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Post-OTA's With Rams’ D-Coordinator Gregg Williams: On Ayers, Fairley, a Potentially Special Defense, and More

Rams’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams fielded questions from the media on Thursday evening. Here’s what he had to say about slow starts, the new additions to the defense, Mo Alexander’s drastic change, and more...

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(On what he got out of the offseason program)
"The guys really came back with a ‘work hard attitude’ and really I couldn’t have asked for them to come back with a more challenging attitude than what they did. One of the things we wanted to do is improve off of how we finished the year. I thought the assistant coaches did a great job on how they took, from a self-scouting point of view, and made a lot of individual reports for each guy. When they first came in the door those things were set and ready for them. The guys took it to heart and really had a very good spring in the weight room, in the training room and then here on the field. It’s light years on where we were last year because they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. Just from a terminology, are we speaking the same language? Do we understand what we really want? It took a little bit of time for all of us to get acclimated last year. Now we’re hoping we can start off faster this year because there’s a knowledge, a base of information that we all know is the same. The other thing is, and I’ve said this before to you guys, ‘When will it ever be more important to them than to us?’ The good teams that I’ve ever been on and some of the greatest defenses I’ve ever been a part of, it was much more important to them than it was to me. These guys have kind of taken ownership in that, so it’s been fun. We’ve had a good spring here in the OTAs, the nine OTAs. Offensively, they’ve cooperated. I thought there was some really good things our offense was doing to challenge us and I didn’t think any of our guys backed off any of that. (Head Coach) Jeff (Fisher) does a really good job on how he takes care of our players as far as how we build them physically and how we build them mentally. So, we’ve had a very good offseason. This is a good time for them to get away now and start working on their own. Looking forward to training camp once we start back up."

(On if each defensive player received a self-evaluation tape from the coaches)
"Each player got a video cut-up of some things that we talked about – strengths, weaknesses – that was on tape that we could see. We all learn, is it verbally, audibly, visually, walking – how do we learn? And the fact that we have some things on tape now that we could talk about, and there’s more of an understanding. There’s also more of a buy-in when a coach talks to you individually. It’s one thing for a coach to talk to all the defense. It’s one thing for a coach to talk to just to his position area. But the coaches went the extra mile, each one of the assistants that work for me, and went to an individual report on an individual player because not all players are the same. If anybody here thinks that Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald play the position the same way, they don’t. But yet they play the same position, but their technique, the way they play is different. So how do we go about impacting growth and development on each individual guy and I thought our coaches did a really good job of that. But more importantly, it was fun for me to see the players buy into that and then they finished today. Today there was another report that was handed to each and every one of them on what they listened to on Day 1 of the offseason and now as they finished the offseason – where they grew, where they didn’t grow and before they come back to training camp. So, it’s been really good."

(On how much is able to dig deeper into what he likes to do now that he’s entering into his second season with the defense)
"All that stuff is true, but also, ‘How do I not put too much clutter in what they’re thinking about?’ I take a lot of pride in adapting scheme to every team I go to. Every team I’ve gone to, I change the scheme based upon the skillset of the guys that are playing, not what I like calling. It’s what they can do. So, obviously because of understanding what they can do and what they like to do…and the other thing to is you talk to those guys here this offseason, is listen to them take ownership. Listen to them do a lot of the checking and audibling. I’ve given them a lot of tools in their toolbox, but now they understand those tools and they’ll be making calls out on the field that fits their skillset. They’ll stay in the family of the call, but the call has all kinds of adjustments that they can do that fits their skillset. They can do that now because we’ve had all this experience together."

(On if he’s taken out things that don’t work or ‘clutter’ now that he has a better understanding of the defense’s skillset)
"We do that every year. We’ve taken some of those things, but we’ve also added things. Some of those things we’ve added, they’ve brought to us that they’ve done before in the past. We’ve adapted a couple of things there. But, how do we manage personnel? Our personnel has changed a little bit from last year. How do we manage packages? We play a lot of different people. Whoever dresses on Sunday or dresses on gamedays, there’s going to be a package for those guys. They don’t just all just play special teams. You see that we have 42 ways to add up to 11. When I say that, we have 42 words that this 11 guys travel out there. Well, we just did 18 of them here this spring. So, 18 of them are from different packages. When I say that people want to say, ‘Oh, is that a 3-4 package? Is that a 4-3 package? Is that a nickel package?’ No, it’s more than that. It’s all kinds of things because guys are buying in now, so there’s a package for that guy’s skill set."

(On if he has 42 packages in his playbook, 18 of which he’s used in practice during the spring)
"We don’t use all of them. But as coaches we spend so much time, poor time, in meetings on what we’re going to name something. I’ve got a bible on what we’re going to name it. I’ve been through this before so many times for 30 something years is that now that all those names are tagged and we don’t have to argue about what we’re going to name it. No, this is what we’re going to name it and we move on."

(On if he’s had debates with coaches throughout his career on what he’s going to name plays)
"Yeah. We have debates about all of a sudden we invent a new blitz, we need invent a new call then al of a sudden we’ll agree, ‘Yeah, we like that. Let’s do it. What are we going to name it?’ So we take, I don’t know how long it’s going to take before we name it, so now we don’t do that anymore. It’s all good because I’ve got all those things from years past. It’s fun to see the coaches buy into all that stuff. The coaches have done a very good job. I’ve been really pleased with the assistants on the development. They’ve done a lot more. Even in the practices that you guys have been around and have seen me, you’ve seen me do less because they can do more. The assistants know more about what I want."

(On if he’s spoken to the team about the slow starts they’ve encountered the last few years)
"Oh yeah. In fact, don’t take the quote from me. Why don’t you ask these young gentlemen who play if I’ve worn them out about that. That would be good, getting a quote from them. Yes, we’ve discussed it."

(On the defense finishing strong last year with the exception of the Giants game)
"In that Giants game there were five plays that I didn’t sleep very well on. They still bother me because they were simple plays and plays that we had seen before but we just didn’t play them very well. We were on a roll."

(On if he feels this defense can be a special one)
"We would hope so. I would tell you this: I’ve had a chance to be a part of several, many special defenses. I’ve been seven different places and five of those seven places where we’ve been top five or best in the world at what we do. This is a talented group. In order for us to be that way, there can’t be any miscommunication. One play can beat you one way or the other. When you see these guys, from coaching, I always take it personal. If they make a mistake, it’s because they don’t know, why don’t they know? It’s because evidently I didn’t get it to them right. But when they are on the same page and you see these guys talking, yeah. There’s a chance for them to be special. But we’ve also got to get the opponents to cooperate, too. We’ve got a pretty tough schedule. I don’t think there’s any simple schedules in the National Football League. Our schedule’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be fun to see these guys start out and hopefully start faster than we have in the past."

(On LB Akeem Ayers)
"He’s good. He’s been very good and he fit back in very quickly. For me, I was with him in Tennessee down there that one year. There’s some real similarities in the verbiage from there to here because that coach down there (Jerry Gray) was one of my protégés. They were already doing some of that similar stuff. But I really do believe that it was good for him to go see Bill Belichick. It was really good for him to go and witness that style, that demeanor, that focus and what they do and the success that he got from it. He’s come back here and he’s fit in very well. I think (LB) Jo-Lonn (Dunbar) has had - and he’s been with me for so long that they tease him about being my stepson and that he lives at my house and he has to go through that all the time - but, competition makes us all better. We’ll have packages for all of those guys to play. Not only Akeem but Jo-Lonn. Not only Jo-Lonn but (LB) Daren Bates and all those guys are going to have packages. But Akeem has fit in very well and we’ve got to try to adapt some things to his skill set. Hide the things that he doesn’t do real well but maximize the things that he does do well and he does some really good things."

(On the versatility that Ayers brings)
"It’s very good. I think that’s one of the things that I think Coach Belichick and I both look at is the more you can do, the better you are. You can’t have excuses when you have injuries during the season. You’ve got to be able to move people around, bring the next best guy up, and when you can play more than one position, we always look for our guys to play more than one position. It’s better. It helps you be more versatile. He can do all those things and he has done those things."

(On DT Nick Fairley)
"Nick has fit in really well here. I knew quite a bit about him. Coach Fisher knew quite a bit about him from the Auburn connections that they had there. He played for some people up in Detroit that were in my coaching tree also. I knew quite a bit about him and he has really fit in very well here. The thing that has been really fun for me to watch is the big eyes that he had when he came in and saw the talent in that room. He saw all of the sudden, ‘Whoa. I’m going to have to compete for any time to get on the field with these guys,’ and he has done a remarkable job. It’s going to be fun packaging those guys up. We just don’t play four guys or three guys on defense. We try to have as much of a 50-50 split or 45-55 split of a ballgame keeping those guys fresh and he’ll fit in good for us."

(On the play of the secondary this offseason)
"Very good, very good spring. Even to the point where guys who have not taken as many reps, if you see how close we keep them involved and playing the game when they’re not on the field, with T.J. (McDonald) and Mark Barron, you see them having to focus in and do things, but it’s been great for Maurice (Alexander). If you want to talk about a guy that’s drastically different from last year, he could hardly even speak what we were doing last year. He’d only played one year in college as a DB. Now all of the sudden he’s in the NFL as a DB? Holy cow. So he was lost, but he was talented. Now, he’s had a great spring just because he’s gotten more reps - next man up - because T.J. and Mark haven’t had as many. But, both of those guys will be back. It’s going to be fun. You all saw us last year maximize a lot on those three safety packages that we use. We have a ton of stuff to do – and three safeties – if we need to do that. Not if we, when we do that. Maurice now has vied for his time to get some of those shots, too."