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Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Jay Gruden squashes perception that Alabama defenders don't produce in NFL

Alabama dominates college football in a way few teams ever have. In the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide has lost just two games, winning one national title and narrowly missing a second.

The strength of 'Bama, year after year, is their defense. Nick Saban coaches it, Nick Saban knows it, and Nick Saban demands the best from his players. 

Oddly, however, a few recent Alabama defenders drafted to the NFL have not produced. Or at least their production did not match their draft status. 

It's not too hard to pick names that fit that perception. Rolando McClain. Terrence Cody. Dre Kirkpatrick. And at running back, Trent Richardson didn't help.

Still, the Redskins invested heavily in the Tide during the 2017 draft. Their top two picks played for Saban's defense last year, and Washington coach Jay Gruden does not buy any part of the perception that 'Bama products regress in the NFL.

"I don’t see any negative whatsoever with them going to Alabama," Gruden said late Friday night.

The 'Skins selected Jonathan Allen in the first round and Ryan Anderson in the second. Both guys started on the Tide's front seven, and both players dominated.

"They come there and they are well coached. Anytime you watch college football, and you watch other defenses, no disrespect, and then you flip on an Alabama game, it’s different," Gruden said. "The speed is different. They are well-coached, they are in their gaps, they play hard, they play physical, and that’s from Week 1 until the end. That has to appeal to you as a coach. They are using their hands, they are physical, they are chasing the ball, they are running to the ball."

The perception, right or wrong, has two main positions. The first is that the Alabama defense looks so good because it is full of five-star recruits. When everyone is good, or great, on the college level, it's hard to truly judge any singular player's game tape. The second is that Saban is so exhausting, so demanding of his players, they arrive to the NFL with too many reps.

For those around the NFL, both theories are laughable. Pro scouts know game tape. How else can they judge a future first rounder when he matches up against a walk-on? And for every alleged 'Bama bust, think about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Landon Collins or C.J. Mosley or Dont'a Hightower. 

Might some Tide players get overdrafted because of their success and high profile? That's a different conversation. What's certain is the Redskins are quite confident in both of their Alabama draft picks.

"We know they are both highly intelligent guys. They understand football, understand X’s and O’s and they both play very hard with a high motor and they are well-coached."

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Kyle Allen was 'surprised' by trade to Redskins but thrilled to reunite with Ron Rivera

Kyle Allen was 'surprised' by trade to Redskins but thrilled to reunite with Ron Rivera

Kyle Allen was in his car on Monday, driving home from a workout when his phone started to ring.

The 24-year-old quarterback answered, and just moments later, found out he had been traded from the Carolina Panthers to the Washington Redskins. Allen, who started 12 games for Carolina a season ago, was not expecting the move at all, despite seeing the Panthers sign quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and P.J. Walker in free agency.

"It's a shock. I wasn't expecting it," Allen told Redskins Nation. "I signed a contract with Carolina two weeks ago. But I know contracts don't really mean anything."

Over the 24 hours that followed after the trade, Allen started to process it all. He quickly realized how much sense the move made, and the situation he would be walking into in Redskins Park was something he was plenty familiar with.

Allen reunited with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who were both in Carolina the past two seasons. With the NFL offseason full of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, Allen has a ton of familiarity with Turner's offensive system. Although Rivera told a radio interview on Wednesday that the team plans to enter training camp with second-year passer Dwayne Haskins as the starter, Allen was brought in to compete with him, too.

"I got to think about it a lot the past 24 hours, and I'm excited to be back with coach Rivera and coach Turner," Allen said.  "The more I sat down and thought about it after the call, the more it makes complete sense. I think the continuity of the system, being with them before, the coaches, the need for that spot on the team, I think it's perfect. The more I think about it, the more I get excited about it."

The third-year passer has had plenty of twists and turns during his football career. As a true freshman at Texas A&M, Allen started 10 games for the school. But as a sophomore, the passer was forced to split time with another talented quarterback, current Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Allen transferred to Houston following the 2015 season (Murray would transfer as well), and was forced to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Allen started just four games for Houston in 2017 before being benched. Unhappy with his situation, Allen forewent his final year of eligibility and declared for the 2018 Draft.

Unsurprisingly, Allen went undrafted. But it was Rivera who gave him a chance to compete, bringing him into Carolina as an undrafted free agent. After injuries to both Cam Newton and Taylor Heinicke, Allen made his first career start in December of 2018, leading the Panthers to victory. After another Newton injury early last season, Allen emerged as the team's starter. Just a year and a half after going undrafted, Allen started 12 games for Rivera's club.

Once again back with Rivera, Allen could not be happier.

"It's awesome. It's incredible to play for Ron Rivera," Allen said. "I've told a lot of people, he's my favorite head coach I've ever played for, and I've played for my fair share."

Allen then went into detail about his respect for the Redskins head coach, and how Rivera gave him an opportunity when no one else did.

"He's always there for you. He's a player's coach," Allen said. "Wins or losses, he was always at my locker after the game, talking me through it, helping me through it. He always had that confidence in me, he always believed in me, and he gave me such a great opportunity. I was undrafted two years ago, and he saw something in me. Even after they cut me, he brought me back and gave me the opportunity to make a name for myself. Can't ask for anything more from him, he's been an incredible coach every time I've been with him."

Coincidentally, Allen's final game working with Rivera was against the Redskins, a Washington victory this past December. Rivera was let go by Carolina two days later. Now, they're back together.

"I'm not too fond of that memory, to be honest with you," Allen joked. "I'm glad I'm on the other side now."

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Rewatching 'All Or Nothing': Young Redskins will get their chances under Ron Rivera

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Amazon Prime

Rewatching 'All Or Nothing': Young Redskins will get their chances under Ron Rivera

Pete Hailey is rewatching Amazon's All Or Nothing, a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Panthers, to learn about Ron Rivera and other key people who are now a part of the Redskins. Here's his review of episode four, "Look Good Play, Good."

After he was fired by the Panthers and before he decided to take over the Redskins, Ron Rivera studied a handful of Washington games to evaluate the team's roster. While doing so, one aspect jumped out at him in particular.

"For the most part, the way they play, the way they fought, some of these young guys didn’t know any better," the coach explained during his first presser back in January. "They showed up and they played hard. That was impressive to me."

Rivera has since reiterated that the Burgundy and Gold's collection of young and hungry talent was a key reason he chose to land with the Redskins. When you check out their depth chart, it's easy to see what he means.

Currently, the following players are all between 22 and 26 years old: Dwayne Haskins, Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Tim Settle, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon, Cole Holcomb, Montez Sweat, Terry McLaurin, Jonathan Allen, Fabian Moreau, Ryan Anderson, Landon Collins, Matt Ioannidis and Chase Roullier. 

Every name on that list figures to factor in to whether Rivera is able to right the Redskins. They better be prepared for that effort, too, because he's likely going to lean on them often, even through their mistakes. 

In episode four of Amazon's 2018 All Or Nothing show, which followed Rivera's Panthers, DJ Moore has a very forgettable afternoon (ironically, in a game at FedEx Field). The then-rookie fumbles twice, once on a punt and once after a catch, and those turnovers lead to 10 points for the hosts. In the end, Carolina falls to Washington, 23-17. 

Afterward, a reporter asked Rivera how he balances showing a struggling, unseasoned pro he's still on his side versus punishing that pro when he continues to slip up.

"This is all about building confidence," he answered. "DJ is going to be a part of what we do for a long time and we’ll stick with him."

It was a simple answer and one that hinted at a simple philosophy: If you're suiting up for Rivera, he's going to trust you to contribute and also stand by you if those contributions don't come right away, because he knows that could make the difference in the long-term future.

That should most excite those who want to see Dwayne Haskins succeed. A quarterback with little NFL experience such as Haskins is going to have days where the interceptions stack up and the yards don't. It sounds like Rivera will ride out those days in order to see the ones where Haskins breaks out.

It's a mindset that'll apply everywhere else, too. Whatever draft picks the Redskins end up with in April, some of the free agents he's already acquired and the rest of the 26-and-under group outlined above should be in line for lots of snaps and lots of chances to grow. The goal is that the majority of them will improve in that action and form the core Rivera so badly wants.

Of course, even a leader with as much time as Rivera has to correct a franchise will run out of patience. Plus, he's made a point to keep veterans like Adrian Peterson and bring in others like Thomas Davis to ensure there's a crew of established options to call on in 2020 — a season he'd no doubt like to end with a trip to the playoffs.

But realistically, the Redskins will enter 2020 coming off of a 3-13 campaign, meaning expectations should be modest at best. One thing fans can expect, though? Seeing young Redskins on the field in main roles every weekend.

Look for Rivera to prioritize building their confidence immediately in hopes of building a winner eventually. Year 1 could be a slog because of that, but the years that follow could very much be worth it.

Links to past reviews:

Episode 1: Rivera doesn't flinch after adversity hits

Episode 2: Rivera shows his feelings on distractions

Episode 3: Special teams truly mean something to Ron