It’s not Gregg Williams’ defense.
The Tennessee Titans senior assistant/defense was adamant about that Monday, when he met with local reporters for the first time since he was hired roughly four months ago.
Then again, he added, that it wasn’t his defense back in 2000 either when Tennessee led the NFL in fewest passing yards and fewest rushing yards allowed, was second in points allowed and third in rushing yards allowed.
“The thing I think that was most precious about that group of guys was their empowerment,” Williams said. “They believed with all their heart it was their defense. They believed it was theirs.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many and how big a voice all those guys had in our check systems and our call structures and that kind of stuff. I see [defensive coordinator] Jerry [Gray] doing the same thing here, which is good.”
Williams was brought back in February following a one-year suspension for his part in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-pain policy to provide expertise and oversight for a unit that set a franchise record for points allowed in 2012, its second under Gray. The 471 points against last season were nearly two and half times more than the franchise-best 191 back in 2000, when safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, defensive end Jevon Kearse, linebacker Randall Godfrey and cornerback Samari Rolle were the big names.
Williams was the defensive coordinator and Gray was the defensive backs coach that year. Both went to Buffalo the following year, Williams as head coach and Gray as defensive coordinator.
“There are certain things that we still do from those years,” Williams said. “In fact, Jerry, when he’s taught those schemes, this spring he’s brought back film from my last two years here. There’s some packages and there’s some exact calls that we do from those years.”
Williams’ first job in the NFL was as defensive quality control coach with the then-Houston Oilers in 1990.
He held that position for three years and it was during that time he first crossed paths with Gray, who joined the Oilers in 1992 as a veteran cornerback. Gray’s one year with the team was the eighth of his nine-year playing career but it set a tone with Williams about the power of a player’s voice.
“It’s amazing how much I learned about coaching DBs from the guy I was coaching,” Williams said of Gray, a four-time Pro Bowler. “We had some knock-down, drag-outs at that time, and he taught me things as a player when I’m his coach.”
The two have remained close ever since. In addition to Tennessee and Buffalo, they also coached together at Washington and remained in contact when they worked for different franchises.
“One of the things we’ve done for all of these years is that years we’ve been apart we’d trade so much information back and forth about the league and about what were doing,” Williams said. “… The defense here was almost identical to what I had been doing in the years that I haven’t been with Jerry. It’s just been a real good match and a real comfortable match for everybody.”
Don’t call it Williams’ defense, though. Don’t call it Gray’s either.
“We need to give the players the say,” Williams said. “I think Jerry’s done a really, really good job prior to me getting here and even now, the players have checks and audibles. We tease them all the time about, ‘You have a toolbox. Pull the right tool out that you need to use. When there is a mismatch, when there is a time disadvantage or something that you need to gain an advantage pull out the right tool’
“Let the players have the say.”