The team's new defensive backs coach has returned to the NFL after 11 seasons in the college ranks, the majority of them spent at Virginia Tech. Following a recent training camp practice, Gray discussed the Redskins' secondary, his coaching development and why he loves MMA. *
WR: You usually keep your position group the longest after practice to speak with them. What's been the general message in these huddles?
TG: We're just trying to establish the culture that we want to be one of the best groups in the NFL. To do that, guys are wanting to say, "This is how things have to be done, this is the mindset, this is the mentality you've got to have." So we're just trying to build that amongst our group.
Do you mostly speak or do you have a lot of guys volunteering to talk?**
I normally start off with what I've seen from the practice that day, get my perspective on it. D.J. [Swearinger's] normally a guy that's going to say something afterwards. D-Hall will say something. Josh [Norman] will say something. It's really for the whole group – if you've got something to say, let's say it.
Do you feel, amongst these players, that you're part of the crew now?
Yeah, it's kind of a trial as it goes along. You're kind of earning their trust the more it goes along. Now we're into the training camp part, we'll get into some preseason games, and the more we're in it together, the more that we're getting entrenched and that we're all in it.
It seems like you've gotten more vocal on the sidelines, too.
I'm always a vocal guy. I think the more I learn about the defense, the system, the more vocal I can be. Just by nature I'm always trying to give input as much as I can.
Within the coaching staff, how do you feel you've adjusted?
[Laughing] Well I just kind of be myself. I'm kind of low-key, observant. I like to laugh and observe how everyone else is. But I love our coaching staff – [Greg] Manusky, he keeps it loose. We know when we need to be serious. Jimmy [Tomsula's] a big personality, so it's a great dynamic. Everybody's got their personality, it's a matter of once you know where you are and who you work with.
What are defensive meetings like?
You work, but we laugh. We enjoy being around each other, so it's fun. Always productive, but fun.
Who's the biggest jokester of the group?
Oh, Greg is, he sets the tone.
What's been the biggest difference for you being in the NFL after so many years in college?
The input from the players, the control that the players have, it's like, I can say something as a coach in college and pretty much that's going to carry its weight, but the [NFL] players they can control the deal. That's been the unique thing. They can really get your message across better than you can.
Have you grown as a coach because of that?
Yeah, definitely. These guys have a lot of football to offer. Even though they're players, they've been coached in different systems and taught by different coaches and they kind of enlighten you. "Hey coach we did this this way." So it's been fun from that standpoint.
How nice has it been to have Kendall Fuller, another Virginia Tech player you coached, to help your transition?
Having Kendall has been awesome because if I want to get a point across with something, Kendall does it, he puts it on video, he knows exactly how I want it done, and he may take those guys, "Oh, that's how it's done." That's been the fun part of things. Kendall knows how I am, so whatever he's telling those guys, I have no idea, but it's been fun having a guy where if I want something done a certain way, he knows exactly what I'm talking about.
And this seems like an energized, talkative group. What does that do for you as a coach?
The guy who really sets the tone – I'm going to be loud anyway. But when it comes from your players...the addition of D.J. [Swearinger] and how he talks and how he communicates, he demands that from everyone else, it's the reason we're at the level we're at, because he's the man and has set that standard. It's one thing for me to coach, but when a player does it, it takes it to a whole new level.
The Washington Redskins defense and special teams conducted their eleventh day of training camp practice Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
Has anything been overwhelming for you in the NFL so far? **
Not necessarily overwhelming, just gauging the difference from the college to the pros, the interaction and communication with the players, that's kind of been "Oh man, that's a difference."
When did you realize you wanted to become a coach?
Oh man, when I was playing college, and I thought there was a coach who had a great influence on myself, and I said, "Man, I want to have that influence on other guys, bring that unit together and have that feeling." Probably my freshman year of college.
What's been the biggest area of development for you since starting?
The way you approach it, I'm always going to be hard core and demanding. I think I learned how to demand without being as hardcore or abrasive. You learn how to get your point across without being as demanding that you feel like you needed to be.
Has teaching technique always been your point of emphasis?
Definitely, I always felt I was a cerebral player, so I really believe in technique and fundamentals and how it's the difference between making a play and not making a play. Being consistent over the long haul as opposed to not knowing why you made a certain play and why you're getting beat.
Do you see, from a technique standpoint, vast improvement from the beginning of OTAs with this group?
You know what, the consistency of it is a lot better. Some guys have been doing certain things for so many years that you're not going to get them full-fledged over with. The new guys I see great improvement because those are the guys that didn't really have a background doing something a certain way. It's really been fun seeing the growth of the guys.
Is it also tough to teach considering all the rule changes that favor the offense?
It's hard to imagine it was 20 years ago when I got drafted, but the biggest emphasis is letting the offense play in space and not being able to use our hands at certain depths and distances. Everything is always catered to "Hey, don't grab him," or, "Hey, I can't touch him after this many yards with this particular technique." Honestly, in college you can get away with certain things. You can kind of have your hands on them until the ball's in the air. It's not nearly egregious to foul, or the spot of the ball foul. The contact is totally different.
Do you lean on some of the veterans – Will Blackmon and DeAngelo Hall – to give you a little more advice about interacting with these younger guys?
I lean on them a lot from a perspective standpoint, a football information standpoint. They're related, they've come up young in this league and gotten older and mature and they can be a helping hand.
The Washington Redskins defense and special teams conducted their thirteenth day of training camp practice Sunday, August 13, 2017 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
The safety position has two new faces this year with Swearinger and Su'a Cravens. How do you see that duo playing out? **
I feel really god with those guys. D.J. brings a huge impact from the communications standpoint. Su'a being new to the position, it helps us to have a guy like D.J. back there. Su'a is still in the learning process, D.J. can give him information. I'm staying on him about his eyes and the little things about where you gotta be, and what's your keys and your first couple of steps. It's an education, but those guys are both really good football players, really smart football players, so I feel good about that group and it's just getting everybody to come along.
So the IQ is there, it's just a matter of getting the reps.
IQ, you can't coach that. They understand down and distances. If you're telling them something outside of the playbook stuff, they'll get it. They're not just going out there – "Hey, this was in the playbook, I'm here and here" – they can understand what to see, all the things that help you make plays and be better.
After a couple weeks in Richmond, did you get a chance to enjoy the city at all with your family?
My family was down the last three or four days. Me, I don't get out much. If we get any break I'm in my room, I'm watching an MMA fight or something.
You're big into MMA?
How did you get into that?
I don't know exactly how I got into it. I just remember watching, and I kept watching more, I'm like, "These are some really tough dudes. These are some really bad dudes." I really admire these dudes, they are really freaking tough. And then I just started recording everything that comes on MMA, and trying to go back to see the history of the guys and stars today, they're just some bad dudes.
Who's your favorite fighter?
Oh, man, I like Jim Jones, obviously, I like Tyron [Woodley], the 170-pound champion. Really the champions, I admire, because I know how hard it is in that sport to win a match and to be a champion and defend a title so many times. I'm in awe of those guys.
You can probably steal some of their hand movements and techniques and use them in football, right?
Oh, I'm pretty sure. You have some specialists, but guys that are good in wrestling, guys that are good in boxing, those guys are well-rounded, bad-ass guys.
This interview was edited