After the Cleveland Browns’ last day of practice at minicamp on Thursday, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spent some time with the media and started the session by saying he’s “walked into a lot more dysfunctional buildings than this” and expressing confidence that he can deliver his aggressive, turnover-oriented system in Cleveland with the roster he has.
Williams had nothing but praise for the attitude the players have brought into organized team activities and minicamp, telling the media that they “have come in here every day from April 17th, and all they want to do is compete, compete, compete ... they’ve wanted somebody to tell them what direction to go.”
When asked about his tough love message to players like Joe Haden, Williams responded:
“Here’s what I’ll tell you. I’ll cut to the chase. I’m selling football ... and I think I got his attention. There are lots of ways to go ... pat you on the back ... [but] that hasn’t worked here. My job is to effect change ... and if you can’t do that you got to go someplace else.”
Williams went on to compliment Haden on being “extremely focused ... you should see how hard he’s worked in the weight room [this offseason], that’s his idea, not my idea.”
Williams also had quite a bit to say about the importance of the safety position for his system, none of which will surprise regular readers:
“We’ve played with multiple safeties. I’ve played that way for so many years now. We will get as many good players in packages and if that means we’ll play with one linebacker, we’ll play with one linebacker. Where I’ve been we’ve played with lots of defensive backs.”
The importance of positional flexibility to deal with injuries as well as give offenses different looks was also highlighted by Williams:
“Everybody on our defense has to play two positions… I think Bill [Belichick] does a really good job of that … how you get through games and injuries is you play the next best athlete, not the next guy on the depth chart. All of our linemen have to play two positions, all of our linebackers have to play two positions, all of our safeties, all of our corners.”
Williams went on to specifically highlight that “Jason [McCourty] can do that, but not only can he do that but he’s a sharp dude, and he has good leadership.” Presumably, he is referring to the possibility of McCourty taking snaps at free safety.
Another player Williams called out in terms of flexibility may be somewhat of a surprise, especially as it pertains to the free safety position:
“You don’t get a chance to see how good [Jamie Collins] is ... because he’s good at lots of things. He is very intelligent… now, [for the media], he’s not gonna talk to you. He was a high school QB, he was begging me to play free safety… I’m not [even] saying he couldn’t be the best one out there right now. If he wants to play defensive end he could play defensive end. It’s gonna be fun to find him spots to cut him loose and let him go.”
Reflecting further on Collins’ reputation for being somewhat of an introvert, Williams said “I can’t shut him up now, he’s in meetings and he talks and talks … and he loves the banter of competition. Everyone in the building’s shocked about that, but I’m not.” It sounds like Collins is one player who is definitely buying what Williams is selling.
There’s been a lot of buzz out of minicamp about interceptions and tipped passes being generated by the defense. Looking back at Williams’ time with the Los Angeles Rams, in 2015, when Williams had all 11 defensive starters return for a second year in his system they were 7th in the league in DVOA and had 20 forced fumbles and 13 interceptions. That’s a lot of getting to the football. Even in a down year in 2016, the Rams had 12 forced fumbles and 10 interceptions. The Browns forced only 6 fumbles in 2016.
What Williams is looking to do in Cleveland, bringing those kinds of results, in his own words, is “more than tackling, there are ways to be disruptive, batting passes down, interceptions, adjusting the timing of plays” to dominate opposing defenses and get the ball back to our offense in favorable field position.