Drew Terrell is a Renaissance man in the Commander’s Parlor

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One day at training camp, when the offense was struggling, Washington Commanders coach Drew Terrell didn’t like the way his players were reacting to defenders’ chest punches. Recipients lost their bounce, slumped their shoulders and complained about being held. One word came to mind: serenity.

Later, in the briefing room, Terrell pulled out a passage from “Lone Survivor,” the book about a group of US Navy SEALs in Afghanistan. Inside, Marcus Luttrell, the only SEAL to survive a bazooka barrage, hid from Taliban soldiers who chased him by leaving him lying in a crevasse with a broken nose, a broken back and a left leg covered in shrapnel. Terrell recalled telling his players, “Think about it. That is real serenity.”

“When you bring in examples like that…it changes their humility,” Terrell explained. “They’re locked in, like, ‘Yeah, that’s a real S—.’ … How do you get guys to understand what they’re doing? Appreciate what they’re doing? Just give them examples of things to use in those situations when there’s chaos.”

When training, Terrell typically wears a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and a serious expression on his face. He is reserved and intense, often approaching players individually to discuss technique. Terrell doesn’t come from a military family — he became obsessed with the SEALs after watching videos in college of “Hell Week,” the notoriously grueling portion of SEAL training — but his players describe him as methodical and demanding.

Terrell, 31, is one of the youngest position coaches in the NFL. He is closer in age to his star players – Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson – than his peers. His youth occasionally shows on the field, for example when he challenges his players to hot potatoes or when he celebrates their big games with phrases like “You’re him!”. or “Have them!”

At times, Terrell’s players praise his intelligence, mechanical adjustments, and mental preparation. But the root of his effectiveness, they said, lies in his ability to relate to himself as a former player and young black man. Terrell uses familiar cultural touchstones — he opened the August 24 bankruptcy trustees meeting with a picture of Kobe Bryant — and McLaurin said he stimulates players by asking them to think. He recently told the room about Southwest Airlines’ “brown shorts” hiring policy, which prioritizes attitude over skill, and sparked a debate by asking his players what they would expect from a potential player.

Terrell’s mix of ability, youth and aspirations to become a head coach makes him one of Washington’s most promising employees. Last year, NFL.com named him one of their Young Coaches to Watch Out for, and during camp, Coach Ron Rivera said, “The future is very bright for a young man like him.”

“He’s just starting out, really,” McLaurin said.

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This season will be one of the biggest tests of Terrell’s young career. He has the franchise’s best receiving corps in years, perhaps the team’s most talented group behind the defensive line, and it’s his job to get those players to produce to maximize quarterback Carson Wentz.

“I preach to guys all the time, . . . you have to show respect to people,” Terrell said. “The potential and the hype and the excitement? Sure it is what it is. But it could all be over quickly if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.”

For years, Terrell resented the idea of ​​becoming a coach. He played at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona and had dreams of playing on Sundays. But at Stanford, even as Terrell studied and trained and carved out a role as a depth receiver and punt returner, the coaches saw that his passion exceeded his abilities. They teased him by calling him “Coach”.

“He knew everything,” said Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who coached Terrell in college. “He understood where the ball should go against certain covers. He knew the running backs [responsibilities], where the ball should hit, what gaps. … He was a quarterback in the receivers’ room.”

In May 2014, Terrell graduated, packed his apartment, and headed southeast to minicamp with the San Francisco 49ers. He spent three days wearing the NFL jersey he’d been working toward for years, and afterwards, when it didn’t work out, Terrell felt at peace. He had wanted his dream as much as possible.

Back home in Chandler, Terrell pondered what to do next and spent the first lengthy period of his life away from football running four and five miles. Arena League? Canadian soccer league? Legal studies?

Ultimately, he missed the game too much and called his old coach. Moorehead had offered him a position as a research assistant, and Terrell joined him at Virginia Tech and began the arduous work. Terrell assisted coaches with various tasks — once sleeping in the office for a full week while helping create a new playbook — and found he liked the coaching more than he expected. He liked helping players and reusing the lessons he had learned over the years.

Terrell quickly climbed the ladder. In 2015, he joined his former head coach John Harbaugh at Michigan and two years later met Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner, then an offensive analyst at Wolverines. In 2018, Turner and Terrell went to the Carolina Panthers, and in 2020, after the Rivera regime fell apart in Charlotte, Terrell traveled with most of the staff to Washington, where he became an assistant receiver coach.

Last season, Washington promoted Jim Hostler to senior offensive assistant, and Terrell began managing the room. He curated a distinctive style, infusing technical lessons, like running specific routes against specific coverage, with accessible anecdotes from his favorite books and podcasts.

Over the summer he had read Think Like a Monk, which contained the story of Biosphere 2, a geoscientific research facility in Oracle, Arizona. One discovery the scientists made was that when trees at the facility reached a certain height, they just fell over. The trees hadn’t experienced enough natural wind, so the roots had never grown much. Terrell, who never wanted to be a coach, couldn’t stop thinking like a coach: he created a PowerPoint presentation about Biosphere 2, emphasizing the importance of adversity.

Last season, receiver Dyami Brown hit a rookie wall midseason, with a catch on two goals in eight weeks. But in late December, he ran a post route against Dallas All-Pro cornerer Trevon Diggs and made a jumping hook in double coverage for a 48-yard gain. Brown credited Terrell with helping him regain his confidence and break out of his funk.

“It all comes back to the trust and trust that we have in each other,” he said.

The stock of broadband receivers has increased. This NFL draft might show just how high.

This season, Terrell needs to start his unit fast. He needs a reliable second receiver to finally show up against McLaurin. The team has candidates in Samuel, Dotson, and Brown, and everyone in the room seems to have picked up Terrell’s message. In three interviews, the recipients said, unsolicited, that they had to “keep calm”.

Now in the last few weeks leading up to the regular season, her coach needs her to keep her going given the expectations.

“We can change that narrative every Sunday,” Terrell said. “Whatever the perception is…I want to see you do it and prove it for yourself.”

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