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Mike Florio: Ron Rivera was pressured to ‘champion’ Washington name change

Mike Florio: Ron Rivera was pressured to ‘champion’ Washington name change

When Dan Snyder introduced Ron Rivera as Washington’s new head coach in January, he promised that there would be a new structure of hierarchy within the organization. No longer would a general manager, team president or even Snyder himself wield the most power. Instead, the team would conform to a coach-centric approach with Rivera at the helm.

Six months in, the team still has yet to play a football game. But Rivera’s presence has still been felt, with no indication stronger than Monday’s announcement that not only is the team retiring the name Redskins but the effort to come up with a new one will be led by none other than Snyder and Rivera.

For an organization that’s been around since 1932, the sudden transfer of power for a decision that will have a lasting impact for decades—if not more—to a head coach who hasn’t even held a training camp with the team is at the very least unusual.

RELATED: HOW RON RIVERA QUICKLY MOVED ON AFTER PANTHERS’ FIRING TO COACH WASHINGTON

ProFootballTalk analyst Mike Florio sat down with NBC Sports Washington’s Redskins Talk podcast crew after the team’s announcement Monday and indicated that this was a move Rivera has been pushed to get involved in since he started in D.C.

“Before the critical mass was reached, I know that there were people from outside the organization who were directly trying to convince Coach Rivera that this name change needed to happen and he needed to be the one to champion it,” Florio said. “I think he was hesitant. Now, he became less hesitant once the walls started to close in from a sponsorship standpoint.

“But when I saw in the statement that Daniel Snyder and Ron Rivera were the ones coming up with the new name, my reaction was—I didn’t realize Ron Rivera was an expert in branding sports teams. I thought he was an expert in coaching sports teams. It really puts him in an awkward spot.”

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Prior to joining Washington, Rivera spent nine years as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. He made four playoff appearances including a run to Super Bowl 50 but was fired midway through last season after the Panthers went 12-16 over the previous two years.

Though Florio was questioning Rivera’s position rather than the coach himself, he said in the interview that will be included in an upcoming episode of the Redskins Talk podcast he hopes Snyder and Rivera still consult experts when weighing options for the team’s name.

“I just don’t think that the owner of the team and the coach of the team should be at the center of it and I hope that they do have a broader base of expertise that they’re relying upon to come up with a name that will be sustainable,” Florio said.

Regardless of who has the final say, Florio emphasized that the organization has significant weight on its shoulders to pick a name that gets fans excited about the team after years of mediocrity.

“Look, this is a moment to inspire the fanbase,” Florio said. “This is a moment to re-energize the franchise. If you pick the right name here, that’s the thing that can…maybe lay the foundation for the kind of excitement that makes fans feel good about the team again.

“They need something like this to get the fans excited, to get the team to a point where it feels like it’s relevant again in the NFL because that’s one of the truths of the last 20 years. This team has not been relevant very often on Dan Snyder’s watch.”

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Ron Rivera might not say it outright but it sounds like Washington is Dwayne Haskins' team

Ron Rivera might not say it outright but it sounds like Washington is Dwayne Haskins' team

Ron Rivera refuses to name Dwayne Haskins the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team, but listening to the coach's comments about the second-year passer, it sure sounds like it's Haskins job. 

"He’s done a great job of studying, preparing and getting himself ready for this. He’s been great," Rivera said Tuesday morning. "He’s been on the field, doing the things we’ve asked of him. He’s done the extra stuff that he and I talked about in the offseason. He’s done the things that, I think, puts him right there where he needs to be at this junction of where we are in our training, having only been able to do zoom and now only having four days of work on the field."

Much has been made about veteran QB Alex Smith's return from injury. 

Smith's story has been incredible, working his way back from a compound fracture in his leg and 17 surgeries as his body was ravaged by infection. Now Smith is able to work out with trainers at the Washington practice facilities for multiple days without setbacks. It's a remarkable story. 

But there are still major hurdles for Smith to get back on the field, not the least of which is clearing a football physical from the Washington doctors.

"For him, it’s really just a matter of, can he do the movements he needs to do?" Rivera said. "Can he protect himself when he’s on the field more so than anything else?"

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There's another important element to point out and that's the advantage - real or perceived - that Kyle Allen has over Haskins.

Allen started nine games for Rivera and new Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner last season in Carolina, and found some success. The Panthers won Allen's first four starts, and in those games, he threw no interceptions. Conversely, Carolina lost the last six games Allen started and he threw 11 picks in those contests. 

RELATED: RIVERA PLEASANTLY SURPRISED BY ALEX SMITH IN CAMP

Earlier this offseason Rivera suggested that Allen could have a "leg up" on Haskins based on knowledge of Turner's system. Asked on Tuesday if Haskins still trailed in that department, Rivera did not seem concerned. 

"I don’t think Dwayne is very far behind, I really don’t."

Rivera wants open competition across his football team. No player gets named starter, rather that player earns the job. Sure sounds like Haskins is doing just that when it comes to the starting quarterback spot. 

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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