Gregg Williams Makes Immediate Impact on Rams Defense

Posted Jun 6, 2014

Just three days into OTAs and players are already raving about Gregg Williams aggressive, fast-paced style.

Without delving into the exploits of other defensive coordinators he has played for in his career, Jo-Lonn Dunbar makes it clear that there is no equal to Gregg Williams.

The veteran linebacker has more experience with Williams than any other Ram, playing for Williams for three seasons in New Orleans before joining the Rams in 2012. Now reunited with Williams, little has changed in Dunbar’s interactions with his longtime mentor.

“He has this confidence about him,” Dunbar said. “He’s attacking and a disciplinarian and has this team togetherness style. I’ve had three defensive coordinators, and none of the others are like that. I guess he’s pretty unique. He’s a straight-forward guy, very honest. He believes in togetherness, in toughness, and he believes that players play. He’s not very proud to put his scheme in front of a player. He’s going to allow a player to play to his talents. He’ll always put you in a position to win the game, and that’s something I can appreciate. You’re getting a guy that is always going to be honest with you and always put you in a position to win. I think that’s something defensive players appreciate. It’s hard to go against him when you know you have that guy on your side.”

Williams’ reputation as a fiery and demanding coach preceded his arrival in St. Louis, and the results he’s garnered speak for themselves. Five times, he has guided a top-five defensive unit in the NFL. Williams’ influence may have been its greatest while turning around Dunbar’s New Orleans Saints in 2009. Previous to his arrival, the Saints’ defense had not been ranked in the league’s top five since 1997. Under Williams’ leadership, they accomplished the feat twice in a three-year span.

Often a direct reflection of their coach’s approach, Williams’ defensive units have routinely displayed an edgy, aggressive persona, both in games and practices. Williams wasted no time in exemplifying his aggressive nature during this week’s OTAs, dialing up a blitz on the first play of 11-on-11 drills during Tuesday’s practice.

“Coming out first play with a pressure, we’re being aggressive and it’s what you expect,” LB James Laurinaitis said. “I just feel like we’re going to play really fast and force our offense to be competitive.”

Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, the Rams found themselves at something of a crossroads, a young team budding with promising talent, though mired in a string of consecutive seven-win seasons while playing in the league’s most challenging division. In his initial meeting with his prized pupils, Williams stated—in no uncertain terms—that the expectations would be raised.

“We need to break this mold of 7-9 and 8-8,” Dunbar said. “That’s one of the things that Gregg has stressed. Everyone says St. Louis has a great defense, but we were fourth in the NFC West, so how good are we, really? When your defensive coordinator puts it like that, it kind of puts that thing in perspective. I think we’re trying to look at it that way.”

Defensive end Chris Long, who is currently the longest-tenured Rams and is approaching his seventh NFL season, has seen his share of defensive coaches. Including 2012, when a cadre of coaches shared defensive coordinating duties, Williams becomes Long’s sixth different defensive play-caller. Though the sample size is small at this juncture, the contrast between Williams and others is stark, and the change is a welcome one.

“His attention to detail is really great,” Long said. “The little things are so important. When one play can ruin your game—and that’s part of playing defense in the NFL—you need that. You need everybody to be on the same page. That’s imperative. It’s kind of a coaching tree, and you know his reputation. He’s intense, and we’re going to need intensity if we want to compete for a division (title) in the division we play in. He meshes well with the guys around here and the rest of the coaches, and with the style of football we’re trying to play.”

True to the detail-oriented coaching style described by Long, the results Williams has produced throughout his career has been a direct byproduct of the accountability he has demanded from his players. No Ram is more familiar with that side of Williams than Dunbar, though the benefits have certainly proven worthwhile.

“The bad (part) is, when you’re not playing well and you’re on the practice field, Gregg is going to pull you off to the side and you’re going to do 40 up-downs by yourself, or 40 up-downs as a defense. And yes, that sucks when it’s 95 degrees outside and you’re trying to get through practice. But you know he’s going to put you in a situation to win, and you know once you get that togetherness, you’re going to be playing lights-out football.”

A fair trade-off, it would seem, for a defense on the rise.