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Interview: Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera

ASHBURN, VA -- August 28, 2020 Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera speaks to the media after practice on Friday morning.

On if he expects the defense to start the season out slower than the offense:

“I don’t know if I necessarily would, just because again, a lot just depends on the familiarity that the players have with each other. The thing that’s different this year than last time, too, was in 2011 we had no contact with our guys. This time we had the opportunity to do Zoom meetings. There’s potential, I think, for the defense to pick some things up. It’s tough to tell because some days you watch us out here practice and the defense is all over the place, but like today you could give the edge to the offense. I don’t know if I can necessarily agree with that, though.”

On if he is concerned about tackling after the shortened offseason:

“Yeah, that’s one of the things I am concerned with. I think [there’s] going to be a little bit of concern because you want to simulate as much as you can, and not everybody’s going to get the right amount of tackles in practice to get yourself ready. You try to create as much of an opportunity to be similar to it without getting anybody hurt. So, that’s another concern as we continue to go through this.”

On how the players responded to practice after a day off of reflection:

“I thought they responded well. I still kind of felt some of the guys were a little distant, but it’s natural. This is a very deep issue going on right now, and I think sometimes it will catch some of these young guys’ attention. But for the most part, I thought the guys handled practice well. I thought we sped up some of the periods, we had a couple up-tempo periods and I thought they handled that very nicely. They were very competitive, that was the other thing that was good. I really did. I was pretty pleased. But, I understood there were a few guys that seemed to be a little distant every now and then.”

On what he needs to see from QB Alex Smith moving forward:

“Well, I think right now it’s not just what we’re seeing but how he’s feeling. That’s a conversation that we’re going to have, just to see where he is mentally and go from there. That’s one of the things that we try to do, too, is we always try to keep him in the loop as we’ve decided and as we’ve gone forward with him.”

On players jumping in practice today:

“It was a little concerning. I mentioned to the guys about focusing in. Again, as I said, I do understand. When you’re away from it and it’s time to get back and refocus, sometimes it’s difficult. But, still that’s one thing I told the guys: ‘You’ve got to be where your feet are. You’re here at practice, you be at practice, you focus in. Let’s take care of our business. When you’re at home, be at home.’ I think that’s the thing we have to learn, is sometimes we have to compartmentalize things and be able to focus in. We were out there for about two hours and 15 minutes, and I think it’s part of the maturation process, that you’re able to focus, compartmentalize, get your work done, get your job done then be with your family or be with your friends and then move onto the next thing.”

On RB Antonio Gibson continuing to play after a hit:

“I think, again, it’s really the severity of the injury and where the injury was, more so than anything else. He just got kicked in the shin and he was just working through it, so we felt safe to put him back out there. But, if it had been something else that was a little bit more concerning, we probably would’ve held him out a little bit longer and done something with it. But, it was one of those things that he just kind of had to get the ‘ow, ow’ out of the way.”

On DE Chase Young:

“He looked fresh. I think, again, as we continue to go through this and the training staff feels more and more comfortable with us cutting him loose, then we’ll be able to work him in. Eventually we’ll get to the point where we cut him loose. How far away? Again, I’m not going to speculate because I don’t want to put any pressure on anybody to show up all of a sudden. So, as he’s given the latitude to go forward, that’s when we’ll get him out there and cut him loose.”

On the rapport between DE Montez Sweat and Young:

“I think they do have a good rapport. I think Montez is about Montez. If you look at the work he did and how he transformed himself from last year to this year, I think Montez did a good job in spite of the fact that we had to Zoom, we were separated from the players, they didn’t come in to workout. I thought he handled – it looks like he handled his situation very, very nicely. He came back a little bit stronger, a little thicker, more lean muscle mass. I think Montez has really responded to the opportunity he has in front of him, and that’s really to be part of a new defense, help set a tone for this defensive unit and this football team.”

On RB J.D. McKissic:

“Well, today was an emphasis on our situational football. In certain situations, you’ll see more J.D. than the other backs. So, today was an opportunity to feature him and highlight him in some of those circumstances. He did handle them really well today. It’s his skillset. We’ve watched him, I’ve watched him from his Seattle and Detroit days. He’s a guy that really fits some of the things that [offensive coordinator] Scott [Turner] wants to do on the offensive side. Again, I thought he was a player that could come in and give us those situational snaps.”

On G Joshua Garnett:

“Joshua is a former first-rounder. The guy’s got a tremendous skillset, came from a really good program in Stanford. His skillset I think fits the style of blocking we have as opposed to some of the other offenses he’s been in. So, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. That’s one of the things I’ve told you guys, we’re going to rotate guys around to see who fits.”

On evaluating the offensive line rotation:

“Well, I think we’ve shown that we have some good football players, we’ve just got to find out what that combination is going to be as far as which is going to be our starting group. We’ve got a good mixture. We’ve got some guys that have shown us they have the ability to start, we’ve got some guys that have shown us they can be starters, and we’ve got some guys that have shown us they’ve got position flex. Being a position-flex guy gives you the opportunity to make this football team. It’s an exciting thing. I kind of look forward to the next few days when we get to take an even deeper look at our guys.”

On when he will decide starters against the Eagles:

“Well you know, we talk daily as coaches amongst ourselves and as groups. We meet once a week with our personnel staff, with [Vice President of Player Personnel] Kyle [Smith] and his guys and we talk about where we see things. We’re building up toward that, man. I think it’s just a matter of time before we really sit there and say ‘OK, let’s make this the group.’ It’s really about the position coaches and the coordinators being comfortable with those guys. So the more we talk about it, the more we found out about guys. We find out which combinations have been good together. And then we’ll map it out. But I think the next couple days are going to be really important as far as trying to decide really who’s going to be that 53 and who will be the 16 for practice squad.”

On where Gibson is mentally with picking up new responsibilities:

“[He is] confused. We’ve put a lot on him, and he’s handled it very well. But, you can see sometimes it gets to him. He’s a great young man. I really love his demeanor and his approach to things, his honesty about being surprised about how some things are. When he does it right, you do see that athleticism, you do see that burst, you see that ability. He’s an exciting young, dynamic player. The thing is that we’ve tried to back off on him at times, and when we’ve done that, you really do see him making things happen. But, when you do that, he only has a limited amount of plays so we’ve got to throw back on him again. Because again, having him on the football field helps us be a better football team. He’s done a nice job for a rookie. He’s got a maturity about him already that a lot of rookies don’t have, so I’ve been fairly pleased with his progress.”

On if he is seeing separation in the running back group:

“I think the whole group can contribute, I really do. If you watch the way RB Adrian Peterson has been handling himself, he’s a guy that sets the tone. He really does. [RB] Peyton [Barber]’s showing his physicality up inside and his quickness outside on the edges. McKissic’s showing his versatility, that’s been really cool to watch. We’ve talked about Antonio; he brings so many different things to the table as well. And don’t fall asleep on [RB] Bryce [Love]. Bryce had a couple nice things today happen. He had a nice run to the corner and just had an angle on everybody and beat them to the end zone. It’s a good group, it really is. I’m really pleased with these five guys. We’ll see how it unfolds, though.”

On if he has a timetable for one quarterback getting a bulk of the reps:

“Yeah, I do.”

On if he can tell when players start to understand the new culture:

“Yes, because it’s the little things. It’s as basic as just as when you’re walking through the locker room and you see guys picking up stuff and throwing it in the garbage. You see the way guys are handling themselves, pushing each other, taking responsibility. One of the things that Coach [Mike] Ditka told me, he always felt good about us when he saw us take ownership. That’s part of the culture, you have to take ownership and be responsible. Those are the things that you look for. I think those are the important things.”

On if there was a moment he saw where he noticed players taking responsibility:

“There’s actually been a couple of them. It’s come from some of the most unlikely spots. Some of the younger guys saying things, and watching some of the veteran guys respond to it. Watching some of the younger guys listen and turn and ask the veteran guys for advice and watch the veteran step up. One of the things I was concerned with and I’ve been concerned with is really when you’re struggling and you’re coming off some tough times, the tendency is to be really about yourself because: ‘If we’re not doing well, I’m going to get mine.’ Honestly, I kind of felt that early on that there was a little selfishness. But as we’ve gone through this, you’ve started to see the guys opening up with one another. You see the older guys putting their arms around the young guys and talking to them and saying, ‘Hey, you know what this is how you need to do it. Take a look at this.’ That to me is encouraging, when you see the veteran guys. You see it especially on the offensive line –watching [T Morgan] Moses and [G] Brandon [Scherff] talk to these young offensive guys that we’ve brought in and try to get them to be a part of what we’re doing. That’s really cool. It really is. Then you watch the DBs, the secondary, which is a group that’s scattered from all over, and you see them working together. [CB] Kendall Fuller coming back into the fold and watching him being welcomed by [S Landon] Collins who has really only been here a year, but yet you still see those guys come together as a group. That’s the cool thing that you want to see as a coach. It’s going to be hard. It’s not going to help it overnight, but I just see guys being more aware of their teammates and working together. That I think is what you’re looking for to get past some of the things that happened before we got here and correct those things and show everybody we’re doing things the right way. I think that’s the important thing that the players get across to one another: ‘There’s a lot of work to do. We’ve got to change the way things have been done in the past.’ Because, one of the things that I always tell the guys: ‘If what we did last year you think is good enough, it’s not. You’re wrong.’ It’s not good enough because it was only good enough for 3-13. So, we’ve got to get past that and get to where we want to go. That’s what I said in terms of it’s important that we build a winning, sustainable culture.”

On S Troy Apke’s physicality in practice:

“I think that’s [the] overall tempo rubbing off on him because you see that in a couple other guys as well. That’s one of the big things and I said it the other day – practicing with an up-tempo, practicing with speed, it creates things. It makes good things happen. Now, I had an old teammate, Dan Hampton, say: ‘The problem with practicing with going fast is sometimes it gets you in the wrong place quicker.’ But, with Troy right now, he’s doing the things that we need him to. He’s learning those things. He’s learning the elements of the game. One thing I talked about with Troy the other day was – and I know you guys saw he made the nice play on [WR] Terry [McLaurin] so I told him, ‘Part of your position will be situational awareness, field awareness. One thing that will really tell me that you’re getting it is when you go downhill to make a play like that in practice and all of a sudden you realize who that guy is and you pull off just at the right time, that to me is when a guy gets it and he understands situational awareness. You follow what I’m saying?’ Young guys that don’t know any better just go in and hit everything that moves. Guys that understand, that are smart that see the big picture, they’ll know when to pull out of the way and not create that big collision, especially with a guy like Terry, a player with Terry’s abilities. Again, you’ve got to take care of your teammates, and that was one of the things I kind of explained to him. He’s been great, though. He really has. One thing that has been asked that people talk about is angles. He’s really learning those. He’s putting the time into them, and that’s why he’s putting himself in the position to make plays. I think he’s improved his angles and he’s playing with a little more confidence and a little bit more tempo.”

On if Apke accomplished what he wanted today:

“The comparison from what happened to what happened today is exactly what I was talking about. That’s exactly the point.”

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