From 2002-2017, Jack Del Rio served as a head coach for 12 years and a defensive coordinator for the other four. Those NFL jobs took him from Carolina to Jacksonville to Denver and, finally, to Oakland in that span.
The 57-year-old has clearly moved around quite a bit, as well as seen his role change a few times, since the early 2000s. But one thing that's been pretty consistent for Del Rio, no matter his location, is that his defenses are reliable — and sometimes, they're very imposing.
That's especially true when you look at his work as a defensive coordinator, which is the title he now holds with the Redskins. In his four previous campaigns specifically overseeing that side of the ball (with the Panthers in 2002 and the Broncos from 2012-2014), the coach saw his units finish 2nd, 2nd, 19th and 3rd in yards allowed and 5th, 4th, 22nd and 16th in points allowed.
For comparison's sake, the last time Washington ended in the top-10 of either category was in 2009, when they were 10th in yards. Since then, they've been stuck in the bottom half of the league in both stats, and often times, they can be found hanging out at the very bottom half.
So, what has been the key to Del Rio's groups through the years, especially the ones he heads up on his own? During a Thursday Zoom call with the local media, he detailed the qualities a defense must have to succeed.
"I think you have to be tough," Del Rio began. "And I think the toughness part is not just physical. A large part of that is mental. That's where we're gonna see a lot of growth."
In professional football, explosive strikes are going to happen. Look no further than the Burgundy and Gold's 2019 defense for proof of that.
According to Del Rio, though, being able to "bounce back" from a devastating sequence, and not allowing it to lead to another one, is hugely important. That's a trait he has valued throughout his time on the sidelines, regardless of the year or the personnel he has.
"Don't get discouraged," he said. "If there's a big play, you recognize there are talented people in the NFL, they're going to make some plays from time to time. You've got to be able to keep going and go to the next play."
Now, as valuable of an intangible as that is to possess, Del Rio would clearly prefer it if his guys simply prevented those kinds of highlights in the first place. So, how is that accomplished?
He identified two very simple teaching points.
"It really comes down to leverage and tackling," Del Rio said. "Those are some fundamentals that I believe in that we will be getting in to."
To wrap up his thoughts on the topic, Del Rio described how he goes about building his scheme in the first place. That's the stage he's currently in right now, as he's closely evaluating Redskins new and old because, well, they're all new to him.
That process must be "involved" and "collaborative" as he put it, and if it doesn't take into account what those around him are familiar with and strongest in, the whole operation is a failure before it begins.
"What I've tried to do, wherever I've gone, is take a look at what they've been exposed to and what experiences does the staff have?" Del Rio said. "And then we come up with what we are."
Now, what the Redskins ultimately are on defense under Del Rio won't be known for quite a while. But thanks to his remarks on Thursday, an outline of what he'll be looking to build is now available.
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