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Interview: Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera

ASHBURN, VA -- September 5, 2020, Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera speaks to the media after the team gets down to 53 players on cut-down day.

On QB Alex Smith making the 53-man roster: “Well, there were a couple things that happened last week that I found really interesting as we were talking about what our plan would be with Alex. In each of those sessions that we had, you could see the progress. You could see him developing. But, the one thing that you didn’t know was his mental state of mind and where he was. We sat down with him—myself, [quarterbacks coach] Ken Zampese and [offensive coordinator] Scott Turner. He was very passionate about wanting the opportunity to play again, very passionate about making this football team. That really stood out to me because it really just showed, mentally, I think he’s past the hurdle. I’ve talked to the doctors, his doctors that he worked with, the surgeons, the people he had worked with from the military and our doctors. Everybody was very positive about where he was physically. To me, the mental aspect was answered the other day when he was very passionate about it, about believing in himself. You can see him do things. You can see the progression. But, always in the back of your mind you always wonder about the mental aspect. How is he going to be with it? I just loved his response. I loved the way he went at us about wanting to do specific things.

You guys didn’t get to see it, but we threw him right into the middle of the fire in the last two days of practice. He handled all the 11-on-11 drills for the backups and for the practice team stuff. He got right into the middle of it. People were flying all over the place, and he just stood tall. That was probably the biggest hurdle for me personally that I wanted to see. Just watching him do that was kind of a cool deal because I’m fired up for what he can be. Hopefully we can continue to progress, too. This gives him a chance to work on the football movements that he’s got to get back. Again, he’s still rusty. You still see it, that’s the honest part about it. That’s the beauty of having both Kenny and Scott in that conversation. I could tell them: ‘Hey, there’s some things that still look a little rusty that we’ve got to work on.’ It was a very positive situation, and I think it really helped give some clarity.” On if Smith will go on IR in the next couple of days: “No. He’s not. He’s in a good place right now. We’re in a good place as a football team. I’m happy with what we’ve done.” On if Smith has been cleared for contact: “Oh yeah. He’s been. He was. That’s the only reason we activated him, was that he was cleared completely. That was part of the process that we were going through in evaluating him and getting a chance to watch him. But, the thing that I wanted to see was exactly how much did he want? When we sat down and talked he was very passionate about it. That kind of helped clear some things in my mind that he believes he’s ready to play. If the opportunity comes down the line, who knows? I do know this – he’s working. He’s in the middle of everything and we’re going to continue to go forward with him on our football team.” On if Smith will take contact in practice before the season: “Well, hopefully he doesn’t. I hope none of our quarterbacks get contact in our practices. That’s one of those things that if it happens, it happens. That’s part of the thing that you worry about, is that quarterbacks go in there and some of them get shy and they don’t stand tall and they kind of pull out or make bad throws. He stood tall. Guys were all over the place and he stood tall and delivered some good balls, some good passes. To me, that was one of the things I was looking to see because I kept watching. I kept saying, ‘He’s just standing tall and guys are all over the place and guys are falling in front of him, falling behind him, bumping him.’ So, again, like I said it’s just another step in the direction.” On if he would be comfortable putting Smith in against the Eagles in Week 1: “Yeah.”

On the decision to release S Sean Davis: “Well, both [S] Troy Apke and [S] Kamren Curl – [S] Deshazor Everett, those three young guys really had good camps. It’s really not necessarily what Sean didn’t do, just how much those guys progressed. I’ll be up front—I really liked Troy coming in. When he was drafted and I was in Carolina, [Carolina General Manager] Marty Hurney and I liked him a lot. Marty had actually gone and watched his workout at Penn State. He’s a guy that we were targeting. He got drafted here. So, I kind of followed his career. There are certain guys that you kind of watch and follow. I watched a couple guys last year and got a chance to watch him on tape, pay attention to him. Watching him lately, you really see that growth.

Kamren Curl is a guy who caught our attention during the draft, a guy that when you’re doing your evaluations—he’s got the nice size, the nice length. But, he progressed. Every day he seemed to get better. We just kept saying: ‘He’s got a high ceiling. He’s not even scratching it yet.’ So, we’re excited. And then Deshazor who’s a special teams ace—you want those types of guys around—and he’s a very smart, bright young man. We felt really good about the progress of those three guys. We had a number of injuries, some concerns still in our secondary and cornerback position that, I don’t know if you noticed, but we opted to keep six corners. That’s kind of where we are as well.” On if they will stick with five receivers: “We’ll watch it the next few days, but we also like the guys who we have kept at running back because there’s some position flex with those guys. Again, [RB] Antonio Gibson’s background, [RB] J.D. McKissic’s background—if we had a situation where we knew J.D. could play the slot, if something else came up we’d know that Antonio could go out and play as the X as well because we cross trained both of those guys at some point in camp. They did just what we needed if we get into an emergency. It’s one of those things where we feel comfortable. But, we’re still going to check out what’s happening.” On if T Saahdiq Charles will go on IR: “No, he was running around yesterday. He looked pretty good. We’ll see how he is come tomorrow. We’re going to do a light workout with the guys and then they’ll be off tomorrow and off Monday.” On keeping players based on their character: “Honestly, everybody that we let go is a high-character young man. That’s how I felt about them. I really did. To a man, the way they responded, they sat down, we talked, they came in—all these young men we let go today could’ve easily stayed because of their character, because of their personality and because of who they are as young men to be honest with you. That’s how I felt about that group of guys. I’ve been cut. I know what it feels like. This is never one of my favorite days. Yesterday was one of the harder days I’ve had as well. So as I look at the list right here, these are all guys that could’ve made our team under certain circumstances.

One of the things I told the guys is it’s a hard thing to judge because we didn’t have four preseason games to grade anybody off of. The way I understand it, last year one of the stars of camp was [WR] Steven Sims Jr. The young man came out and showed that he had return ability, made some plays with the ball in his hands and the next thing you know he climbed the charts. Well, unfortunately a lot of these guys didn’t get those opportunities to show us what they really could do and that’s the hard part. I told the guys, I said: ‘We could judge you off the tape out there, but there’s nothing like the actual action of the game.’ So that was the hard part. But as far as character goes, I liked all of these guys. I really did. The way we finished up this year with the guys that we had, we had no issues. We were fortunate we didn’t have any COVID situations with these guys once we got started.”

On if they kept ‘building block’ players: “Yes. That’s one of the things these young guys have got to understand. You might be a backup right now, you may be splitting time right now, but the hope is that you’re a core guy and you’re going to develop and show us. I talked to a couple young guys today that were talking about: ‘Oh, we’re going to be splitting time.’ They were kind of wishy-washy on splitting time. I said, ‘Look, the only reason we’re splitting time is because we don’t know.’ We’ve got four games—these first four games—in my mind that will tell us what we have. We’re going to move a lot of guys around. We’re going to play a lot of different combinations of people. You guys are going to see that. But, that’s all part of the process we’ve got to go through to find out which 11 guys have to be on the field at that time. I told that to a few of the guys that came in that made the team that came in today. I said, ‘Guys, you’ve got to understand we’re going to rotate. We’re going to roll. We’re going to switch. We’re going to work different groups of guys to find out who’s our best 11.’ A lot of these young guys are guys that I’m hoping will step up and ascend. They might not in the first few games, but they may ascend as the season goes. Those are the guys that you’re going to start saying: ‘Okay this is a cornerstone. This guy’s a cornerstone in that position, that guy’s a cornerstone on defense.’ You’re going to start building around that knowing that we’ve got to get these guys signed for the future in a few years. I will say this, if you go back and look at the team I had in Carolina, our biggest problem was after 2015, 2016, we got old. This is a young group. This really is, and it’s an exciting young group. I told you guys, a big part of the reason I decided to come here was the fact that there’s a lot of young, talented football players that just don’t know yet. We’ve got to teach them.” On if placing LB Reuben Foster on IR was disappointing: “It is because you know he was ascending very quickly. Things were coming back. He kind of plateaued, and that was one of the things we were concerned with. It’s one of those things where you have to continue to work out and get stronger and stronger. He just hadn’t reached that point. We wanted to say, ‘OK, look, we’re going to put you back on IR, get you back into your rehab program and work it, see what happens.’ I know in Dallas they had success with it. Here, we have had limited success. He worked so hard. He worked his butt off. Again, this guy’s a former first-rounder that has the skillset. We saw some of the flashes. But, we didn’t see it consistently just because he’s recovering from a pretty significant injury.” On talks about trading DE Ryan Anderson: “Ryan’s on our 53. He’s a young man that’s had a good camp. We’ve got some specific things for him to use his skillset. He’s a guy that I enjoy having around. I love his physical nature. That’s one of the exciting things to watch about Ryan. But yeah, those things are being floated about everybody.” On keeping DE James Smith-Williams: “Position flex. I don’t know if you guys saw, but James played the five, the nine, the three, the seven and the one. He’s a guy that we could move inside if we had to. If we got into a situation where we’re down a defensive tackle that week, we could move James in and have him practice that position. If we had something happen with one of our defensive ends, we could put him outside and have him be a defensive end. That was the reason for that move with the young man because he gives you position flex.’ On the offensive line: “I like this position group. I really do. I think it’s a good, solid group. We kept 10 because we didn’t want to expose any of those guys. We feel that if we do, we could potentially lose them. The 10 guys are guys that, for the most part, they could all start for us. Obviously that’s how we feel about them. We also have to have a plan just in case because we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the social distancing; we’re doing things the right way because of the contact tracing. You’ve got to have a big room, but you’ve got to spread that room out so these guys keep their distance, they follow protocols. If you lose your right side or your left side, you’ve got to have guys you can plug in and you can play with to protect your quarterback.”

On when he became more confident in Smith’s progression: “Well, I was skeptical to begin with. But the more and more I learned about his situation, the more and more I learned about his recovery and talked about those things with medical personnel, the more I began to understand. And then as I started to watch him and didn’t see a lot of residual—one of the things you always watch is if a guy works really hard, you see how he recovers the next day, he works hard and recovers the next day. That was one of the things we paid attention to with Alex. We never got into a position where we felt we had to give him a long period off, which is always a good thing. He just continued to work and show us what he was capable of. Like I said, the biggest thing for me was really just seeing how passionate he was about: ‘Hey, I want to get out there. I want to take that chance. I feel good about who I am. I feel good about my recovery and I’m rounding out into football shape.’ That was a very positive meeting, like I said, for me personally.” On how the practice squad impacted active roster decisions: “Well, there are some guys that you could’ve—you could argue for swapping a couple of these guys out. I think the big thing more so than anything else is because of the flexibility, it does allow you to do certain things, certain elements. It also allows you to go out and look and see who else is out there, because of that. If you convince him to come join your team on the practice squad, then you feel pretty good about that.” On keeping CB Danny Johnson over CB Aaron Colvin: “Well you know, he was having a good run of it, Aaron. He got nicked and kind of fell behind. The one thing we noticed about Danny was that he kept ascending, kept ascending. He got nicked as well, but when he came back he just hit the ground running and just kept playing. He had a really good stretch there. Again like I said, the hard part is you don’t have any game tape to watch because we didn’t play any preseason games. We had to go off of pretty much what we were seeing. Just the fact of knowing that Danny was here last year and he’s a guy that’s familiar and comfortable with his teammates.” On if Smith’s practice reps indicate a decision on the backup quarterback: “No, that was practice. That was really to see. That was really the last chance for us to really take one hard look. Like I said, the passion in which we talked—you could see it and I just really got the sense. I told myself: ‘We’ve got to really cut him loose 100 percent and just see.’ I thought he responded very well. We had a couple of extended and extra periods, which allowed us even more time to really break it down and look at it. Like I said, it was really good to have Scott and Kenny in there and give me the opportunity to visit with them and talk about what we were seeing and making sure it was what we needed to see going forward.” On having Smith as an example for his teammates: “Well, I think first of all for the quarterbacks, he’s a great sounding board for all those guys. One of the things I really did appreciate was the way he treated each of those young guys. He treated them as if they were somebody that he was mentoring. You could see him put his arm around [QB] Dwayne [Haskins Jr.] and explain certain things and say, ‘Hey, did you see this when you first came out? Hey, this is where you need to throw the ball.’ I thought he and [QB] Kyle [Allen] had a really good rapport. And then watching him with [QB] Steven Montez was really cool because Steven’s just a big kid. Right now he’s following everybody, but when Alex spoke you could really see Steven zone in on what Alex was about to say. As a team, to have a guy like that with his story just represents what I think, to me, the guys have to understand what it’s like to work hard, to work toward your dream, to work toward what you want. That’s the thing that I appreciate about Alex as well. Offensively—talking to both Scott and Kenny, they both said the same thing—when we were putting our installations in and we would talk about something, Alex would say: ‘Hey I noticed this, this and this,’ and everybody would go, ‘Yeah, we’re going to talk about that.’ So he has his experience that he can help verbalize to his teammates and to his coaches quite honestly.”

On if players on IR will be lost for the season:

“Yes. If we were going to do any move like that, we’d have to do that move tomorrow. I do not anticipate any of that happening.”

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