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Interview: Washington Football DL Coach Sam Mills III

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

ASHBURN, VA — August 2, 2020, Washington Football Team defensive line coach Sam Mills III speaks to the media.

On how he would evaluate the defensive line as a whole:

“I think we’ve added some juice. We’ve got a little more youth in the group. You know, we’ve added Chase Young and we’ve added James Smith-Williams, which are going to be big additions for us. In this league, if guys want to pass the ball, we got to get guys to get after the quarterback. We added two stout young men to go with a group that’s already really good, so I’m looking forward to the season.” 

On if he is going to continue doing game management this season:

“No, I’ll have my hands full with the front. In Carolina, we were fortunate enough to also have Eric Washington with us. Between myself and Eric, we could handle that, and I could help out Coach [Rivera] with the game management stuff. Here, I am all hands-on deck up front and Coach [Rivera] will have to find somebody else to help him (laughs).”

On how he plans to replicate the sack production his unit had while with the Carolina Panthers:

“Well, first and foremost, you’ve got to have the guys and I think coming in here they have a great group of guys, and we’ve added a couple more. Secondly, I think you just have to teach our approach, our approach every day. Passing is not a ‘sometime’ thing. I can’t go into a game and tell you when they’re going to run or pass. We’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to take the advantages. That’s what this group is going to do. We’re going to take advantage of the opportunities. People may try to come out and run the ball on us and we’re going to stop that. If they go to throw the ball, we’ve got to be ready to rush.”

On the different combinations he can use on the defensive line:

“Yeah, I’m excited about that. Some people see it as a problem, I see it as a great opportunity to keep fresh rushers on the field to be honest with you. A lot of these guys can play. They’re going to learn to play multiple positions. In today’s climate in the league, you got to be able to be flexible. I’m looking forward to the different groups we can match up and basically say, ‘hey, I want you to go in and when you’re all spent, we’ve got another guy coming in with fresh legs, ready to go.’ So, I think this group is going to lean on each other and they’re going to work together.”

On what makes a good pass rush:

“First, you’ve got to know what your job is. You got to know your responsibility. So, we’ve been taking our Zoom calls with our players and recently we’ve gotten in the building to just make sure they can learn the scheme. When you know what you’re doing, you can do it fast. A big component of our defense is penetrating and attacking. We’re going to put pressure on offense and not just sit back and let them dictate to us what’s going to go on. I think part of getting after the quarterback is going to be is just our approach to it and being more aggressive.”

On the players that are opting out due to COVID-19:

“That I couldn’t answer. Many people have many different reasons for opting out and each guy has his own special case. Across the league, you’ll see different guys doing it for different reasons and as a coach and as an organization, we listen to them and understand where they are going with it. We just have to go forward.”

On DE Ryan Kerrigan:

“Yeah, it’s been a pleasure to work with Ryan so far. First and foremost, he’s a great student of the game in the classroom and then once we got a chance to get on the field and see him work and his approach to the game, he’s very serious about the game and he doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s going to be a great leader, mentor for everyone that’s starting off. And as far as getting guys on the field, a typical game, if we’re playing good on defense, we should be on the field anywhere between 55 and 65 snaps, and you don’t want a guy to play all those snaps. There’s no need when we have able bodies to go along with him, so we can have a fresh rotation and everybody can get a piece.”

On Head Coach Ron Rivera being a culture builder:

“You know, as far as Coach Rivera’s outlook on the culture, I would tell our guys and I would tell you guys the same thing, it’s not a ‘sometimes’ thing. Ron is really a man of his word and it’s every day. He holds his coaches to a high standard and that bleeds over to the players. Everything that we do is for one reason and that’s to win. If it’s not there helping us win, we’re not doing it. Ron is a great guy to work for because you know what you’re going to get. He’s a wonderful human being to begin with. I think everybody in this building and organization understands that and they felt that over the past couple months, so it’s easy to work for him. But changing the culture is just when you do the right thing. He says, ‘it’s not always easy, but you got to do the right thing whether it’s easy or not.’ You have to do the right thing and that’s the approach we take every day.”

On the challenges of teaching technique over Zoom during the offseason:

“Well, first and foremost, the challenge was we were used to being in the room with these guys and being able to stand a guy up and talk technique. The other thing was having his undivided attention, we’re used to that. We had to take into consideration that they are at home with their families, so every now and then there might be a little kid’s head pop up on the screen or something. You just got to remember to give guys breaks and let them deal with certain things in their house for a quick second. But our guys did a really good job of locking in and focusing in when we needed them to. I think as coaches, it forced us to kind of step our game up and use different apps and what-not to test guys and keep them sharp. I actually like it. I like where it’s made football go. It’s made us grow somewhat and look down different avenues for different ways of learning. And to be honest with you, I think some of the universities have been using it already, so the guys were more comfortable than we were probably.”

On if having some familiarity with the players coming out of college helped him in this transition:

“Yeah, so a lot of these guys I actually interviewed them when I was in Carolina. I had actually met most of my room before I got a chance to meet them as [Washington]. So that was big, just having a relationship just from going and working guys out or at the Combine or what not. I’m usually an on-field guy at the Combine, so I had a chance to talk to most of these guys already.”

On DE Chase Young:

“The young man is determined. He’s determined. He’s not just trying to come here and sit on what he did at his university. He’s here and he’s ready to work and he’s ready to compete. He comes with that attitude every day. When we did get to see him fly around on the grass, you can tell he’s been studying. He knows what he’s doing right now, and it’s not too big for him. With a rookie, you always worry about a kind of mental overload and he's been really good so far. I’m just excited about his future, and I’m excited about how fast he’s picking everything up.”

On what the separator is for a pass rusher from college to the NFL:

“From college, you have to understand, when you were in college, some guys only see one NFL caliber player. Here, you’re going to see every day – whether in practice or a game – you’re going to see the elite guys. I think you have to work on your craft. You have to study your craft. You have to appreciate this game and the history of this game. That’s my job to make them understand in that room, we’re going to take nothing for granted. We’re going to study, we’re going to study our opponent and then we’re going to attack.”

On how the defensive line can improve at stopping the run:

“So responsibility and accountability. If we're going to lead our defense, which let's be honest, this room is supposed to lead this defense. If we're going to lead our defense, we have to be accountable to everyone. [Defensive Coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] has built a great defense and if we do our job, it’ll all take care of itself.”

On DT Tim Settle and DE’s James Smith-Williams and Nate Orchard:

“We can start with Tim. Tim is a talented, talented young man who's got a very bright future. He's been learning from the vets and he's been very, very active in the meetings. I can't wait to get him in here and start working with him. James Smith-Williams, he is very talented also. When you look at him, you get really excited. He's got the size and the speed. I know you guys all know his intelligence level with his future job outside football already lined up, so he's a very sharp young man. When you talk about Nate, Nate's another guy that I think can flourish in this system of attacking and not reading and just being aggressive. I'm very happy with the guys we have behind our front line because I think in these seasons you need all hands on deck. You never know when you're going to have to rely on a guy and count on a guy, so we're getting everybody ready to play.”

On if he thinks that DEs Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young and Montez Sweat can also play inside:

“I mean, I'll always take as many defensive linemen on the field as we can get. So however many Coach Del Rio allows me to get on the field, I'd love to get them on the field. But with that, if you can play inside and you're an end, I'm going to play you inside. The same thing for the tackles. If they can play outside, I'll play you outside. Any way we have to get the job done. On gameday you can only keep X amount of guys up, so whoever we have up on gameday will be able to play upfront.”

On losing DT Caleb Brantley:

“I always hate losing a rusher. He's got some tape he put together in college, and he was just really getting his feet underneath him in the pros. I always hate losing a young, talented guy but I understand the dilemma he was dealt with. I hope to get him back, I always love having rushers.”

On the challenges of coming into a place where you have to build a culture versus a place where a culture already exists:

“It's funny, we look at that situation kind of like with Carolina. The reason I say that is this. When Ron came into Carolina, we were dealt with the lockout, so we had to get through that. We had a quarterback and we were basically used to building from zero. Culture wise, we changed the culture there and it was a day-by-day step, so this challenge is nothing new. It's just different names and different personalities and we're prepared for it.”

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