'Phenomenal': Washington's players loved the new training staff originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
So much changed about the Washington Football Team in 2020.
Ron Rivera and essentially an entirely fresh group of coaches took over the sidelines. A pile of free agent signings were brought in to contribute, along with an eight-prospect draft class. Look at how the Burgundy and Gold was referred to in the first sentence of this story; that was pretty different for everyone, huh?
Because of all that shifting, the adjustments in the training room were somewhat overlooked. Head trainer Ryan Vermillion, who worked with Rivera for years in Carolina, joined the coach's new franchise in January, replacing Larry Hess. Hess had been with the organization for more than a decade and a half.
The players themselves didn't overlook that part of the operation, though, according to Rivera.
"It was amazing to hear that from the first week all the week to the last week, just listening to the guys talking about, 'Man, it’s different,'" Rivera said this past Sunday. "'The feel’s different. The vibe is different. Gosh, this is great just being able to come down here and get these things taken care of.'"
Stats about injuries aren't the easiest to access, but the numbers that are available do seem to indicate a positive impact from Vermillion and Co.
Per Pro Football Reference, 28 out of 42 Football Teamers (66.67 percent) who were listed as questionable in 2020 ended up playing. In 2019, by comparison, just 20 out of 35 guys (57.1 percent) with the same designation actually suited up. Injured reserve stints were also down slightly as well.
Even anecdotally, there were a few interesting developments.
Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin were able to fight back from turf toe and a high ankle sprain, respectively — two typically extremely pesky issues — to make a difference late in the schedule. Brandon Scherff returned from the short-term IR in October and ended up on the All-Pro list. And though a calf ailment kept him out of the Wild Card loss to Tampa, Alex Smith's participation in the season had to have been aided by the altered staff.
Now, to assume this is all solely because of Vermillion's influence would be foolish.
The lack of offseason workouts and practices was certainly key in Washington having a healthier mix of options. Moving on from less-than-durable pieces like Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson and Paul Richardson was only going to help. Also, the organization was bound to stumble into better injury lucky after a particularly rough few years under Jay Gruden.
However, going off of Rivera's comments, the switch-up on the medical side mattered. A lot.
"The other day, I was just asking a couple guys about how things were going, all things considered," he told the media. "They said: ‘Coach, all things considered, this is phenomenal.’ I said: ‘What do you mean?’ They said: ‘Gosh, we were able to come in and feel good about getting treatment and working on our rehab treatment.’
"There was a lot of positivity coming from the players."
This seems like an appropriate time to point out that Vermillion also served as Washington's infectious control officer, putting him in charge of enforcing the NFL's COVID-19 protocols and keeping everyone in the facility safe during the pandemic. By season's end, just two members of the team ended up on the COVID list, by far the smallest amount in the league.
Rivera scored an NFC East title in his debut campaign in Washington, and his rebuild already looks far ahead of schedule. Part of the reason for that is a newfound attention to detail and an emphasis on everyone doing their job. Clearly, Vermillion and his charges are in lockstep with Rivera when it comes to those areas.