Everyone loves Gregg Williams, the Cleveland Browns’ new defensive coordinator for 2017. They love his presence, the new look he’s building for the defense, and the respect he commands. (Perhaps most of all, they love him because he hasn’t lost yet)
Williams spoke to the media on Tuesday before practice and had plenty of interesting things to say, so let’s get right to them.
- First, Williams talked about enjoying the weather in Cleveland so far. I can’t say that camp has ever gotten to above 100 degrees, but this has definitely been one of the cooler training camps I can recall. Even on Tuesday, which was originally supposed to be the hottest day of camp with a “feels like” around 91 degrees, things changed and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was only around 79 degrees.
“This has been a great camp, too, because I have been a lot of places sometimes where the heat index at this time of the day is 120, 125, 126 [degrees]. This brings back my memories of over in Rochester (N.Y.) in training camp. The weather is a little bit calmer and we can get more done and the players can feel that, too.”
- Many reporters have felt that Cleveland’s defense has dominated in camp compared to the offense. Williams deviated into an interesting note that people make too much about big defensive performances in the final quarter of a preseason game, because the defense is playing against a bunch of guys who are going to end up being cut. That’s why he likes to find ways to sneak some players into the first unit, so they can be evaluated against real NFL players. Talk about not mincing words.
“For you guys to watch the ones versus the ones, that is very important. When you see me and us take one of the younger guys and make sure they are going against ones, I always love it when I see things or I hear things, especially even in our own building, about how this young guy had a great game in the fourth quarter. Yeah, he had a great game in the fourth quarter against everybody that team is going to cut. None of those guys are going to play in the NFL.
Unless you are playing against people who are going to play in the NFL, it is just one more piece of maybe information, but it is not the deciding information. I thought our guys played solid the other day in the game, but there were a lot of guys who didn’t play for the Saints. Solid is one thing, but we have a lot of places to get better. I am very proud with the staff on how they have adapted to the intensity of how I want us to be, and the players have done a very good job with that. I said this when we broke camp back in June, there has not been any pushback. They have said, ‘How do you want me to do it? How do you want me to do it? How do you want me to do it?’ That is pretty pleasing.”
- I’m telling you — every quote with Williams is money and insightful. Asked about how good the Browns’ defense can be, Williams actually gave credit to how far his guys have come and how comfortable he’s getting with how to use which players. However, there are still a lot of “what if” type scenarios he wants to see to determine who fits very specific schemes the best:
“To be quite honest, we have come a long way, and I am feeling more comfortable about what these guys can and can’t do so you will start to see us shrink the gameplan a little bit and start focusing in, but I am still doing a little bit of gambling or a little bit of research to see if this guy can do this and if this guy can do this, be it pass-rushing, be it pass-coverage or what specific types of schemes are best for them because I have to change for them. It doesn’t make any difference what I like to call or what I have done or what we have done other places, we have to do the best for this group of guys right here, and there has been a good buy-in with that, coaches and players.”
- Forgive me for foaming at the mouth for how easily and accepting Williams and teammates have been of DE Myles Garrett. If you’ve followed camp, you’ll know that Garrett “worked his way up the depth chart.” We knew there was never a doubt where he’d eventually be, but hearing the backstory from Williams is great.
“Of all the guys that I have had a chance to… I have never had a chance to draft the first overall pick ever, but I have had some pretty high draft picks. He is the one that has jumped out and fit in faster than any of the other ones, and I have had some really, really good ones.
The reason that he moved up the depth chart was because of him and his teammates, not because of my evaluation. One of the things we do is when those guys come in the door, they are dead last on the depth chart. How do you handle that? How do you handle the locker room? How do you handle the meeting room? How do you handle the field? How do you handle the walkthroughs? How do you handle being humble? How do you handle being respectful? He is a really good young man and a pretty good player, too.
He handled the threes, he handled the twos, he got some spot time on one and then when the other players, the veteran players came to me and said, ‘Hey, do you know we are better when he is in there?’ (laughter) Really? Well, now you are going to own him. I don’t have to force him down your throat. You are going to own him. They just fit in together. He has done well. I thought he played the run very well last week. I thought he was very disruptive on the things that we ask him to do in the pass game. I can tell you this, you go back and watch the film, they were pointing to where he was. The Saints knew where he was.”
- One of the surprise performances in the first preseason game was DE Nate Orchard, who take advantage of DE Cam Johnson being sidelined with an injury. Williams said that Orchard fits in well with the defensive line, but he does not see his past two years at linebacker as “wasted time” because it gives them more flexibility in how they can use him. Reporters then asked if Orchard could move to left defensive end (opposite Myles Garrett) so he’d have a chance at some more reps, and Williams went on a tangent about playing time utilization and discounting the label of “starters” on defense.
“What we do is and you will see in all honesty, I don’t believe in starters. If you make an NFL team, and you understand, what is (Head) Coach (Hue Jackson) going to let us have? 23, 24 [defensive players]? We are going to play. How much you play will be dependent upon number one, your production when you do get to play, and No. 2, what kind of package does the offense that we are going against play that utilizes us to get you in the game.
The other thing with a defensive lineman in our system, I had the luxury of learning from Jack Pardee – a George Allen disciple – early in the 90s. Jimmie Johnson was at the Cowboys and we were at the Houston Oilers. Jimmie saw us and then really copied it on how you try to keep those defensive linemen fresh all the time. You can’t play 90 snaps per game. Ask Myles (Garrett) in college. You can’t play 80 snaps in a game. As a defensive lineman that has a fistfight in a booth for three hours, and then he is running back and forth, if we had the right percentage – if I could say we could have 55 percent or 45 percent of all of the guys and they are not backups where we are splitting time because we all trust everybody – you will see the impact of a full-speed player over a player who is tired. The other thing you will see is that fatigue is directly related to injury, especially with a big guy. We are going to try do everything we can to keep it even when we can.”
- Williams praised CB Joe Haden for having a very good and physical camp, with an emphasis on how physical he’s becoming:
“He has had a very good camp. He has had a very, very solid camp, a physical camp. Even yesterday, some of the more physical plays in his total career was yesterday on how physically he played. I have been very pleased with him. Now, it is about being available. He has to stay healthy.”
- Lastly, everyone still wants to know about first-round pick S Jabrill Peppers, who had a big day at camp on Monday. Has he been exposed to all the wrinkles that Williams will utilize him in defensively?
“Just about. Just about. He has done very well. He has adapted very well. He has played really defensively every position but one that I might end up doing with him later on down the line. You might see him at middle linebacker, too, at times. I have had powerful DBs in certain packages in certain situations that will get a rep or two at that. I don’t have to think of that as much because of the talent at linebacker that we have. We have talent at linebackers enough that we don’t have to expose and put a faster guy in that situation.
He has played free, strong, linebacker both strong and weak, punt returner, kick returner and quarterback. Do you know the definition of what kind of position he is playing? He is a football player. He can play football. He has been a joy to be around, too. He has been really focused in the meetings. He has been really focused in practice. He is starting to take advantage of a few snaps with guys who are going to be kept in the league. Every day is an interview now. If we have a setback before we ever come out here, then they will stand by me and wait until it starts getting right again.”