'Skins impressed with Williams' techniques

Coach's defensive concepts earn accolades at camp

Pro Football

March 29, 2004|By Ryan O'Halloran | Ryan O'Halloran,DAILY PRESS

ASHBURN, Va. -- Sure, Gregg Williams arrived at Redskins Park with an impressive resume of coaching successful NFL defenses, and some of his new players knew he was Tennessee's defensive coordinator when the Titans reached the Super Bowl in January 2000.

But the NFL is a show-me business. Players want to be sold on a coach, a scheme, a philosophy and how it will help them.

During the Washington Redskins' three-day minicamp -- which wrapped up yesterday -- the defensive starters bought into Williams' concepts, which include heavy aggression.

Williams is one of the Redskins' assistant head coaches, with defense his speciality.

Linebacker LaVar Arrington: "He's such a bright guy, I can see why he's had successful defenses in the past. He's been the most pleasant surprise for me. You kind of expected this from Coach [Joe] Gibbs, but Gregg has helped me a lot in just two days."

Cornerback Shawn Springs: "A lot of coaches give you a lot of information, but the difference here is that he is detail-oriented and talking to you all the time about what they're teaching."

Linebacker Kevin Mitchell: "You can tell by our practices that we're going to be aggressive and up-tempo. Once we get it all together, it's going to be something to see."

Cornerback Fred Smoot: "This defense is a defensive back's dream. When the quarterback is forced to make quick decisions, that's when we make big plays."

A Cliffs Notes version of a Williams defense: Speed in the secondary and at linebacker ... great against the run ... not afraid to blitz at any time ... myriad personnel packages, including a 3-2-6 ... pedal-to-the-metal mentality ... a mix of man-to-man and zone coverages.

"We want to be as aggressive as possible, but we want to minimize the big plays," Williams said. "We're going to add more pressure than they've had here in the last three, four years."

Part of the reason the Washington players love Williams' system is the trust factor. He wants Arrington to move around and even put a hand on the ground to play rush end. He wants Springs and Smoot to thrive in man coverage. He wants safeties Matt Bowen and Ifeanyi Ohalete to play close to the line of scrimmage and stuff the run.

"You'll earn your money in this defense," Springs said.

In a preview of what fans can expect during the regular season, the Redskins' defense blitzed often in 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 drills during minicamp.

"Gregg is wide open," Arrington said. "He's not halfway in anything he does. His blitzes come from all angles. I don't think even he knows where they're all coming from."

Getting to the quarterback is a hallmark of a Williams defense.

In 1999-2000, his Tennessee defense recorded a league-best 109 sacks; and in 2000, the Titans led the NFL in total defense. As Buffalo's head coach from 2001-03, the Bills' defense improved from 21st to 15th to second. Williams was fired by Buffalo after going 6-10 last season.

His newest challenge is a Redskins defense that was wretched in general (25th in the NFL) and particularly bad on third down (24th) and against the run (24th). The run defense is foremost in Williams' mind; witness the signing of tackles Cornelius Griffin and Phillip Daniels.

"We have to do a better job on early downs, and we have to play the run better," Williams said. "As we're putting this defense together, I see some good signs of people who will be around to play the run better."

The Daily Press of Newport News, Va., is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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