Rhodes wants meaner Redskins defense

He goes on the attack in plans to earn respect for oft-maligned unit

Pro Football

July 31, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes isn't talking.

He will at some point, but for now, Rhodes is declining to be interviewed, deflecting questions on how he plans to turn around the team's 30th-ranked defense.

The players are saying the right things about how Rhodes has brought a new attitude and a more aggressive approach, in part because they have to, but, in part, because they believe it's true.

After spending time with him in San Francisco, defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield is especially complimentary when discussing Rhodes. The 1994 49ers, who also featured cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Tyrone Drakeford, went on to win the Super Bowl with Rhodes as the defensive coordinator.

Stubblefield, Sanders, Drakeford and Rhodes find themselves reunited in Washington, hoping to re-create the result the last time the foursome was together six years ago.

After that season, Rhodes left for a four-year stint as head coach in Philadelphia. He went 30-36-1 with the Eagles, then went on to coach Green Bay last year. The Packers, at 8-8, did not make the playoffs, leading to the firing of Rhodes.

The dismissal was mired in controversy, with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson proclaiming possible racism.

Since, Rhodes has been selective, at best, in his interviews with the media. But according to Stubblefield, he is the same person in terms of coaching philosophy and motivational tactics.

"There's no change in him," Stubblefield said. "There's no scarring because I think he's back where he likes to be, as a defensive coordinator. He's real intense. You guys will witness this through the season, so be prepared."

Rhodes has the task of improving a defense that ranked 26th against the pass and 27th against the run last season. He has already won over the veterans here with his more attacking style.

The major difference for the Redskins this season, according to linebacker Shawn Barber, will be that heightened sense of aggression, including more blitzes, some of which were seen in camp last week using safeties Mark Carrier and Sam Shade.

"We're playing a lot tighter," Barber said. "We're playing not only to not give up the big play, but just sound from first down throughout the downs. We're going to not give the offense anything. We're just going to try and dictate to what we can do and not react to what offenses do to us."

There is reason for optimism over Rhodes' ability to get the best out of a defense. Besides his success with the 49ers, he was defensive coordinator for the Packers for two seasons in the early 1990s. In 1993, the Packers' defense ranked second in the NFL and sent two players to the Pro Bowl.

And he looks to have more now than he did with those Packers teams, with five former Pro Bowlers in Sanders, Stubblefield, cornerback Darrell Green, Carrier and defensive end Bruce Smith. When a possible budding Pro Bowler in second-year cornerback Champ Bailey, the draft's No. 2 pick in linebacker LaVar Arrington and an improving Barber are included, it becomes conceivable Rhodes this season could match his previous best ranking, in 1993.

So far in practice, the defense has had its moments. It has caused many interceptions of starting quarterback Brad Johnson.

"I think we have a way to go still," linebacker Derek M. Smith said. "The chemistry seems to be there, but until you play your first game, it's really hard to see that.

"He [Rhodes] knows his stuff. He's good."

NOTES: Cornerback Lloyd Harrison sprained his left ankle in practice Saturday and will be out for two weeks. Harrison, the Redskins' third-round pick out of North Carolina State, had been having a good camp before the injury. ... Defensive end Nolan Harrison (ankle), guard Jon Osterhout (shoulder), guard Michael Moore (foot) and tight end Chris Smith (ankle) all missed practice yesterday. Smith and Moore could return as early as tomorrow. ... Sanders made his first 11-on-11 interception yesterday off a Johnson pass. Sanders showed no effects from back spasms that kept him out of a practice last week. ... Coach Norv Turner said he is not concerned about the high number of interceptions Johnson has thrown during training camp. ... Running back Norman Miller was waived by the team at his request. ... The Redskins' roster is now at 83, with tackle Andy Heck receiving a special exemption. Heck who is recovering from a bulging disc in his back, is expected to join the team at some point over the next two weeks. ... There will be no practice today.

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