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Young, Talented Players Attracted Ron Rivera To The Redskins

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In the four weeks between when Ron Rivera was relieved of his duties with the Carolina Panthers and when he was hired as the Redskins' head coach, people often asked him what he was looking for in his next team. Rivera said he would simply reply, "Fit."

Rivera is approaching his second month in Washington, and it looks like he's found that with the Redskins. Owner Dan Snyder told Rivera he wanted a new culture built on a "coach-centered approach", and that has been the theme for the past eight weeks at the team's facility in Ashburn, Virginia.

There was another aspect that attracted Rivera so much to his new team, though. As he and Snyder looked at the roster together, Rivera noticed a crop of young talent he could build around.

"It's an opportunity to have a group of young players that can grow together," Rivera said during his Wednesday press conference at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. "That's one thing I find exciting."

The Redskins have drafted 28 players since 2017, and each draft class has produced impact players on both sides of the ball like Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Dwayne Haskins. They have also found solid rotational players like Ryan Anderson, Troy Apke and Jimmy Moreland.

Twenty-five of them are still on the roster in some capacity and have played an average of 46% of the snaps on offense and defense.

Rivera has spent the last week at the NFL Combine praising Kyle Smith -- one of the people who Rivera retained from the previous regime and was promoted to the vice president of player personnel -- for finding quality players in recent drafts, especially in the past three years. Smith oversaw scouting efforts in the Southeast region, which produced first-round picks Allen and Payne in addition to second-round picks Anderson and Derrius Guice.

"He's a guy that does his due diligence," Rivera said. "He works very hard, extremely hard, and I've been very pleased with it."

One of the things that impressed Rivera the most was the amount of playing time the younger players have had out of necessity. It is well-known that the Redskins have had issues with injuries in recent years. Last year, the team finished the season with 21 players on Injured Reserve.

That provided opportunities for players like offensive guard Wes Martin -- a fourth-round pick in 2019 -- to start in place of Brandon Scherff and Anderson to have an impact in spots while Ryan Kerrigan was out with injury.

The players took their lumps and learned a lot, Rivera said, but he believes "there are young guys in position."

"Last year, this team had three rookie wide receivers who played a tremendous amount in every game," Rivera told Nashville, Tennessee, sports radio station 104.5 The Zone. "They had a rookie outside linebacker [in Cole Holcomb]. They had a rookie outside rush guy [in Montez Sweat] who played a lot. They've got an offensive line that's got a good, solid young core with guys who have played a lot."

Rivera spoke specifically about Holcomb and Sweat in his press conference. When asked about players who can perform in multiple positions, he mentioned Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson and said Holcomb could fit in a similar role.

"He did a little bit of that for the team," he said. "He played out in space a little bit, came back into the box and played as a box linebacker. Those are the kind of guys you want. You want that position flexibility."

As for Sweat -- a player the Redskins traded back into the first round last year to acquire with the 26th overall pick -- Rivera believes "he's got the skill set" to be an impact player. The biggest challenge he and the coaching have is finding a place for him on their new defense, as they're switching the team from the 3-4 front to a 4-3.

"We told the guys that have asked about it that we wanted our D-line to play vertical," Rivera said. "We want to attack vertical. We want to play the run on our way to the quarterback. That's going to be our attitude and philosophy in our front."

On offense, Rivera has already spoken highly of Terry McLaurin, who had one of the best rookie seasons for a wide receiver in franchise history. He led a rookie class that ESPN determined was the most productive in 2019 using Pro Football Focus' wins above replacement metric (PFF WAR).

There's also Haskins, who the team drafted last year with the 15th overall pick. Rivera is not ruling out anything as to who will be the Redskins' starting quarterback in 2020 -- he's already met with top draft prospects Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa -- but he has still touted Haskins' development last year and is pleased with the work he has put in this offseason.

"He's been around," Rivera said. "I mean, he's in the building, he'll pop by, say hello and wave at you, go get his workout in. He's been around a group of guys that do that and he's learning from their example. One of the things that he and I talked about specifically is that he just continues to grow as a young man, as a person."

Rivera told ESPN's Adam Schefter on his podcast in December that he wanted to coach a team that has the opportunity to win. With a young core of players already on the roster, he thinks the Redskins can do that.

"They've learned a lot, and now it's going to be up to us to teach and train these young men as we go forward."

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