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Stan Hixon Is A Patient Man

Posted by Matt Terl on June 11, 2009 – 4:07 pm

A lot of times, I’ll mention that a player or coach has been “generous with his time” or that I was “fortunate enough to get a few questions with” a guy. Things like that. And it’s always true — these are exceedingly busy people with any number of demands on their time; I genuinely appreciate that they use some of that time to answer my questions and help me out with things.

Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon, though, deserves a more special mention than that. Not only was he generous enough with his time to answer a whole bunch of questions for me, he did it again after the first conversation inexplicably disappeared from my recorder. And then he was kind enough to answer a follow-up question or two that I realized I had forgotten to ask during the re-interview.

So it’s safe to say that Coach Hixon is a tolerant, patient guy. Which is fortunate for him, since the position he coaches tends to be populated by mercurial personalities who take some time to develop. And, yes, I think it would be fair to put Devin Thomas into both those categories.

I asked Coach Hixon about Thomas and the other wide receivers, about where things stand after twelve OTA sessions, and about Steve Largent. But we started with the basics: the wide receivers on the roster now.

Hixon: “Player by player: Santana Moss has had a good OTA out there on the field. We try to move him around some too, different positions. He plays slot, he plays outside, we can move him around.

“We think that Randle El is an excellent slot receiver; he also plays some on the outside. You’ve seen Devin Thomas all over the place, playing Z, the flanker receiver, along with Malcolm Kelly, who has played a lot the last couple of days as the Z receiver.”

I’m not going to lie: I get nervous every time Kelly makes something more dramatic than the most basic catch. Does it concern you at all at this point?

Hixon: “I don’t worry about that. Once he has been cleared by the doctors and they give him to me, I assume he’s fine. My position with him is that I won’t throw him a lot of deep balls continuously, but he’ll get his share. I won’t overdo it right now, ’cause his leg is still going through a building up process. It’s getting stronger and faster, that type of thing. I don’t worry about it. If there’s a problem, the trainer’ll come to me and say, ‘His knee is flared up, and he will watch for the day, and I’ll cut his reps.”

Okay. Then you’ve got a few other guys as well….

Hixon: “We got Roydell Williams, who’s been a good surprise for us. Last year, he didn’t play, but he’s had a lot of time there at the Tennessee Titans. I think one year he caught 55 passes and they went to the playoffs that season, and he got hurt at the end of the year.

“Then we have Marques Hagans, who’s playing slot receiver for us. Very knowledgeable guy, knows all of the positions, a lot like Randle El. Plays both slots for us. Then Marko Mitchell, the draft pick from Las Vegas. He had a good practice for us on Monday, caught a couple passes, caught a touchdown.”

That’s good to hear — I thought he looked a little overwhelmed in minicamp.

Hixon: “They all did, the rookies did, in minicamp. They were all like, ‘Oh boy, they going so fast.’ But he is better than he was in minicamp, and he is better than he was for the first OTA’s in the first week. Once we get to July and August he’ll be better again. Than when the bullets start flying in preseason, we’ll see where they are.”

What about Keith Eloi, the YouTube sensation?

Hixon: “I saw that too. I saw it when I read about it in the paper. I think yesterday I saw it in the paper, and I went to You tube, pulled him up. I saw him do the vertical jump into the truck. That had nothing to do with what we do here, though.”

No real football application for the truck jump?

Hixon: “No, no.

“We’ve also got Jaison Williams, who is learning the offense too, and he is catching up.”

Who of those guys are you willing to say is a frontrunner for the number 5 Receiver spot if James Thrash can’t return? Read more »

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Monday, June 8: Jerry Gray Talks Coaching Cornerbacks and The Toughest Job Interview On Earth

Posted by Matt Terl on June 8, 2009 – 10:05 am

I thought you might want a nice long interview to help transition you from the weekend mindset to the reading-the-internet-at-work mindset. This is the latest in a series of interviews with the coaching staff; if you haven’t seen them, check out the previous entries here.

Secondary coach Jerry Gray is one of those people who has excelled at each stage of his career, and he’s got the accolades to prove it. As a player, he performed at a higher level than most — a four-time All-Pro, a Pro Bowl MVP, and the 1989 Defensive Back of the Year — and, as a coach, he’s been impressive enough that he’s been named a number of times as a candidate in head coaching searches.

It’s that second thing that fascinated me most, I think. Every year after the season, a bunch of coaching positions open, and we all watch as the usual names are trotted out and “longshot” assistants fly around to interview. It’s the kind of thing that turns up as one line in a longer article — “Assistant Coach X is scheduled to interview for the Dolphins job opening,” or whatever — but it’s obviously a lot more than that for Assistant Coach X.

Luckily for me, Coach Gray was generous with his time, so we managed to discuss what that process is like from the inside (intense, as you’d expect), as well as how his ability as a player has influenced his coaching (less than I’d expected), and what he thinks of his current crop of cornerbacks.

But I started by asking him about the overall hierarchy of the defensive coaching staff.

Let’s start with some of the behind-the-scenes basics. How does the defensive game-planning go? Coach Blache puts in the system, but how much input — if any — do you have in that sort of thing? How does that break down?

Gray: “Basically, the schematics part of the game can be credited to Coach Blache because he’s the Coordinator. He’s a guy that says, ‘This is what I’m comfortable with, this is what I’ve been doing, and this is what I’ve done.’ It’s our job as position coaches to take that and put our guys into technique positions to win within the defensive call.

“To me, that’s the right way to do it because I’ve been at other places and I’ve heard other things to where their coordinator tries to appease people. If you don’t call what you like and what you know, you’re not really going to be good at it.

“I like the way Coach Blache does things. He’ll say, “Hey, I’m the coordinator. Here are the things I like to do. Let’s all talk about it and get on the same page, and let’s go out there and have you [the coaches] teach the technique, and I’ll call the defense.'”

Read more »

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Thursday, June 4: Coach John Palermo Talks Haynesworth, Orakpo, Versatility

Posted by Matt Terl on June 4, 2009 – 10:46 am

Back to the defensive side of the ball, as I continue talking to the coaching staff around Redskins Park. (In case you missed them, here are offensive assistant Chris Meidt, safeties coach Steve Jackson, and tight ends coach Scott Wachenheim.)

Defensive line coach John Palermo took over coaching the defensive line for the Redskins last year after thirty decorated years coaching in the college ranks. He spent the offseason getting prepared to work with his group of lineman … only to have two of them go down at the same position on the first day of training camp, leading directly to the ill-fated trade for Jason Taylor.

I talked to Coach Palermo about making that transition, about working with this year’s new acquisition, Albert Haynesworth, about rookie draft pick Brian Orakpo, and about the sudden premium being placed on versatility along the defensive line, which I started by describing as “arguably the deepest position group on the team.”

Palermo thought that was understating the matter.

“I don’t think there’s any argument to it,” he said. “We do have a pretty deep group, with the addition of Albert Haynesworth at the tackle position. That leaves us with [Cornelius Griffin, as the other starter], with [Anthony] Montgomery and [Kedric] Golston, as well as the capabilities of Lorenzo [Alexander] being able to play end and tackle and also Philip [Daniels] being able to play end and tackle. So I think it does give us a group that’s pretty deep and talented.”

How do you fit all of those guys into the lineup? Read more »

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Friday, May 29: Scott Wachenheim On Becoming An NFL Coach

Posted by Matt Terl on May 29, 2009 – 12:54 pm

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?
Read more »

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Tuesday, May 26: Steve Jackson Talks Safeties

Posted by Matt Terl on May 26, 2009 – 11:06 am

After talking to offensive assistant Chris Meidt a couple weeks back, it seemed natural that the next member of the coaching staff I talk to come from the defensive side of the ball. Safeties coach Steve Jackson was helpful enough when I asked him about his golf pants last week, so I took the opportunity to set up a time when we could sit down and talk in more depth. In the end, the conversation covered, among other things, his coaching philosophy, LaRon Landry‘s natural position, Chris Horton, and — of course — abstract painting.

But the first thing I noticed in his office was the enormous sombrero sitting on the desk. Still flush with success from the golf pants conversation, I thought there might be an equally detailed story here. “No,” Jackson told me, “that’s just still there from Cinco de Mayo.”

Fair enough. With hat talk over, I moved to issues of marginally more importance.

So how do you and [secondary coach] Jerry Gray split things up? Do you just handle safeties and he works with the cornerbacks?

Jackson: “Kind of. On the surface, yes. But Jerry and I, we’re like twins that were separated at birth. Jerry and I played together in 1992, he was my DB coach a couple years later. Then in Buffalo he was my boss, and now … we’ve done it all together. We pretty much think alike. He’ll start a sentence and I’ll finish it, or I’ll start and he’ll finish it.

“We can draw from experience, too. ‘You remember how whenever we ran this versus Jerry Rice and John Taylor, this happened.’ It all goes back to the same things, and that’s pretty much the relationship that we have.

“It’s nothing specific as far as, ‘These are your specific duties, those are my specific duties,’ but we just work like two brothers.”

Whatever the reason, you two have experienced a lot of success with safeties and corners during your tenure here. What do you attribute that to?
Read more »

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Meeting The Coaches: Chris Meidt

Posted by Matt Terl on May 15, 2009 – 4:13 pm

Something I’ve noticed, based on the conversations I’ve had recently, is that some otherwise very informed and intelligent Redskins fans aren’t hugely familiar with the team’s coaching staff outside of head coach Jim Zorn, defensive coordinator Greg Blache, and offensive line legend Joe Bugel.

So through these slow times in the offseason, I thought it might be useful to everyone if I caught up with those other guys one by one to get a sense of who they are and what they’re expecting heading into the 2009 season.

Offensive assistant Chris Meidt seemed like a good choice to start with, partially because he had the title that needed the most clarification (“offensive assistant” being spectacularly vague), and partially because he speaks incredibly quickly and would be able to pack a lot of information into a relatively short interview.

Casey Rabach, hearing that I was planning to interview Meidt, observed something else about the way he speaks: he has a pronounced Minnesotan accent. Not the cartoonish one from Fargo — more of an acute midwestern accent, with some flattened vowel sounds and rounded Os — but clear nonetheless. “I thought that I had an accent,” Rabach said in his Wisconsin accent, “and then I listened to that guy for awhile.” I didn’t think it was that dramatic, aside from turning “raw” into “rah” when characterizing Colt Brennan, but if you’re trying to hear Meidt’s voice in your head, add some Minnesota to his lines.

Which makes sense, since Meidt’s a Minnesota guy through and through. His last stop before joining the Redskins last year was tiny St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where his teams earned a 40-20 record, and he grew up in Minneota. His teams in St. Olaf were known for their offense, and Meidt has something of a reputation as a quirky offensive football mind.

But I started with the most basic question I could think of.

Your job title is somewhat nondescript — “offensive assistant.” What do you actually … you know … do?

Meidt: “Nondescript is a good word, because it leaves it really open to do almost anything, which I do. So you can fill in the blanks. Read more »

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