In a wide-ranging interview, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams spoke with Redskins.com about coaching with Joe Gibbs, rookie safety Sean Taylor, the importance of linebackers in his scheme and some of the lesser-known players who could excel under his tutelage:
Q: How has the defense progressed so far this training camp?
A: "I think we are taking baby steps. Our effort has been outstanding. Their attention and focus has been pretty good. But we have got a long way to go. We are really happy that we have five preseason games, because we have a lot of new guys that have to get used to communicating with each other. So the fact that we have that fifth preseason game is going to be good for us."
Q: How have you developed your style of coaching?
A: "I have been real fortunate. I have been really have been blessed in the NFL, because I have been with some really good defensive coaches. I have worked with Jack Pardee in the George Allen system, Buddy Ryan and his system, I have had some ideas from George Seifert, when Jeff Fisher came in from the 49ers we tried to hybridize some of the things that Buddy was doing, with the Don Caper, Steve Sidwell, Dick Labeau system. So we have tried to evolve our system to where we are always attacking. We are always trying to dictate to the offense, instead of letting the offense dictate to us. Personnel really plays into that. You have got to have the right personnel to be as aggressive as we want to be. We have got some pretty good personnel right now, speed wise, if we have some injuries, we will have to adapt. What we are going to do is that we are not going to say that these guys have to play our system, we will adapt to the personnel that is here. We are going to play the best thing that we can with the eleven that is on the field. We are going to play a lot of people. We are going to play a lot of packages and do as much as we can in the pressure mode as long as we have the personnel to pressure."
Q: How do the players react to your style?
A: "Players usually would rather be aggressive than passive. They like blaming coaches when the coaches hold them back. There won't be anything like that here. We are all in this foxhole together, and we are going to be as aggressive as our personnel allow us to be."
Q: What does having two cover corners like Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot enable this defense to do?
A: "When you have cover corners, you can do lots of things on loading up the box, putting pressures on protections and overloading the run front. When you aren't as good at the corner position, you are lighter inside. You are lighter against the run and you are lighter on the pass rush. So those guys being shutdown corners is something we need to see, we need to see our corners line up and shut down people by themselves so that we can overload the protections and overload the run front. We will be pretty good on defense when that happens. The best defenses that I have been involved with had really good corners."
Q: How is Sean Taylor progressing?
A: "He's doing fine. He is taking baby steps. He has improved his conditioning since the last time I saw him, which was in June. There are a lot of things coming at him, but he is a pretty smart football player. Athletically, he is gifted. Now, he needs to catch up with the learning curve and the terminology, and he is picking it up pretty fast."
Q: Will Sean Taylor automatically start?
A: "He will not."
Q: Are you worried about how quick the team has to get ready for its first preseason game?
A: "There never is enough time. Coaches are never satisfied. We would like to have six months. But, you know what, I think it is a great strategy with what Coach Gibbs did bringing these guys in late because our commitment to the players was to give us the commitment in the off-season, be around all the mini-camps, be around all off-season, be around the meetings, and we will back off the physical part of our training camp, as far as the number of practices going into it. I think it is very smart, getting in the game and we will play a lot of those young guys in this first game. And the pressure has been on them, they needed to know, and we have told them from June on, when you come back, you had better make sure you are in your playbook during your time off, because we are going to play in a week when you get back and some stories are going to be told on you immediately, as to whether you belong or not. So, this is good. It is good that we came in as late as possible to be as fresh as possible, let's go play some games."
Q: What type of influence does LaVar Arrington have as a leader of this team?
A: "LaVar Arrington is a leader, but we believe that everyone is a leader. We talk about that. You are either a positive leader or a negative leader. And Arrington is a great player physically. He has got to take a step or two in doing some of the things we want done in the pressure game. It may be his best year, we hope that the best year he has ever had in his career will be this year because of how we are going to use him. He is a positive role model, on the field and in the community. And to be quite honest with you, when the rookies come over, the first person they come over to on the defensive side of the ball is him, because they want to be like him and follow him to the Pro Bowl. I think he might trade those Pro Bowls in for a different kind of bowl though."
Q: How important are linebackers in your scheme?
A: "They are going to be very important in our plan because when you get good in what we do. The linebackers never leave the field. And when you get good at what we do you have a hard time whether they are playing linebacker, or whether they are playing a safety position, or a defensive line position. The linebackers should be the heart and soul of your defense, and they should be the heart and soul of your special teams. You will see our special teams take a rise when our linebackers who are not on the starting defense, they are contributing there too. So it is a very, very important part of how we build this organization."
Q: How will your defense react to the many formation shifts in the NFL today?
A: "Formation shifts still declare. They challenge you, as a defense, to match the move, to match the motion. We have had to work really, really hard to stop that from bothering us. Thank goodness we go against it every day in practice. We have to do that. I don't think we will go against a team in our division that will move around as much as us. So that helps us on defense."
Q: What are your thoughts on Mark Brunell, having faced him for so many years in the AFC?
A: "He's smart. He's pretty tough. I have been talking about our own players about this at night meetings. I have gone against him for so long that he probably recognizes our defenses better than our own coaching staff. He has seen all the pre-snap looks. He does things on a two-step drop, instead of a three-step drop. He will do something on a five step drop instead of a seven step drop because he has already figured the defense out. His intelligence in regard to anticipating the defense is very good. He is a very accurate passer. Do not discount his running ability. People think he has old legs, but he can still pull it down and run it. Last year was basically a year off for him, so he is very fresh. He gives us the most fits because we don't know where he is at in the pocket. He is able to move around that pocket. Those stationary quarterbacks that don't mover around in the pocket are the ones we like to go against. He still gives us fits because he is mobile."
Q: What is the primary thing this defense can do to get better?
A: "We have to tackle better. If we don't tackle better, I don't care what scheme we play, I don't care what player we play, the sign of a great defense is a great tackling defense. If you want to know why Ray Lewis is looked at as the best defensive player in the league right now, there are a lot of reasons. One thing is, how many missed tackles have you ever seen Ray Lewis make in a ball game? You may go a month and never see him miss a tackle. So we have to be a better tackling team."
Q: Will your defense be a radical change from the defense the Redskins ran last year?
A: "I don't know that it will be a radical change. I know that, without speaking for Coach Gibbs, they talk about protection before they ever talk about a route. They talk about protection before they ever talked about a run. We go the other direction. We talk about attacking the protection before we ever talk about a route. So we are both going to go after each other, hopefully it will make us better. And again, the personnel will dictate this. If we can't do that style of defense, our defense is flexible enough to make the adjustment to play front coverage."
Q: Everyone hears about LaVar Arrington, Shawn Springs and Sean Taylor, but who are some of the less celebrated players on the defense who could make an impact?
A: "It's not just the stars everyone talks about. You better keep your eyes on jersey number 53 around here. Marcus Washington is a big-time player. He was a very important signing for us this year. He has been a dominant presence in all our practices. Phillip Daniels, when he is healthy, is a force. Cornelius Griffin has really added some stoutness and some quickness to the inside line of our defense. You have to have the cover corners. Fred Smoot has made a big commitment to improving his technique and he has been a joy to coach so far."