Mark Washington jokes that he’s not at liberty to talk about what’s left of last year’s BC Lions.
And with reason, because jokes aside, a lot is different in 2014. For one, he’s at the top of the defensive chain. Former defensive coordinator Rich Stubler isn’t around, though parts of him will always be a part of Mark Washington.
Rich Stublerisms, as Washington says, are still there. And as he takes on his first season as the defensive coordinator, he can only appreciate and build on what he learned from his last known source.
“It’s all about making things your own,” he said. “I expect to see guys that are going to run hard and play hard every single down. I want them to have an understanding of how this game is played.
“It’s not played on a board, it’s not played on a computer. It’s played by men on a field, by guys that I have a lot of respect for.”
Naturally, it helps that he spent the last six seasons as the defensive backs coach in BC, and finished his own playing career wearing these colours.
“There’s not too many things a player can tell me that I haven’t experienced myself or seen at some point in my career,” he said. “I think they understand that I’m not going to ask them to do things that are impossible.”
The Lions boast a unique group up front. With the return of Khalif Mitchell added to veterans Khreem Smith and Eric Taylor, Washington is happy they’ve bought into the plan.
“These guys can be dominant … We’re fortunate to have the rare combination of big men that can do a lot of things,” he said. “They’re fast, they understand the game and they’re strong. That’s exactly what I love.”
Eric Taylor is coming off his first season where he played in all 18 games for the Lions, and he’s ready to build. In June, the 32-year-old defensive tackle signed an extension with the BC club through 2015.
“To have Khalif beside me that can take control of games himself, [and] Khreem is one of the best defensive ends in the league up here,” he said. “Just having him beside you and knowing he’s on your line – we can just look at eachother and we just know what we’re going to do.
“I can literally look Khreem in his face and not even say a word and I know what he’s thinking.”
Taylor recorded 35 tackles and five sacks last season, and the Lions defensive corps allowed the second fewest rushing yards (94.4) in the league. Putting an emphasis on the strengths of his men, Washington isn’t concerned about that same group posted the third fewest sacks (45).
“We want to impact the quarterback,” he said. “A lot of times they put a lot of onus on sacks, and I understand, they should. They’re big impact plays.”
The Washington playbook goes beyond that one measure, and his line is buying in – even if it hasn’t paid dividends quite yet.
“I think more important are turnovers. A tipped ball from a defensive lineman is just as good as a sack – it does the same thing a sack does, and I’d rather have a turnover than a sack any other day.”
Like any good example, Taylor feels the veterans – he, Smith, the newly-returned Mitchell, and Jabar Westerman – will set the standard for those less familiar with the league by perfecting their craft.
“We’re putting an emphasis on [the turnovers] and they’re going to start coming,” he said. “We missed a handful this year that we could have scored off of, or gotten the offence back a possession. We haven’t done that the first two games”
Entering play in Week 3, the Lions are still finding their footing. Saturday night in Regina will be another step in the right direction to remedy an rough start, they hope. Taylor knew from the moment he and his teammates got the memo all those months ago, naming Washington as the coordinator, that they’d all get onto the same page. Mutual respect will do that.
“He knows the style of defence we can or are capable of playing,” Taylor said. “He knows how to put us in a position to let us use our athletic ability and talent, and every week we’re just getting better.”