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Redskins’ Defense Still Working Out Its Identity

Posted Jul 29, 2014

The Washington Redskins’ defensive unit had its ups and downs last season, but after adding some key pieces, it hopes to be more consistent overall in 2014.

Ryan Clark has been a key member of some pretty darn good defenses.

Over the last 10 seasons as a member of the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers, the safety’s teams have had an average finish of fourth in the league in total defense, finishing in the top five seven times and finishing first in the league four of those years.

Clark, 34, re-signed with the Redskins this offseason to help improve Washington’s defense, which, he said, is still figuring out its identity a few days into training camp.

“That’s what we’re working on now,” Clark said this week. “We can’t take days off. You can’t say you need a break, because right now we have to build that chemistry, build that camaraderie until we know what kind of defense we are.”

Clark knows how important that chemistry can be to playing solid, aggressive defense.

From 2004 to 2005, Clark and Sean Taylor formed one of the hardest-hitting safety duos in the league for the Redskins, who finished third and ninth, respectively, in total yards allowed.

Clark signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2006 season, combining with another talented safety in Troy Polamalu to turn Pittsburgh into one of the best defenses in the league year in and year out.

From 2006 to 2012, the Steelers finished in ninth, first, first, fifth, second, first and first in total yards allowed.

Now back with the Redskins in a secondary that includes another hard hitter in safety Brandon Meriweather, Clark said it’s important for the defense to be “predicated on physicality.”

“You want to stop the run first, then you play the pass from there,” he said. “You play the quarterback after you stop the run, so for us, we know it starts up front. I think we have the guys to do it, we have the horses.”

Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield echoed those comments just a day earlier.

“We definitely take that responsibility,” he said. “Pass rushers are what has been talked about, but realistically if you don’t stop to the run, you'll never rush the passer because teams will run the ball down your throat. So we have to focus on that first, being physical, stopping the run and then we'll have fun on the third-and-long.”

Cofield, like Clark, is a veteran leader and perennial team captain that has a championship ring to show off to his teammates. His 2007 New York Giants team defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.

Cofield said for the Redskins defense to make improvements this season, the entire unit needs to work as one. He said he’d be “shocked and disappointed” if the team doesn’t play better this year.

“The negative passing stats, a lot of times, too much blame is put on the secondary,” he said. “We all work together. They give us an extra second of great coverage, we make a sack. We rush the quarterback's decision making process, we tip a ball, even if you hit him afterwards, he remembers those hits.”

No nicknames – for now
Clark, who has crafted a second career as an ESPN football analyst, was asked if he’s started thinking about a possible nickname for the Redskins’ secondary, much like the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom.”

“All of that stuff is cute but I don’t care about that, you know what I mean?” Clark told reporters. “For us, man, we just want to win. If by the end of the season you could say the secondary for the Washington Redskins were winners, I think we’ll take that. That would be the most important thing.”

Speaking of the Seahawks, Clark said Seattle’s secondary is talented because they swarm to the ball – something he knows the Redskins need to improve upon immediately.

“Seattle is good because they have good players, but if you put their film on, they run to the ball,” he said. “They tackle well, and those are all the things that make you good.”

Clark, Meriweather and veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall have been relaying this message to the younger members of the Redskins’ secondary.

“They’re nice kids, they want to learn, they work hard,” Clark said. “For me, it’s just about seeing them do the things they can control. You can control how hard you practice, you can control how much you study, and you can control how much you respect the people who are ahead of you, whether it be the coaches, whether it be the older guys. And our room does an amazing job of that.”

Clark has seemingly been given the nearly-impossible task of replacing the leadership void left by legendary Redskins linebacker London Fletcher’s retirement. He said his presence, alone, isn’t going to fill in that hole; rather, it’ll take the entire unit buying in to what every veteran is selling to make it work.

“I get talked to a lot about leadership,” Clark said. “I’m just old. I’m not like, ‘Hey, you have got to do it this way,’ or ‘You’ve got to do it that way.’ I think that falls on guys after you’ve played for such a long time, but for me, we’re all the same group. We’re all brothers. We’re all trying to figure out how we can win games. As long as everyone puts their hand in the pile to do that, there’s never any frustration.”

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