Washington's pass rush could be boosted by grandmaster Joe Kim

ASHBURN, Va. -- Sometimes it’s just the way they step, their footwork -- in theory -- preventing the blocker from doing his job. Other times it’s a matter of inches, a half-dozen perhaps, in their aiming point on an offensive lineman. The Redskins have tried for many years to bolster their pass rush. This time, it might be, in part, because of martial arts.

It’s a new twist on an old quest: Improving the Washington Redskins' pass rush. The best way the Redskins figured to do this was to invest in some players who could help. So they signed defensive linemen Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois, and they drafted linebacker Preston Smith. They also crossed their fingers with defensive end Jason Hatcher's health.

But they also went unconventional and hired taekwondo grandmaster Joe Kim to work with the players' hands and feet, all designed to give them a little extra edge when rushing the passer. It doesn’t always work, of course, but it’s a fresh look if nothing else. Then again, so, too, was last summer when the Redskins had Brian Baker coaching the pass-rushers.

"Every coach has a different philosophy," Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy said. "There’s no real wrong way. We just have a new approach. Our footwork is different. Our hand placement is different. Most of the stuff we’re doing now, last year would be wrong. Next year it could be wrong again. You never know. As a player you just have to put in so many reps until you get rid of the old habits and it just becomes second nature."

That’s what Paea discovered last season. But if Kim needs a walking endorsement, he has one in Paea. In his first three seasons, the former Chicago lineman had never recorded more than 2.5 sacks. Last season, he posted six and he credited his work with Kim as part of the reason. But Paea said it took until the second game for the new techniques to feel comfortable.

"He would teach it different than most coaches," Paea said.

For example, linemen typically are taught to make contact with an offensive lineman’s forearm/wrist area. Paea said Kim teaches them to aim for the elbow. The theory: It’s easier for a linemen to reload his arms if hit in the forearm vs. the elbow.

"The elbow goes all the way back and then when they try to go back [at you], you’re already gone," Paea said.

"A lot of it is feel," Murphy said. "[But] when you get their wrist, they can replace their hands faster."

And, Paea said, Kim teaches them footwork to make sure they don’t turn their bodies too much (which could prompt them to lose their one-on-one battle). In a two-sack game vs. Tampa Bay last season, Paea worked inside the guard and, after making contact, he maintained his feet so that his body was square to the line. It allowed him to be a little quicker and the guard couldn’t recover.

Kim, with his 10th NFL team, focuses on taekwondo techniques -- all the Redskins worked more with their hands this spring than in the past. He’s also big on foot and hip placement. But he wants players to get their handwork down before he moves onto the lower body.

"You can’t microwave this stuff," Kim said. "This team caught on real fast."

Kim owned a martial arts school in Ohio when he was hired by then Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick in 1992. Belichick had sent two of his defensive linemen, Michael Dean Perry and Anthony Pleasant, to work with Kim.

"I said I really don’t know a whole lot about NFL football other than being a Browns fan," said Kim, who will have the title of assistant strength and conditioning/skill development coach in Washington. "But I was happy to help, and after a month training with those guys coach Belichick asked to meet me. Within three days he asked if I’d be willing to work with him."

Since then he’s worked with Buffalo, Miami, Denver, Dallas, Green Bay and Kansas City and also spent time in a limited role with other teams, including the New York Giants. Kim won’t be limited to just working with defensive players in Washington.

"He’s a great guy to have," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last month. "Guys can work on that in the weight room, they can work that out on the field during special teams periods. You see [running back] Alfred Morris doing it -- our running backs can do it, tight ends can do it. Every position can work hand placement and hand usage at all times, and he’s one of the best in the business at doing that."

That said, a primary function will be improving a pass rush that recorded 36 sacks last season, which tied Washington for 21st in the NFL.

"Everything from Move 1 has a purpose," Kim said. "They build confidence in their hand speed and hand placement and they build confidence in the footwork. They build confidence in camp and they build confidence against their opponent -- and we’re gonna get some pressure on the quarterback."