When the Redskins signed linebacker Zach Brown in the offseason, one of his first promises to the secondary was that it wouldn't need to worry about tackling. So far, that's been the case.
When head coach Jay Gruden thinks of linebacker Zach Brown, one play comes to mind that exemplifies the impact he's had on the Redskins through three games.
Early in the second quarter during the team's victory over the Rams, quarterback Jared Goff found tight end Gerald Everett wide open down the right sideline and a 75-yard touchdown looked inevitable. But sprinting at full capacity and catching up to him was Brown, who made a tackle just six yards before the goal line.
"His speed shows up a lot," Gruden said. "Pursuing to the football, dropping in pass coverage, planting his foot and coming and gang tackling and making plays, so I think you don't really notice that on the practice field until you get in gameday when you see it show up. I think that's the biggest thing that he's added to this defense – he's added to our team speed."
But that play was also indicative of a promise that Brown made to his defensive backs when he was signed in the offseason. Second in the league in tackles last season (149), and second again entering Week 4 with 33, Brown's biggest attribute has been bringing players to the ground, letting his corners and safeties focus primarily on coverage duties.
On that near-touchdown catch, Brown knew that safety Deshazor Everett could have also tackled the Rams' tight end before the goal line, but wanted to clean up the mess himself.
"In my mind, I want to protect my corners and the secondary," Brown said. "I don't want nobody picking on them, nobody trying to make dumb tackles. We're going to tackle, we're going to defeat the block that you got coming for us and we're going to go get them.
"Me and Mason [Foster] and the front seven will make sure you don't have to tackle no running back," he added. "A lot of people get hurt tackling a running back."
It's one of the many reasons why cornerback Josh Norman, smiling at his recent locker room session with the media, said of Brown, "he makes the job a whole lot easier," and then summed up his thoughts. "Boy, I love Zach Brown."
Someone else sharing that sentiment, and reaping the rewards of Brown's tackling abilities, is cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who sits next to Brown in the locker room and likes to share conversation about their nearby hometowns in South Carolina.
He's already noticed a difference in Brown's speed, letting him play observer to opposing running backs being tackled. Through three games, Breeland has just eight tackles. After two games last season, before he injured himself early against the Giants, Breeland had already collected 19 tackles.
"Last year, around this time I probably had around -some tackles," Breeland said. "Now I really don't have to worry about the tackling. If I do, he kind of beats me to him or he assists me. He's all of over the field. That's a great addition to the team. He's making it easy for us."
While safety D.J. Swearinger has already been anointed the vocal leader of the defense, Brown has earned a similar leadership role for his play on the field and during times of crisis. Take last Sunday's game against the Raiders, for example, when defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's communication system failed during several plays. Brown stepped in to make the calls without it.
"They made a call and they played it," Manusky said. "So whatever the call was that Zach [Brown] made in the middle, we played it."
It was an indication of the trust players have in Brown as well as the inside linebacker's intelligence and readiness to step up when needed.
"If you're the other linebacker on the field, you're going to know the calls, you have to know the calls, make sure you know where everybody's supposed to be because you never know," Brown said. "When Mason [Foster] went down, I had to call the calls, so you just have to know. Because somebody might not know what they're supposed to do, so you've got to tell them, you've got to be able to communicate with them on defense and it's trust, too. They trust me to make the call."
Brown has garnered that trust by doing the little things, he said, showing up on time to meetings, correcting mistakes on the field and communicating constantly about miscues that can be fastened up.
Brown's goal, one he stated during OTAs, is to be the defensive MVP this season, an award often given to those with high tackle totals. But individual statistics can sometimes be misleading, as Brown hopes them to be for the remainder of the season.
"Good defenses get around 55 plays, so if you get around 55 plays, you're not going to have as many tackles," Brown said. "But your defense is going to be that good. So for us as a defense, we're trying to cut down our plays, because the more you cut down your pays, the more you're off the field. So that's a big goal of ours."
Still, the tackles he does acquire will continue to make a difference, keeping the secondary out of harm's way as the Redskins keep building on their defensive cohesiveness.