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Coordinator Assumes Old Defensive Crouch
"Gregg can be stubborn," said an NFL assistant who asked not to be identified because he considers Williams a friend and admires his coaching. "He believes he's the one who will make guys do things they haven't done before. He will say, 'Adam Archuleta might not be able to play in pass coverage, but he will for me,' or, 'LaVar Arrington can't do these things, but he will do them for me.' "
One of Williams's great strengths has been his ability to take the base "46" defense of his first NFL mentor, Buddy Ryan, and adapt it to whatever situation arises. For instance, when he was the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator in 1999, the season they went to the Super Bowl, his teams used lots of man-to-man coverage on pass plays. The next year, with a defense less suited to such coverages, he used almost no man-to-man. The Titans wound up with the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL that season.
Three years ago, when he joined the Redskins, he was able to take a pieced-together secondary, maximize a gem in undrafted linebacker Antonio Pierce and put together one of the best defenses in the NFL. "I'll give Williams his credit. A lot of us were surprised by what he got out of them, but there is not a lot of talent there," said one general manager who did not want to be quoted by name because he was speaking about another team. "They kind of did it with smoke and mirrors."
But Pierce became a free agent two years ago and left for the New York Giants in part, some around the team believe, because Williams thought he was expendable. One coach with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution said he doesn't believe Williams told Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that Pierce was irreplaceable. Had he done so, the coach said, Snyder probably would have matched the Giants' offer.
"That one's on Gregg. He got what he wanted," the coach said.
Williams maintains that he stays out of his players' financial affairs. He says he wants to know nothing about contracts and goes out of his way to not pay attention to the numbers. He thinks if he knows much about the contracts, his judgment as a coach might be affected. His job is to teach, he says, not worry about salaries.
Still, the coach said that Williams did not mind letting Arrington, a linebacker, leave via free agency along with cornerback Walt Harris and safeties Ryan Clark and Omar Stoutmire. The loss of Harris and Clark especially became problematic when Shawn Springs, the team's only true cover cornerback, was injured and couldn't play the season's first five weeks, leaving the team to use players such as Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph.
The moves failed miserably. Harris, now in San Francisco, tied for third in the league in interceptions this year with eight. Wright had one interception, while Rumph played in seven games and was released last week. Gone, too, was the buffer Clark provided for the moody but gifted safety Sean Taylor, who has not responded well to his friend's departure. At one point during the season, several Redskins players called Clark, now in Pittsburgh, to see if he had any advice on how to reach Taylor.
Worse were the players Williams wanted in free agency: Archuleta and defensive end Andre Carter. Both were big-name players whose shortcomings had become more pronounced in recent seasons.
Archuleta was so bad a fit he was yanked from the starting squad in the middle of drills one day in November. Troy Vincent trotted out to replace him and Archuleta barely saw the field in ensuing weeks. And nobody has ever told him why, he said.
Williams said he had as much say as the rest of the people in the organization over which players the Redskins signed, meaning when a transaction happened it was because everybody agreed it was the right thing to do, not just him. But the perception among many personnel people in the NFL is that Williams was allowed to pick his defensive players and then implored Gibbs to force Vinny Cerrato, the team's vice president of football operations, to get those players.
Either way, there was a sense in the locker room as this season started the Redskins no longer had the players on defense to keep up. "I think we need to upgrade the talent -- a lot," Springs said.