For the Redskins, It's Simple

Gregg Williams, Redskins defense
Gregg Williams shares a laugh with some members of the Redskins defense, a unit that looks to get back to its 2005 form. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007

In three years under Gregg Williams, the Washington Redskins' defense was characterized by its numerous personnel packages and intricate schemes. Williams required his players to master responses to the opposing offense's every move, even as they carried out a series of pre-snap movements to conceal where the defensive pressure would be coming from.

In 2004 and 2005, the Redskins' defenders and their coach were completely in sync and became one of the fiercest units in the NFL. But as the unit's collapse last year revealed, the precision and choreography demanded by Williams could be undermined by a single misstep by one player.

As the team began a three-day minicamp at Redskins Park yesterday, there was a new buzzword for the defense: simplicity.

Williams's system has been pared down for 2007, players say, still emphasizing the principles of speed, aggressiveness and discipline but relying more on individual talent than collective obedience. There are fewer schemes for players to memorize and more alignments are designed to accentuate key players' strengths. There will be less of a burden on Williams and his staff to out-scheme the opposing offense every week.

"We've definitely simplified things," said linebacker Marcus Washington, one of the players who could benefit most from the changes. "And I think that was Gregg looking at us last year, all of us in it together, and nobody likes to be at the bottom, especially when we're used to being at the top.

"That was Gregg being the sharp mental guy he is, and being smart about it, saying, 'I'm just going to let these guys play. We have some talent here, and when I put them in the right position, I'm going to let them play and sit back.' And that's what we're going to do."

Williams, who declined to comment for this story, told players this offseason that he plans to get his best players to the point of attack as much as possible and give them more freedom, they said. Williams is using more traditional five- and six-defensive back formations in passing downs. The addition of linebacker London Fletcher and cornerbacks Fred Smoot and David Macklin through free agency, and the selection of safety LaRon Landry with the sixth overall pick in the draft in April is expected to provide a major boost as well.

"You've got to have the right balance between players and scheme, and you've got to have the right players to make the scheme work," lineman Renaldo Wynn said. "We saw examples of that last year -- without mentioning any names -- when we brought in different guys and they just didn't fit our scheme. If you've got the players and the scheme, it can be successful as you saw our first two years. Now, with Gregg simplifying it makes it even better, and guys can be even more aggressive and not have to think as much."

The area that bore the brunt of criticism last year -- the defensive line -- was surprisingly the position impacted the least through offseason player acquisitions. Despite a porous interior against the run and an inept pass rush, the Redskins made no significant changes to the roster at tackle or end.

During season-ending meetings with the linemen, the coaches expressed confidence in them, players said, and told them that they would have more chances to get after the quarterback this season.

Williams gave the linemen less pass-rushing support from safeties and corners than usual in 2006 -- the lack of talent at those positions was a huge factor in that decision -- and opposing quarterbacks enjoyed too much time to pass the ball. With Fletcher, a stalwart on Williams's defense when both were with the Buffalo Bills, anchoring the interior as middle linebacker now, the Redskins believe they will be more stout against the run. Also, Williams is more willing to overload the line of scrimmage to stop the run, players said. Concerns about the woeful secondary prevented that last year.

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