New Redskins defensive backs coach Perry Fewell speaks softly but carries a big stick – an approach respected by his players on the field and in the meeting room.*
He swallowed his pride – he's not in Denver anymore.
Duke Ihenacho knows his past accolades with the Broncos don't do him any good now. In this particular moment, he nearly got beat in coverage during Redskins OTAs. So Ihenacho bit his tongue and listened.
To Ihenacho's merit he recovered from the misstep, but any close call is worth correcting for defensive backs coach Perry Fewell. It was a small critique – the ones seasoned players could get annoyed about. But Fewell pays attention to detail, and despite his mild-mannered approach to coaching, he wants discipline in each play and within every player.
"He's not a screamer or anything, but he does get the best out of all his players," Ihenacho said Tuesday at the first day of Redskins mandatory minicamp. "I think he is really good. Like little things can get annoying sometimes for a lot of players. You just got to understand it's the little details that matter. We all buy in to what he preaches."
A re-toolingFewell, the former New York Giants defensive coordinator, produced two Top-10 defenses in terms of points allowed during his five-year tenure in the Big Apple.
He hopes to lead the renewal of a Redskins secondary that surrendered 3,990 passing yards in the regular season a year ago and ranked 28th in the league in interceptions (7).
To help with that renewal, the Redskins have re-tooled their secondary this offseason. At cornerback, they brought in Chris Culliver – one of the most sought-after free agent cornerbacks – and at safety, they signed free agent Jeron Johnson, formerly of the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom," and traded for two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson.
Fewell has had a larger checklist for a greater task to rebuild the secondary. Acquire new players? Check. Develop the young-guns while installing a new defensive scheme? It's in motion.
"I can't speak for what happened last year, you know?" Fewell said on Tuesday. "I can only speak for this year. I think we have a really good group. We're communicating well with each other, and there's still a lot of growing to do."
Upon his hiring in January, Fewell's priority was to "retool" the personnel. Where does that process stand? He has veterans for stability and up-and-comers to mold. But the caveat is seasoned or not, most of these players are new; Fewell is new. The silver lining is they can grow together, anew.
Check out images from the Washington Redskins' first mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Ihenacho – who started 14 games for the Broncos in 2013, including Super Bowl XLVIII – says he's enjoyed taking on a leadership role among the defensive backs this offseason.
"I wouldn't say I'm a father figure," Ihenacho admitted. "But we just talk. If someone asks a question I'll answer because I've been in their shoes. [Younger players] are starting to be more verbal, laughing."
Laughter is the best part. It is a sense of comfort among the secondary. It is Fewell getting back into governing a solid secondary and just being in the film room with these guys. He said it's refreshing. That's the very reason why he took the job.
To that point, the secondary's laughter is eerie from the other side of the ball. Quarterback Robert Griffin III said it is a tough task for new personnel to get on the same page. But, something has clicked entering minicamp within this secondary.
"They're not making it easy for us by any stretch of the imagination," Griffin III said, smirking. "It's really good for us as an offense to see that because you're going to go against great corners in the league. We have some. We're going to go against great safeties. We have those too."
'Great addition'Fewell said the secondary's competitive play started from the bottom-up. Sure, he is soft-spoken – as his squad says. But with his hands-on approach and emphasis on discipline, he believes the group is making great headway.
"I think that with Joe [Barry] and the defensive staff, we can improve what's happened," Fewell said. "But each year presents a new set of challenges and we'll be challenged this year. … We have to compete."
To rewrite an unhappy ending last season would be great. But that's not the mindset of this group; they closed that book long before they hit the field for offseason workouts.
It's about trying to replicate some of the great Redskins' defensive backfields in its rich history, with hopes players and fans alike will buy in.
Head coach Jay Gruden already has.
"[I've had] a lot of respect for him going against him the last couple years," the second-year head coach said of Fewell said. "He's a great addition."
RELATED LINKS:-- Johnson, Ihenacho Bringing Out A Friendly Competition* *-- FedEx Tracking: Secondary Changes