during an interesting time for the Redskins defense. The organization spoke with a number of highly sought after defensive coordinator candidates in the last few weeks, but stuck with Manusky at the position. The team claimed, through an unnamed source in a Washington Post article, that the meetings were just to gain different perspectives. Interesting. 

Now that Manuksy is back, however, the future for Tomsula becomes one of the biggest questions for the club. 

It sounds like Allen is prepared for any outcome. 

"I don’t know if he will be back. I would love to have him back but he has a family, definitely he’s a big family guy and his family is in Florida," Allen said. "I can completely understand his reasons for not coming back."

Any conversation with Tomsula always centers around family. He's one of the few coaches that remembers reporters' kids' ages and often asks about them. It's a genuine thing for Tomsula, and it's impressive. 

He is also close friends with Manuksy, and the coordinator's return could help in keeping the fiery D-line coach. If Tomsula does leave Ashburn, he's already made a significant impact for players like Allen.

"Regardless what happens I wish him nothing but the best and I’m just glad I got to spend two years with him."

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Would pursuing Antonio Brown be worth it for the Redskins considering their QB situation?

Would pursuing Antonio Brown be worth it for the Redskins considering their QB situation?

The Redskins need a stud wide receiver. Badly.

Antonio Brown is a stud wide receiver. Undoubtedly.

So, Washington should pick up the phone, call Pittsburgh and figure out a way to work out a trade for Brown, right? 

It's not that easy.

There are plenty of obstacles between Brown becoming a member of the Redskins, as Washington would have to clear out quite a bit of salary to make room for him and also weigh whether he'll fit into their locker room.

Another thing worth considering, too: What's the point of acquiring Antonio Brown without a QB to maximize his talents?

There are serious questions about whether Alex Smith will play next season, or ever again. That means, barring a drastic move, the Redskins will go into 2019 with someone like Colt McCoy or an unproven youngster starting under center.

Sure, you could argue that Brown would make that passer's life a lot easier. He would, to an extent. But ask someone like Odell Beckham or Larry Fitzgerald what life is like on the outside, even as an elite talent, when the guy getting you the ball isn't properly equipped to do so.

Brown is one of the best pass catchers of his generation and will likely end up as one of the best of any era. Whatever offense he's lining up for next season will be better thanks to his presence.

However, this is a guy who's grown frustrated in a franchise that's made the postseason four of the past five years and is unhappy in a place where he's paired with a top-tier signal-caller. 

The Redskins, on the other hand, have neither the track record of success or a settled situation at QB, so it's fair to be very skeptical of how he'd handle a move to D.C.

Now, for this organization to break out of football's middle class, an area they're stuck in, going after a star and taking a risk is absolutely worth trying.

Unfortunately, the quarterback depth chart will affect every potential move. And when that potential move involves heavily investing in a premier wideout, the quarterback depth chart should probably dissuade anyone from ultimately making that move.   

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