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Robb Akey's Message: 'You've Got To Be You'

Robb Akey has remained true to his coaching style as a vocal presence to the Redskins' defensive line. That's also meant bringing a wealth of expertise to a veteran-heavy group of players.

The story quickly turned into legend back in February, but head coach Jay Gruden stood by it.

The Washington Redskins announced the hiring of Robb Akey as the team's defensive line coach on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Take a look back at his career through photos.

Throughout the process of interviewing defensive line coaches, Gruden knew Robb Akey was getting the job as soon as he walked through the door -- he knocked over trash cans and chairs in an attempt to demonstrate some drills in the room, so the story went.

It was just a brief indication of what Akey would bring to a defensive line that was about to be overhauled with new faces, both by rookies and veterans, and that he wasn't going to change his passion – and certainly his demonstrative, vocal style -- just because he was confined by four walls.

"You've got to be you," Akey said Tuesday after the first day of minicamp. "I guess even when I was a little guy I probably got accused of being a loud little guy… I think when you're passionate about something I think that it shows."

You can hear his idiosyncratic passion in how he describes players: Terrance Knighton has "sweet feet," Stephen Paea is a "strong son of a gun" and Jason Hatcher has been "working his ever-loving tail off."

You can hear it on the field, too, in an environment better suited for his enthusiasm.

It doesn't matter if the defensive line is hitting dummies and punching sleds or if they're practicing their various schemes with the entire defense, Akey is constantly in each player's ear, commending or critiquing in his loud, gravelly voice.

"I'm excited about the way that they're working," Akey said. "It's been fun getting it going the last couple of weeks, being able to get some time out here on the grass…I like the way they're working. I think we're gaining ground.

"We've got a lot of the teaching done. It's a new package," he said.  "It's like starting a clean slate today as we come out here, so making sure we execute the calls well, the way we want to, that we're using the technique, that we're working to make a habit and that it's better than it was when we started in the OTA time."

Climbing the ladder
Akey is still relatively new to the NFL – he got his first taste last season as the assistant defensive line coach with the Vikings -- after spending 25 years in the college game, and spending all of them on the West Coast.

His resume includes time at Weber State and Northern Arizona before graduating to defensive coordinator at Washington State and head coach of Idaho, where he spent five seasons helping build a losing program into a bowl team in 2009.

The NFL wasn't always the next practical step until he took a step back from the game. Akey wanted a new beginning – one he found briefly with Minnesota – and realized the college game was changing, in his smaller conference world, for the worse.

"There's a lot of changes taking place in college football," Akey said.  "It's going to change a lot of things in a lot of ways. To me, this is something I was looking to make happen.

"The haves are going to have more and the have nots are going to have less," he continued.  "The parity isn't going to be quite what it's got to be… There's a great difference in what each program has from top to bottom in regards to the dollars they're spending and things like that. The TV networks, like that Pac-12 network, have helped some colleges like Washington State to be able to fight some facility battles."

Once in the NFL, Akey was ready to take a heavier position. His affiliation with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer helped his relationship with Gruden, who had worked with Zimmer for years with the Cincinnati Bengals. His relationship with defensive coordinator Joe Barry went back to the mid-1990s, when both were coaching for Northern Arizona.

Moving on to another NFL organization, this time with the ability to shed his assistant title, felt like a natural progression.

"It was a good place to be and I was around good people," Akey said of Minnesota. "[The Redskins] happened to be an opportunity to not be an assistant defensive line coach, [but] be the defensive line coach, and take that next step. It was a logical next step to be able to make as you're looking to keep yourself rolling."

Imparting his wisdom
One of the things defensive lineman Jason Hatcher likes about Akey is the willingness to unleash his players; that Akey's aware the veterans know the game and their responsibilities, that he's generous enough to let them "freelance," as Hatcher puts it, when necessary.

"He lets us be us," Hatcher said, nearly mimicking his coach. "He understands how to coach men. We've got different personalities in our room and we're all different…He goes out there and understands that the veteran guys understand football. We just pull the young guys along. He doesn't try to get in the way of [anything]."

Akey, like so many others on the line, might be new to the team, but transitioning from college – dealing with kids still learning the game – to the NFL – preaching systems and techniques – hasn't been an issue. Something of a motto, he remains true to his style, which works at any level.

"The deal is to help them be the best player they can be," Akey said. "You're dealing with a different caliber player at this level. They're capable of doing a lot more… They've been in this league, for example, and have done it different ways, so it's a matter of making it fit the way your package needs it to fit defensively and then the techniques that are going to work within that."

So far, everyone – from Knighton, to Paea, to Chris Baker – has responded.

"You know, that's a strong room. It really is," Gruden said. "Coach Akey is excellent at delivering the right kind of message on a daily basis, changing it up and getting the most of out of them. They have a lot of respect for him already and you can see they pay attention."

What Akey brings with him from coaching all kinds of players is a wealth of knowledge, and maybe more importantly, the ability to make it applicable to a defensive line.

As the Redskins revert to a one-gap system in their 3-4 defense, which allows linemen to attack one designated gap, awareness of linebacker responsibilities becomes more important. Akey's become a "professor," in that regard, according to Paea.

"Most D-Line coaches don't know what safeties and linebackers do. He knows it all. He breaks down what the call is," Paea said. "For us, when you're starting to understand what linebackers and safeties are doing in certain blitzes, it will help you."

"A lot of times as a D-lineman we get a lot of signal calls and start to tell us where we're going," Baker said. "But it always helps to know on certain blitzes where guys are going to be so you know what kind of moves you can use and what moves you can't use. The more knowledge you have the better off you'll be, so he's a very knowledgeable coach."

With more than a month left until training camp, Akey has made it clear with his linemen that the last impressions in minicamp serve as lasting impressions. He may be loud, a little quirky, and play up that interview room legend, but Akey is also just as meticulous and just as aware of the caliber of talent he has in front of him.

"I'm excited," Hatcher said of playing under Akey. "I can get back to being myself and the other guys around me. I'm excited to see how far this D-line can take this team." 

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