After starting with offensive assistant Chris Meidt and bouncing to the defensive side for an interview with safeties coach Steve Jackson — “strong interview,” says ESPN.com’s Matt Mosley! — it seemed right to head back to the offensive side of things next. Hence, Scott Wachenheim.
Wachenheim is something nine practices into his first NFL season — he was the offensive coordinator at Liberty University — which provided a fairly obvious entry point into the conversation.
So? How have you been enjoying the Redskins and the NFL so far?
Wachenheim: “Oh, man, I love it here. Mr. Snyder and Mr. Cerrato have just treated me first class, and I know Coach Zorn from way back and he’s been great to work with. All the coaches have just been very helpful teaching me the NFL way. I’m learning every day, and they’ve been a pleasure to work with.
“The players I work with — Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Todd Yoder — are just really good guys and good players, and they work hard. It’s been a great experience.”
You mentioned learning the ‘NFL Way’ — what are the specific differences you’ve already noticed?
Wachenheim: “The biggest things I’ve noticed as a coach in the NFL, and there are two or three of them, are — first: you have to have a lot of initiative. Coaches are able to see what needs to be done, what needs to be learned, what they need to study, and the attack it and go do it. They don’t have to be told a whole lot. Everyone’s very self-motivated, and they’re all very hard working. They’ll work whatever hours it takes to get the job done. So that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen from the coaching part of it.
“Second, in coaching the players, they just have the ability to … when you see something, a flaw or a correctible point, they have the ability to go out and fix it the next play. It doesn’t take two or three practices for them to get things fixed most of the time. So that gives you instant gratification as a coach that, hey, that was helpful in making them a better player or more complete player.”
What are your responsibilities as tight ends coach? Do you help design plays at all, or is it strictly about working with the tight ends in practice?
Wachenheim: “Well, I’m still learning that, to be honest with you, and I think that might be a learning process all year long, the kind of input that I have. Right now I’m just trying to take my lead from Coach [Sherman] Smith and Coach [Joe] Bugel and Coach Zorn or where I fit in and what I need to do.
“If I have an idea, I always present it, and I’m not afraid to be told no, or that’s not how we do it. And, like I said, it’s been very educational because some thing that might work in college won’t in the NFL because of the ability of the defensive players. Some pass protections or some one-on-one pass routes that we got away with, it’s very easy to see after watching film that you can’t get away with them here.”
What are the main reasons for that?
Wachenheim: “The biggest difference is the ability for defensive linemen to rush the passer and outside linebackers to rush the passer. In college, you might get away with putting a running back on an outside linebacker. Here, you might not. That one-on-one route that you might run in college, the defensive backs will break on it quicker so you can’t get away with running it. Their speed and ability at those two positions is so much greater, and their recognition of what they’ve seen one play prior … you can’t keep repeating it.”
Okay, that’s something you’re getting used to. On the flipside, is that something that you bring from college that lets you … I dunno … see things with fresh eyes?
Wachenheim: “I don’t know. I think I present some ideas, and some of them maybe we’ll take and they’ll fit, and some of them won’t. That’s up to the guys that — we do have an offensive system and style, and everything has to fit in that system.
“I’ve heard a lot of great offensive coaches speak, and there’s a lot of great ideas for plays out there, but you can’t run ’em all. Mike Leach was one I used to hear talk, you know, Bob Stoops would come in and say, ‘Hey, isn’t this a great play,’ and Mike Leach would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a GREAT play, but we can’t run it. It doesn’t fit our system.’
“So I think I bring a willingness to learn and be a team player, and those are probably the two biggest things right now.”
Chris Cooley mentioned that you were a good teacher. Is that something that’s part of your background?
Wachenheim: “It’s not, but I played in college for two different coaches. My first coach as a freshman was a great teacher, and my second coach was not as strong at that. And then when I first was a graduate assistant at Arkansas, I worked for J.B. Grimes, and he was a great teacher.
“And I always felt that in order to play, you had to know your assignment, which is who to block and what route to run; you had to know how to do it, which is technique; and you had to know why we do it that way. If you’re spending time as a coach teaching them how to block and what route to run, I think you’re wasting the opportunities to make them a great player. So in my mind, I spend a lot of time thinking, ‘How can I present this in a way that’s quickly learned,’ so we can move on to the technique and why we do it that way.
“Now, Chris is very smart and quick to learn, and it’s always easier to be a teacher when you have smart pupils.”
Tight ends coach is the kind of position where, on some teams, you’d be working with kind of low profile guys. Here you’ve got Cooley, probably one of the more dynamic personalities on the team. What’s it been like dealing with him?
Wachenheim: “I joked with Chris after I saw him do his NFL Network interviews, I said, ‘If I wasn’t your coach I’d have a man-crush on you. I enjoy working with Chris. I think he’s very smart, very athletically talented. He’s got a diverse set of abilities — he paints pictures, he draws pictures, he can do crossword puzzles, he’s a good golfer. I don’t think there’s anything he takes up that he doesn’t do naturally well. And he’s always got something going on.
“But he’s been very enjoyable to coach, because, with all that, when you get down to football, he’s all business and he works hard on the practice. For me it’s been a great experience working with Chris to this point.”
The only knock on his Pro Bowl season last year was that he didn’t score touchdowns. Do you have ideas about how to fix that?
Wachenheim: “Well, I think — I was watching a lot of film on last year, and I think down in the red zone a lot of people clued on Chris. There’s a lot of double-coverage down there, and sometimes when they double-cover you, you’re opening somebody else to catch a touchdown pass. I think, with the ability of our receivers improving, they’ll draw more attention which will allow Chris to get some single coverage, so you may see an increase in production because of that.
“And, of course, we’ll study other teams and how they got tight ends the ball down there and see if it fits our offense as a way to isolate Chris and get him the ball.”
Fred Davis has looked good to me so far this season. What’s your sense of him?
Wachenheim: “I ha
ve nothing to compare him to. A lot of people are comparing Fred to himself last season. I came to him with a clean slate, starting from scratch, and I’ve been very happy with Fred. He’s learned everything we’ve asked him to do — we’ve actually increased what we’re wanting him to learn as a tight end, as a second tight end or U-back [or H-back], and also as a fullback, and he’s done very well learning all of his assignments and performing them fast on the football field.
“We got to spend some time during weightlifting watching a little bit of extra film and going out to the field throwing a little bit with the quarterbacks, and I think Fred’s a whole lot more confident in what he’s doing, and any time you’re confident in what you’re doing, you move faster.
“If he keeps progressing the way he performed in our first minicamp and OTAs, I think he’ll be ready to be a big help to us next year.”
And what about Yoder? Have you seen him much?
Wachenheim: “Todd’s been around. He’s not around as much during the offseason — he goes to Florida and spends time there with his family — but he was here for the first minicamp and the OTAs. And Todd, again, is very smart — guy from Vanderbilt — intelligent, mature man. Knows what’s going on in the NFL office. Really does a good job working to get open and has good hands.
“It’s good to have him around because he knows his business, he’s very professional in how he goes about it, and he knows what it takes for him to be ready every day and he does all the little things it takes to be ready to go. Him and Cooley and Davis together make a very fun and entertaining meeting room.”
You’ve got an undrafted guy as well, right?
Wachenheim: “Robert Agnone out of Delaware. He was a quarterback in high school and went to Pitt, originally, before transferring to Delaware. He played with Flacco and caught something like 70 balls from him his junior year. Then Flacco got drafted and Robby had a little drop-off in production last year. He’s working really hard and has shown some good ability — having played quarterback, he understands how to get open in the passing game. He needs to add some strength, and he’s working hard in the weight room to do that, and it’ll be exciting to see how he does in this set of OTAs and in camp this summer.”
Okay, last question: what’s been the biggest surprise to you of your whole NFL/Redskins experience so far?
Wachenheim: “I think the biggest surprise to me is just how genuine our coaching staff is here. The only one of these coaches I knew well was Coach Zorn, and I knew he’d surround himself with guys like him. But the professionalism this staff brings and their willingness to share their knowledge and their willingness to help … I didn’t expect that, and it’s been a very pleasant surprise.”
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