On the first play of minicamp in March, Gregg Williams -- the Washington Redskins' assistant head coach-defense -- rushed everyone but his reserves against Joe Gibbs's offense. The stunt wasn't that farfetched based on watching the Redskins in preseason -- blitzing on most plays and from almost every angle or position.
Gibbs's return has overshadowed the presence of Williams, who was hired partly to help Gibbs adjust to the modern NFL. Williams oversees a defense that has been revamped since finishing 25th among the league's 32 teams last season. At 46, Williams had head coaching experience with the Buffalo Bills and is known for his creative, versatile and attacking defense. Still, he figures to be tested in the NFC East, with a Murderers' Row of smart defensive head coaches in Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants, Bill Parcells of the Dallas Cowboys and Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Each of the division teams has undergone personnel changes guaranteed to make life difficult for a defensive coordinator. One of Williams's biggest challenges comes because Philadelphia boosted its offense by adding Pro Bowl wideout Terrell Owens to give quarterback Donovan McNabb a top receiver.
"The guy may make 15 plays a game that most people wouldn't make," Gibbs said. "Their whole style of offense is geared around him, which makes it extremely tough. Now they add a great receiver to it."
The Giants traded with the San Diego Chargers to get the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, quarterback Eli Manning, who lost a starting competition with Kurt Warner, an offseason acquisition. Warner has a special target in tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Wideout Keyshawn Johnson, reunited with Parcells after leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will catch passes from quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
Despite the infusion of talent, the Redskins say the NFC East is no more of a defensive challenge than other divisions.
"Each offense you see, if it's in the NFC East, North, West, it doesn't matter," said Greg Blache, Washington's de facto defensive line coach. "They're all going to have quality athletes. They're going to have their personalities. I don't think there are defensive challenges unique to the NFC East."
Willliams's schemes include traces of former Redskins coach George Allen and former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan. And Williams's blitz-happy defense should mesh well in the NFC East, where Dallas and Philadelphia share his kill-the-quarterback attitude. The three teams employ a 4-3 defense -- four defensive linemen and three linebackers -- as a base formation.
"He's going to fit right in with the NFC East," Redskins offensive coordinator Don Breaux said of Williams. "They try to exert their will over the offense. They're relentless coming after you."
During Williams's three-year stint in Buffalo, the defense improved each year, finishing as the NFL's No. 2 ranked defense. But turnovers were a problem in Buffalo.
Williams is known for using multiple rotations among his position units to sustain energy and disguising schemes by moving players into different sets, which makes it difficult to detect where blitzes come from.
He uses 16 formations -- an amalgam of groupings in passing situations, specifically third downs. One quirky formation is a 3-3-5 -- three defensive ends, three linebackers and five defensive backs. (In this formation, one linebacker is used as a down lineman -- a role that LaVar Arrington and Marcus Washington will play.) And Williams occasionally gets esoteric with a 2-3-6 or 4-2-5.
Those schemes will have to reverse the Redskins' recent history. They've lost 12 of their past 13 against the Cowboys, five straight against the Eagles and five of their past seven against the Giants.