- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

Gregg Williams’ defensive schemes are often described as complex, innovative and ever-changing. The Washington Redskins’ new assistant head coach for defense thinks of them in more simplistic terms.

“It’s real easy,” Williams said. “When the brown thing moves, take off and go get it. That’s it.”

Well, that’s not entirely it. There’s a little more to playing defense in the NFL than merely running after the guy with the ball in his hands. But as far as Williams is concerned, it’s a good starting point. The task he now faces is figuring out how to reach that objective with the players he has inherited in Washington.

Williams’ motto throughout his coaching career has stayed firm: don’t try to make players fit your defense, make your defense fit the players.

“We won’t say that these players have to fit into a blueprint or a system we have,” Williams said yesterday in his first public comments since joining Joe Gibbs’ staff four weeks ago. “We’re going to adapt the system we have to meet the players here. I think you have a chance to be a little more successful at a quicker rate when your system is flexible enough to take care of the people you have here.”

For Williams, that means building an aggressive defensive scheme around the Redskins’ top players — linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot — supplemented by a supporting cast that will include every man in uniform.

That’s the way Williams did things during 11 seasons with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (including his top-ranked 2000 defense), and that’s the way Williams did things the last three years as coach of the Buffalo Bills (including his No.2-ranked defense in 2003). The Redskins ranked 25th overall.

“I’m used to running a lot of personnel packages on game day,” he said. “I won’t try to window dress and not play a lot of people. If we dress 22 players on defense, they’re all going to play. In order to play really hard the last two minutes of the game, you better make sure you’ve rested people.”

Williams’ defense is a “hybridized” — his word — one with primary philosophies taken from George Allen and Buddy Ryan, along with pieces of the systems run more recently by George Seifert, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau.

He utilizes a base 4-3 set but will switch things up depending on the game situation and his personnel’s strengths. Taking a page from Ryan’s Chicago and Philadelphia teams, Williams occasionally will run a “46” defense, with a variety of combinations of two or three down linemen, two or three linebackers and as many as three cornerbacks and three safeties.

Whatever the formation at the snap, Williams always will run an aggressive defense.

“We don’t want to be in a ‘catch, read and react’ mode. We’re going to try to attack, dictate as much as we can,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of different things, and what we’re saying is this: Guys have special skills. How can we utilize the players here and put them in a position to be the most successful?”

The two players that immediately come to mind on Washington’s defense are its two Pro Bowl representatives, Arrington and Bailey. Arrington, who just signed an eight-year, $68million contract extension, figures to be used both as a pass-defending linebacker (as he was in 2003) and a pass-rushing end (as he was at times in 2002).

Bailey’s role is less complicated: He’s one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL, and that’s what Williams will ask him to do. That’s assuming, of course, that Bailey is still wearing a Redskins uniform come September. Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next month, Bailey is expected to have the franchise tag placed on him by the Feb.24 deadline. He could remain in Washington as one of the league’s highest-paid cornerbacks, or he could wind up playing elsewhere if the Redskins choose to shop him around.

Williams has been going on the assumption that Bailey will be a key member of his unit.

“When I first came here, [his status] never came up,” Williams said. “I didn’t ask that part of it before I got here. Right now, we’re going through the process of evaluating all that. I like coaching good football players, and he’s a good football player.”

Technically speaking, Williams is not the Redskins’ defensive coordinator; that title went to Greg Blache. Make no mistake, though: This will be Williams’ defense, with input from Blache and assistants Dale Lindsey (linebackers), DeWayne Walker (cornerbacks) and Steve Jackson (safeties).

“In order to get some of the top-flight assistants that we did get, the titles were important,” Williams said. “I just like coaching, so it doesn’t make any difference to me what title he gives me.”

It was both Williams’ past success as a defensive coordinator and his humility as a coach at any level that convinced Gibbs to make the recently fired Bills coach one of his first hires. The day before Gibbs’ return to Washington was announced, he took owner Dan Snyder’s private jet to Buffalo for an all-night meeting with Williams, even though the two had never met.

“I knew a lot about him and knew that he was considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the league,” Gibbs said yesterday. “As best as is my knowledge, every single team that had a vacancy was after him. So I was on a fast pace to try to get there. It was very important to me because you want to have a good person on the other side of the ball.”

Notes — In explaining his decision to give four members of his staff lofty titles — Williams and Joe Bugel are assistant head coaches, Blache and Don Breaux coordinators — Gibbs confirmed that he will call the Redskins’ plays on offense. Bugel and Breaux will be on the field with him, with the other offensive assistants likely in the coaches’ booth. …

Gibbs said he plans to hold his first minicamp as soon as the NFL permits, probably the weekend of March 27-28. That will be Gibbs’ first opportunity to meet most of his players — he said he has met only about 10 percent of the roster so far.

“We’ve had to adapt this system to fit lots of groups of guys before,” he said. “It changes every year. Each system has changed, because it’s had to adapt to the personnel we’ve had that year. And it will here too.”

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