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Washington Is Psyched For Matt Ioannidis' Return

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Ask anyone on the team, player or coach, about Matt Ioannidis, and they'll tell you the same thing: they're psyched to have him back.

"Matt's a core...to this defensive line group," Jonathan Allen said during minicamp. "It's exciting and good to have him back."

Ioannidis, who led the team in sacks during the 2019 season, was off to another strong start in 2020 with 1.5 sacks in three games before tearing his biceps and missing the rest of the year. The group was confident it had the depth to pick up the slack at the time, but that didn't undermine how impactful it was to lose the five-year veteran.

Now that he's made a full recovery and on track for Week 1, he adds even more experience and leadership to what was already one of the team's strongest positions.

"It helps us tremendously," said defensive line coach Sam Mills III. "It's a stability factor that Matt gives us [and] a big body that's played a lot of snaps inside."

Ioannidis has been on a steady rise since he made his first start in 2017. After Week 6 of that season, he had 20 pressures on 121 pass-rushing snaps in addition to the second-highest pass-rush productivity score (13.2) behind only Aaron Donald, per Pro Football Focus.

That served as a springboard for the rest of Ioannidis' career, as he amassed 16.0 sacks over the next two seasons. His 8.5 sacks in 2019 were third among interior defensive linemen. The only players ahead of him: Donald and the Chiefs' Chris Jones.

And while he did see a dip in playing time in 2020 -- he averaged about 37% of the defensive snaps in three games -- he was still effective as a pass-rusher. PFF gave him a 77.0 pass-rushing grade, which was the highest of his career. That production on limited reps is part of why Rivera is excited to have him back.

"We were good last year; I think we can be better with Matt out there on the football field helping us," Rivera said. "What you've seen is him working doing the extra things, the little things that help develop your skill set."

Tackles and sacks are only part of what Washington's defensive line has been missing with Ioannidis on the sideline. His veteran leadership was what Mills brought up first when asked during the season what quality they would miss about his game the most.

That fact is still true about 10 months later. Ioannidis is entering his sixth season, which makes him one of just three defensive linemen to have more than three years of experience. As Mills put it, "you can't make that up."

"No matter how good you get, you can't make up veteran leadership," Mills said. "Matt's played a lot of downs in this league. He's a calming force for us. He's a strong, strong presence for us in the middle."

Ioannidis' teammates are anxious to get him back on the field, too. A chunk of Washington's pressure came from edge players last year; the duo of Chase Young and Montez Sweat accounted for more than a third of Washington's sacks. Ioannidis' return to the rotation should help the front collapse the pocket more easily, which means less time for quarterbacks to make decisions and more opportunities for sacks and turnovers.

"We love playing with him," Allen said. "He's a great guy to have on the field [and] off the field. So we were definitely missing a part of us last year. So to have him back is really exciting for us."

Ioannidis isn't known for being an outspoken player, but he doesn't need to be based on how he plays. The team knows how important he is to its success; his coaches and teammates don't expect that change.

"I feel very comfortable with him in the game," Mills said. "I feel very comfortable with his leadership role and the different things that Matt does for us in the run and the pass game. I'm very proud of him and I look forward to watching him continue that growth."

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