CHARLOTTE – When Eric Washington was promoted from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator ahead of the 2018 season, he expressed supreme confidence, and that confidence was shared by head coach Ron Rivera, general manager Marty Hurney and the entire locker room.
“One thousand percent ready,” Washington said in January of taking on his new role. “You have to see the big picture and connect the entire operation. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that, learning and growing. I feel as prepared as I can possibly be.
“Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be things that you learn as you go through it,” he added, “but we’ll meet those challenges.”
Washington and the Panthers are currently being faced with those challenges.
On Monday, a day after Carolina suffered its fourth consecutive loss, Rivera relieved two defensive assistants of their duties.
Rivera also announced that he’ll take over as defensive play-caller for the remainder of the season – he called plays during Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.
“Eric has done a great job. He’s done some really good things for us. He’s really helped putting things together. I just think with my experience and with the situation we’re in right now, that I can help,” said Rivera, who was a top-notch coordinator with the Bears and Chargers before coming to Carolina.
“He and I are going to work closely together. I can show him a few things that I think can help him as we go forward with this.”
Washington will be tasked with managing the front seven of the defense while Rivera aids secondary coach Richard Rodgers with the back four.
“Eric and I will collaborate on putting the defense together each week as we prepare everybody to play,” said Rivera, who has always had a lot of input with the defense.
This isn’t how anyone would envision their first season as coordinator unfolding, but this league has a way of presenting obstacles at every turn.
The Panthers have been forced to replace defensive coordinators each of the last two offseasons with Sean McDermott leaving to become Bills head coach in 2017 and Steve Wills departing to become Cardinals head coach in 2018.
Rivera admitted that “to a degree” that turnover has caught up to Carolina.
“It’s been trying, obviously, when you lose guys that have been in the system for a long time,” Rivera said. “It’s about learning and growing and getting back to where we’ve been in the past, especially as a defense.”
Washington’s goal from the beginning has been to continue Carolina’s tradition of excellence on defense. He was an integral part of the unit’s productivity over the years, especially when it came to rushing the passer and stopping the run.
“Eric is a professional. He’s done this for a long time and he’s been very successful,” Rivera said. “His track record speaks for itself, especially dealing with the front seven, especially dealing with the front four. I have a bit of experience with doing this, with play-calling and with putting defenses together, and I think it’s an opportunity for me to work even closer with him to help him out.”
Rivera, with his experience coordinating at the highest level, believes he can help Washington, and that in turn will help the defense.
And if the head coach sees an opportunity to help his team, he's got to take it.
“You’ve all got to remember your first time doing something, you weren’t perfect,” Rivera said. “Somebody had to help you, and that’s really what I’m here for – to help (Eric) as we go forward as a football team.”