Part Three of the “Meet the Coaches” series here at Cat Crave will focus on the coaches in charge of the Defensive Line.
Eric Washington – Defensive Line
PLAYING AND PERSONAL
Washington played his college ball for legendary head coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State where he manned the tight end position from 1989-90.
He earned a bachelors of science degree from Grambling State in 1993.
Washington began his college coaching career at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant in 1997.
Commissioned as a Naval Reserve Officer in 1998, Washington was assigned to the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., where he served as the defensive coordinator of the football team for three years.
From 2001-2003, Washington oversaw the defensive line and kickoff coverage team at Ohio University.
He then moved to Northwestern, where he served as the defensive line coach from 2004-07. With the Wildcats, Washington developed several pro prospects like defensive end Luis Castillo, who was selected in the first round by the San Diego Chargers in 2005, and defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who was chosen in the fourth round by the New York Giants in 2006. Washington also tutored defensive end Corey Wootton, an honorable mention All-Big Ten player as a freshman and drafted in the fourth round by the Bears in 2010.
He gained his first professional coaching experience by twice participating in the NFL’s Minority Internship Program, assisting the Atlanta Falcons linebackers during training camp in 2004 and the Bears defensive line during training camp in 2005.
Washington spent 2008-10 with the Chicago Bears as the defensive assistant/assistant defensive line coach for the first two seasons and was promoted to defensive line coach in 2010. During the 2010 season, he presided over a group that accounted for 25 of the team’s 34 sacks and helped the Bears rank ninth in the NFL in total defense, second in rushing defense and fourth in scoring defense. Along the defensive line, he coached Pro Bowler Julius Peppers and end Israel Idonije, who tied for the team lead with eight sacks each.
Washington joined the Panthers in 2011, where he was charged with mentoring a young group that started three different rookies at defensive tackle. The unit, led by defensive end Charles Johnson, produced 25.5 of the team’s 31 sacks. Johnson paced the Panthers with nine sacks, while second-year defensive end Greg Hardy and undrafted rookie Thomas Keiser tied for second with four sacks each.
Last season, under Washington’s tutelage, Johnson and Hardy became the first Panthers tandem to record double-digit sacks since 2002. Johnson led the team and ranked sixth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks in addition to forcing seven fumbles, the second most in the league. Hardy posted 11 sacks, bettering the seven he totaled in his first two seasons (2010-11) combined. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards provided push from the inside, registering a career-high six sacks after notching just 5.5 in his previous eight seasons.
Washington’s defensive line in 2012 helped the Panthers rank 10th in the NFL in total defense as 37 of their 39 sacks – the most by the team since 2006 – came from the defensive line. Carolina finished the season ninth in the NFL in sacks per pass play at 6.6 percent and tallied six or more sacks in three games, including a franchise record tying seven at Atlanta (9/30/12).
Now in his third season with the Panthers, Washington blends youthful energy with abundant experience as a coach on the pro and college levels, and his players have responded.
Tight end: Grambling State 1989-90. College coach: Texas A&M 1997, Ohio 2001-03, Northwestern 2004-07. Pro coach: Chicago Bears 2008-10, joined Panthers in 2011.
Sam Mills III – Defensive Line Assistant
PLAYING AND PERSONAL
Mills is no stranger to the organization as his position on the coaching staff is the culmination of his path as a youth. His father, Sam, is the only Panthers player to have his number retired and is the only player inducted into the team’s Hall of Honor. When his father played for the Panthers, Mills worked as a ball boy at training camp and later in the equipment room.
Mills played at Montclair (N.J.) State, following in his father’s footsteps. (The elder Mills was an NCAA Division II All-America at linebacker). Sam III started 20 games in two seasons at defensive back for the Red Hawks and totaled 71 tackles, two interceptions, 14 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Mills spent the 2005 season in a dual role as a strength and conditioning and defensive assistant, and then was promoted to defensive quality control coach in 2006. As defensive quality control coach, Mills was responsible for breaking down vast amounts of information and analyzing opponents’ statistical tendencies to assist in game-plan preparation and the production of the defensive playbook.
In 20o9, Mills contributed to a rejuvenated Panthers defensive line that produced 24.5 of the team’s 31 sacks and in 2010, helped Charles Johnson become the fifth player in team history to collect 10 or more sacks in a season with 11.5.
Prior to the 2011 season, Mills added assistant defensive line coach to his title along with serving as the Panthers defensive quality control coach, though he actually has been working with the defensive line since 2006.
Since 2011, Mills has been alongside Washington, and assisted with a line that accounted for 25.5 of the team’s 31 sacks in 2011. Johnson paced the team with nine sacks, and young players received valuable experience as three rookies started games at defensive tackle.
In 2012, thirty-seven of Carolina’s 39 sacks came from the defensive line as Johnson led the team with 12.5, Hardy had 11, becoming the first Panthers tandem to record double-digit sacks since 2002. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards registered 6.5 and the Panthers finished the season ninth in the NFL in sacks per pass play at 6.6 percent and tallied six or more sacks in three games, including a franchise record tying seven at Atlanta (9/30/12).
Mills is in his ninth season with Carolina and third as assistant defensive line coach in 2013.
Defensive back: Monclair State 1997-1999. Pro coach: Joined Panthers in 2005.
NEXT: Linebackers and Secondary Coaches