Not many NFL teams can match the type of defensive play-calling experience the Washington Redskins will have on the sidelines during the 2019 season.
Over a week span in late January, the Redskins first hired Ray Horton -- who spent six seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2017 -- as their defensive backs coach and then picked up Rob Ryan to lead the team's linebackers. The move served as a change of responsibility for Ryan, who spent 2004 to 2015 as the defensive coordinator for four different franchises.
Headlining the defensive staff will once again be Greg Manusky, who is entering his third season as the Redskins' defensive coordinator and has more than a decade of professional coordinating experience. He's already begun working with his fellow defensive gurus to get them up to speed with his defensive philosophy in Washington.
"Everything is going good right now with Rob [Ryan] and Ray [Horton] both in the meeting rooms," Manusky said Wednesday during the High School Coaches Clinic at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park. "We’re just going over schemes and how we kind of run things, so we’re in that process now of kind of breaking us down and doing that."
The addition of Horton and Ryan came shortly after the Redskins reportedly met with defensive coordinator candidates such as Gregg Williams, Todd Bowles and Steve Wilks -- all of whom were fired as head coaches at the end of last season. The conversations took place in early January, but after about two weeks the Redskins decided to keep Manusky in his current role.
Head coach Jay Gruden, speaking at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 28, told reporters that he met with Manusky following the 2018 campaign about needing to "upgrade" the coaching staff and how exhausting their options among available defensive-minded coaches would help the team do so.
The coaching search did not come at the expense of Manusky's job, but it did result in the hiring of Horton and Ryan. And to Gruden, those moves boiled down to one word: experience.
"I just felt somebody that’s been through the fire, called defenses, understands both the front end and the back end I think can be a big benefit for Coach Manusky," Gruden said.
Horton will primarily manage a talented secondary that returns Pro Bowler Josh Norman and welcomes All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins and veteran defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, both of whom the Redskins picked up in free agency.
The linebacker corps should also be formidable, even with the team releasing Zach Brown and Preston Smith signing with the Green Bay Packers. Ryan will work closely with four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan on the outside and Mason Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton in the middle. Plus, outside linebacker Ryan Anderson recently told Redskins.com that he's eager to prove he can "handle the workload" in Smith's absence.
But perhaps the most-promising position group is the young defensive line trio of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis, who should continue to make strides under one-time NFL head coach Jim Tomsula.
It'll then be Manusky's job to ensure these players and coaches understand and execute his overall philosophy.
"I don’t think it's any balancing act," Manusky said of managing coaches with comparable defensive coordinator experience. "It's just trying to get the defensive calls, the defensive signals that we have and try to put it into terms that they’ve used over their career, so that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Asked about the addition of Collins, Manusky gushed about how the three-time Pro Bowler will help his new franchise. He views Collins as a versatile "playmaker" who can drop into coverage just as well as he can stuff the run and blitz off the edge.
And just as Manusky organizes the defense from the sidelines, he has confidence in Collins to become the on-field facilitator in Washington.
"Just overall excited to have him in the building," Manusky said. "It’s a position that hopefully everything works out and puts him in position where he can be a main play-caller and all of a sudden put everyone on the right page on the back end, so I’m excited about it."