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Eric Washington big piece in offseason coaching puzzle

Posted Jan 8, 2018

If the Panthers lose defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, they have a perfect in-house candidate. If he doesn't leave with Wilks.

CHARLOTTE – When Sean McDermott left Carolina to become Buffalo’s head coach last year, Ron Rivera had an easy fix – promote Steve Wilks to defensive coordinator. 

With Wilks now a red-hot head coaching candidate, at least Rivera has another easy fix on-staff. 

But there’s a possible snag this time around. 

Defensive line coach Eric Washington, who's helped mold the Panthers’ front into one of the NFL’s best over the past six seasons, seems like a no-brainer solution. Yet if Wilks heads elsewhere, the sense around the league is Washington would follow to become Wilks’ defensive coordinator. 

“I think the system that they have here, if they lose (Washington), I think that's huge,” defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said. “He and Sam (Mills III) do such a good job with the system and improving players. In my opinion, it'd be a big loss.”

Since 2012, Washington's line has piled up a league-leading 219.0 sacks. Against the run in the same timeframe, Carolina has allowed the third-fewest yards per game (96.2). And Washington has done it by coaching up early-round picks like Kawann Short, late-round choices like Greg Hardy and guys who weren’t wanted on draft day. 

“Shoot man, going from being undrafted to being on the active roster – it speaks for itself,” rookie defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. “He’s been a key instrument to my success. He’s helped me through this process, helped me get better, tightened up my technique. It speaks volumes.” 

Which brings us to one of Washington’s coaching traits – speaking with volume. In the span of a practice, the former Naval Reserve officer often morphs from drill sergeant to stern teacher to loving parent. 

“He's all about his business. Regardless of what you think about him, he's going to do his job. If you like it or not, whatever,” Cox said. “He’s just a real thorough coach.” 

If Washington ends up leaving with Wilks as a package deal, Rivera could look to recently released coaches like Jack Del Rio or Chuck Pagano. Another possibility could be Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb. 

“I have concerns,” Rivera said, “but I also think we have some young guys in place. One thing that you always try to do and look at as a coach is who is the next guy. Who’s the next person? 

“I feel really good about the guys we have in place to replace Steve.”