Anyone attending a Redskins training camp practice this summer couldn’t help but notice Raheem Morris. The new defensive backs coach isn’t a big man, but he has a booming voice and a presence designed to get under the skin of the guys on the other side of the ball.
“Anybody who comes out there and goes out of their way trying to talk and stuff, it can wear on people, but not Raheem,” said Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who has known Morris since they were 20-something assistants in Tampa in 2004. “That’s how he is 24-7. It can get a little bit irritating as a play caller because I can’t really join in the … going back and forth because then you get a delay of game or I forget what plays I’m calling. So I really have to block him out. He’s more of my heckler … but it keeps it fun for all the other guys.”
That was back in August. Life isn’t so fun for Morris and his guys now that Washington’s pass defense is the NFL’s second-worst and the biggest reason why the Redskins are 1-2 and in the NFC East basement heading into Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, the franchise that fired Morris as its coach after finishing last season with 10 straight defeats.
A secondary that was critical to limiting New Orleans to 175 passing yards and seven points through the first three and a half quarters of the season-opening 40-32 shocker has been strafed for 850 yards and nine touchdown passes during the past eight and a half quarters.
“We’ve got to play much better as a secondary,” lamented coach Mike Shanahan. “I thought the defense was going to be the strength of our football team.”
Even so, everyone suspected that the revamped secondary, which changed its nickel back and both safeties before losing one of the starting safety candidates to a drug suspension and another to a sprained knee, would be the defense’s trouble spot. Even three-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall termed the group a “crew of misfits” since almost all had been found wanting elsewhere. But surrendering touchdowns of 48, 59 and 73 yards in the same game?
“You give up big plays like that, chances of winning the game is slim to none,” said Hall, who teamed with strong safety DeJon Gomes to get torched on the 73-yard bomb on the first snap of last Sunday’s 38-31 loss to Cincinnati. “We need to get better and look ourselves in the mirror, figure it out.”
There has to be plenty of tension in the defensive backs meeting room these days, but back in July, Hall raved about his new position coach’s approach.
“Raheem loves us all unconditionally,” Hall said. “We’ll go out there and make a mistake; he’ll pat us on the back. He’s not one of those scream at you type guys. The majority of us seem to respond better to the ‘love me up’ type of motivation and he’s definitely one of those guys.”
Despite the perception that they struggled on pass defense in 2011, the Redskins ranked 12th in the NFL while allowing 22 touchdown passes in 16 games. Only three of those scores all season went for as many as 48 yards, a stat that Washington matched last week alone.
Morris hasn’t publicly tried to explain what went wrong in Tampa where he directed the Bucs to a surprising 10-6 mark in 2010, his second season in command, and a 4-2 start last year before all his good work came undone in a hurry. And he’s apparently not looking at Sunday’s game as a chance to avenge his dismissal.
“There’s a lot of great people in Tampa,” said Morris, a Bucs assistant for six years before he succeeded Jon Gruden in 2009 at age 32. “I spent a lot of great years down there. I can’t think of a better place to grow up in football as far as defense. You’re talking about being under (coaches) Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Mike Tomlin. I learned so much from them. I can’t wait to go back. A lot of those guys I have a great relationship with and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Like Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who moved on to the United Football League when St. Louis fired him as coach after the 2008 season, Morris couldn’t stay out of the game after losing his job.
“I couldn’t be away from this,” Morris said. “I enjoy my time way too much. They’re only 32 defensive backs coaches in the league. You got a big responsibility. I’m still calling the shots from a defensive backs standpoint. It’s just a smaller group. You deliver your message.”
However, so far it seems that Morris’ message to his group, like an email that bounces back, hasn’t been delivered.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin