By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Gregg Williams's praise or admonishments -- often filled with expletives -- cut through the chilly, drizzly air yesterday during one-on-one drills in the Washington Redskins' second practice of rookie camp. Williams donned a black cap -- emblazoned with a gold "R" -- gray windbreaker and a scowl, standing near the 50-yard line while watching his defensive backs duel wide receivers.
At the 40-yard line, cornerback Carlos Rogers -- the ninth overall pick in last week's NFL draft -- matched up against wideout Tiger Jones, undrafted out of Louisville. Rogers viciously jammed Jones near the line of scrimmage, delaying the receiver's route.
"Good, it's over with!" Williams yelled as quarterback Jason Campbell's pass arrived belatedly. "If you stay on him that long [in a game], the quarterback doesn't even look at him."
But on the next play, when cornerback Demetri Patterson deflected a pass, Williams's praise for the Tuskegee rookie was also a zinger toward Rogers.
"Way to finish," Williams said loudly. "I wish Carlos would have done that yesterday."
Williams's occasionally harsh comments made it difficult to discern that Rogers has performed well in his first two NFL practices.
"It's hard for me as the old disgruntled coach to say that right off the bat," Williams said yesterday.
During Washington's offseason, Williams was conspicuously unavailable for comment. Yesterday was the first time Williams addressed the media since the end of last season when Washington finished 6-10.
"I think there should be one voice and one message," Williams explained. "And I think the fact that Coach [Joe] Gibbs is in the Hall of Fame, that when he talks everybody ought to listen."
Rogers, a 6-foot, 200-pound cornerback out of Auburn, has been able to keep up with the increased speed of NFL practices, and is expected to eventually replace Fred Smoot, who departed as a free agent to the Minnesota Vikings. The loss of Smoot compounded the departure of linebacker Antonio Pierce to the NFC rival New York Giants.
Pierce and Smoot were starters on a unit that finished ranked third in the NFL and tops in the NFC. Pierce was Washington's leading tackler, but perhaps his best quality was grasping the complicated schemes devised by Williams and properly aligning teammates before each play.
Among Washington's six draft picks are linebacker Robert McCune (fifth round, Louisville) and linebacker Jared Newberry (sixth round, Stanford). Yesterday, Williams, echoing Gibbs, warned reporters not to discount rookie linebackers from being a factor next season. During the first two rookie practices, outside linebacker Zak Keasey -- an undrafted rookie out of Princeton -- has caught the coaches' attention. Keasey played on the same unit last season with Williams's son, a cornerback.
Gibbs said the Redskins had the most undrafted players in the NFL on its roster last season. And defensive lineman Ryan Boschetti and cornerback Garnell Wilds displayed promise as undrafted rookies.
Now, Williams and his assistants face a steep challenge trying to rekindle the defense's magical performance.
"We didn't have a lot of guys last year and we didn't miss a beat," Williams said, alluding to players such as linebacker LaVar Arrington, Mike Barrow and Matt Bowen, who finished the season on injured reserve. "The fact that all those others guys are getting healthy, we feel good about that."
Williams's intense style reminds Rogers of his college defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik. So Rogers hasn't been flustered by Williams's harangues. "I'm used to it, a coach that gets in your face and curses at you," Rogers said. "He's just trying to make the better side of you come out. He's a nice guy. He's not just a mean guy you see on the field."
When Rogers visited Redskins Park before the draft, Williams first asked the cornerback if he could withstand the tough love.
Williams said yesterday: "I believe that it's my job during the week of practice to provide as many distractions as possible so on Sunday it's routine. They almost like getting out there in the huddle and not being able to hear me.
"How do we get a chance to recognize how you handle stress? So part of the stress is handling me at practice. Today I ratcheted it up a little bit more on these young guys because we have to find out about them."
Rogers is behind Walter Harris, a nickel back last season, on the depth chart, and Williams's coaching history shows that his rookie defensive backs rarely start.
"If the best man is Carlos," Williams said, "then he'll" start.
Rogers said: "When my time comes, my time comes. I'm not pushing anything. I'm just trying to have fun and learn as much as I can."
Safety Sean Taylor bucked that trend last season, starting 13 games after coming off the bench in the first two. Taylor has disappointed the Redskins by being one of only three players to miss voluntary practices. Although Williams expressed frustration at Taylor's absence, the coach was effusive about his 6-3, 230-pound safety.
"I'm a Sean Taylor fan. I love the kid," Williams said. "He's such a joy to watch practice. He comes every day. There's not a down day. He's the best athlete I've ever coached, and there's been an awful lot of good athletes."
The Redskins didn't draft a pass-rushing defensive end despite losing out to the Denver Broncos last month for Courtney Brown, the injury-prone defensive end and top pick of the 2000 draft. One of Washington's goals during the offseason was landing a pass-rush specialist. But Williams hopes the strong cornerback play -- including Rogers -- once again helps out.
"We're always looking for those kind of players," Williams said of pass-rush specialists. "But people that have them don't let them go."