NFC West: Gregg Williams

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ST. LOUIS -- Bundling up before heading into a snowy evening, St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis paused when a reporter mentioned to him that his team could have pitched a shutout against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

"Should have pitched a shutout," Laurinaitis quickly corrected.

Indeed the Rams' defense, perhaps playing as well as any group in the league over the past three weeks, could have held Peyton Manning and the high-octane Broncos scoreless in the Rams' stunning 22-7 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. As it was, they held Denver to its lowest point total since Manning arrived in 2012. It was also the first time since Week 13 of 2001 that Manning had attempted 20 or more passes and his team scored seven or fewer points.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams consistently pressured Peyton Manning, including this fourth-quarter sack by Aaron Donald.
For coordinator Gregg Williams' defense, there have been signs of reaching Max Q the past two weeks but shutting down Manning & Co. served as the ultimate notice to the rest of the league that the Rams are not a team, especially not a defense, you want to see on the schedule over the season's final six games.

"The scheme is built so that, if everyone is on the same page, you can play really fast," Laurinaitis said. "I think the last few weeks we have been able to just come in and play extremely fast and trust each other and know we don’t have to be perfect but let’s be aggressive. The light bulb is kind of switching on but we have got to keep that thing on, I don’t want it to run out."

If the Rams can find a way to duplicate Sunday's combination of scheme and execution, the light bulb should be able to burn brightly for the rest of the season.

Although the Broncos had 397 total yards, the Rams held them to 28 yards on 10 carries. Over the past two weeks, they've allowed just 56 rushing yards on 32 carries, which is the best two-game stretch against the run in franchise history. In making that group so one-dimensional, the Rams were able to throw a variety of tricks at Manning.

Instead of the usual two or three checks that Laurinaitis can make out of certain offensive looks, the Rams had six or seven. On defensive tackle Aaron Donald's fourth-down sack in the fourth quarter, Laurinaitis got called out as the MIC linebacker by Broncos rookie center Will Montgomery. Laurinaitis had shown blitz but offered a subtle change at the line of scrimmage, switching the side where he lined up in an effort to create enough confusion to throw the Broncos off.

At the snap, Montgomery took the bait and end Robert Quinn peeled around the inside to Manning. Quinn was unable to bring Manning down, but Donald cleaned it up for a sack.

And the tweaks weren't just based out of blitz looks, either. On cornerback Trumaine Johnson's fourth-quarter interception, the Rams showed a normal Cover 3 look before the snap, something Manning had probably seen plenty of times in his tape study. But Williams had installed a different coverage from the same look earlier in the week and Manning threw down the right sideline where Johnson made an acrobatic interception.

"As long as all 11 are on the same page, we’ll be all right," Laurinaitis said. "That’s a great job by the defensive coaching staff knowing it would come to that and the best part about Gregg Williams is he gives me the freedom to call stuff if I don’t want to check and the feeling of the play just isn’t right, we play the call. A couple of times it happened and a couple of times he checked. It was the combination of a great game plan and just executing."

Of more importance than the yardage, the Rams held Denver to 4-of-12 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth. They also had two interceptions, two sacks, four quarterback hits and 12 pass breakups. Of those dozen breakups, five came from Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree near the line of scrimmage.

Even when Manning completed a pass, a member of the Rams' secondary was there to greet him with a crushing blow such as Rodney McLeod's big hit (and subsequent penalty) on Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

"It energizes us but, also, they know," McDonald said. "The offense knows that you put that ball up, you’re going to feel it. I think that’s something we take pride in, being a physical defense and offenses knowing that it’s not sweet [out there]."

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
4:02
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ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 22-7 victory over the Denver Broncos at the Edward Jones Dome.

What it means: The Rams can play with and beat anybody in the NFL. Seriously. With Sunday's win, they now own victories against three of the four 2013 conference finalists: the Broncos, the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. After nearly half a season of waiting and wondering when coordinator Gregg Williams' defense would ascend to an elite level that would allow the Rams to compete with anyone, his group has taken off in the past three weeks. Beating Peyton Manning and the league's top offense is the ultimate sign that this defense is capable of keeping the Rams in and potentially winning any game left on the schedule. It didn't hurt that quarterback Shaun Hill played mistake-free football, the special teams were strong, and the Rams offered Denver no help in its comeback attempt. At 4-6, the Rams have an uphill climb to get into the postseason, but at worst, they are the team none of the league's contenders want to play down the stretch.

Stock watch: Up -- Running back Tre Mason: It's been tough sledding in the past couple of weeks for the Rams rookie, but he found a little momentum against the league's stoutest run defense entering Sunday. Mason rushed for 113 yards on 29 carries, the most yards by a runner against the Broncos this season. While Mason hit some big runs, including a 27-yarder in the third quarter, he also did plenty of dirty work between the tackles. He's the future for the Rams at running back, and the future is now.

Conversion turnaround: After his team went 1-of-10 on third down last week against Arizona, Rams coach Jeff Fisher pointed to the lack of conversions as a primary reason for his offense being stuck in the mud. The Rams apparently found some solutions as Hill found himself using his feet, creating space and finding receivers to keep the chains moving. They finished 6-of-17 on third down, which not only was crucial in keeping their offense on the field but also keeping Manning & Co. off it.

Game ball: Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- It took longer than most had hoped, perhaps too long for the Rams to make a genuine playoff run, but Williams' group is playing with the confidence and swagger of a top-five unit in the league. The defense shut down the run (10 carries for 28 yards), pressured Manning (two sacks, four quarterback hits), piled up 12 pass breakups and, most important, allowed just seven points. Were it not for a first-half coverage breakdown, Williams' crew would have pitched a shutout.

What's next: After a one-week cameo at home, the Rams head back to the West Coast to finally end the eight-game stretch facing all teams with 2013 winning records with a trip to San Diego.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With only three weeks between meetings with the San Francisco 49ers, the St. Louis Rams didn't have the time nor the inclination to change much of what they do.

Instead of creative X's and O's, the Rams' 13-10 win against the Niners came more on the back of execution than anything else. Late last week, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made it clear that the biggest takeaway from the first meeting, a 31-17 Rams loss, was more about figuring out better ways to deploy his defenders.

So it was that Williams took an unusual tact to get his defense ready to play the Niners a second time.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Rams blitzed Colin Kaepernick frequently and recorded eight sacks in a victory over the Niners.
“Scheme is one thing but how does scheme change within the opponent?" Williams said. "The same technique doesn’t work against a certain cat that you’re getting ready to play against. So, that familiarity helps a little bit. In fact, we had our own players this week a part of our meeting. It started the first week, we’ll have a scout or we’ll have coaches give a scouting report on the opponent. Had the players do that this week because they’re familiar. Especially when it’s that close. There’s a good remembering part of it.

"Now, you also have to stay ahead of the curve on what are they doing. What do they do the second time you see people? Does their game-ready sheet change a little bit? Will they show us some different packages? So, all that thought comes in to play. But the familiarity part of it I think helps the players a little bit understand the battle they’re getting ready to go against on their individual battles.”

Nowhere was that understanding more easily observed than the constant and relentless pressure Williams dialed up with blitz after blitz. By the time the day was done, Williams had called for 22 blitzes against San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Co.

Or, as San Francisco tackle Joe Staley so eloquently put it, "they were blitzing, like, a s--- ton."

That the Rams were blitz happy should be no surprise. Williams has made a career of forging exotic blitz looks and generating pressure on the quarterback. The Rams rank first in the NFL in blitzes per drop back at 45.3 percent.

It was the Rams' success that was more shocking for the 49ers. In the first meeting on Oct. 13, the Rams blitzed 11 times and registered no sacks as Kaepernick went 5-of-10 for 97 yards and two touchdowns with a rush for 23 yards.

Clearly, Williams and Co. identified some opportunities to get after Kaepernick on a more consistent basis by bringing more than the Niners could handle. On the team's 22 blitzes, the Rams got home for three sacks and dropped Kaepernick after just a 2-yard gain. Kaepernick did complete 12-of-18 passes with a touchdown, but he came under fire more often than not.

Even the threat of the blitz appeared to make Kaepernick a little weary as the Rams finished with eight sacks. Kaepernick also mishandled a pair of snaps, including one on a third down when it appeared he was looking for the pass rush when the shotgun snap came.

“We were just getting after it," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "We were rushing the passer like we know how. We were a little bit more comfortable out there today and things started opening up for us.”

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
11:44
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ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at the Edward Jones Dome.

What it means: The broken record that is Rams football over the past decade remains in heavy rotation. Like the Week 3 loss to Dallas, the Rams once again jumped out quickly -- to a 14-0 lead -- only to see the Niners snatch it away with 24 unanswered points. And, once again, the play that changed the game came on a coverage breakdown resulting in an easy touchdown pass. This time it happened to be receiver Brandon Lloyd grabbing an 80-yard touchdown past cornerback Janoris Jenkins just before halftime. It was an inexcusable play both for Jenkins and the coverage scheme. It really sums up the Rams' season to this point. The Rams are who they are, a team that gives up a lot of big plays and doesn't make nearly enough of its own to nullify those mistakes. St. Louis is 1-4 and just getting started on the toughest part of the schedule.

Stock watch: Down -- Cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins is in his third season. He has been a starter in each of those seasons. He has showed signs of growth along the way. But he still continues the awful habit of getting caught staring into the backfield. He has been on the wrong end of plenty of big plays in his three seasons but none worse than Lloyd's touchdown at the end of the first half. Should he have had safety help over the top? Yes. But he should also be far enough along in his career to know that he can do just about anything except let a receiver behind him.

#LackCity: After drafting rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald in May, some overzealous types projected the Rams to have the "new Fearsome Foursome" playing on the defensive line and the Rams' marketing team went to work on a Twitter campaign referring to St. Louis as #SackCity. Well, the Rams are now five games into the season and have a grand total of one sack. That's not a typo. One sack in the first five games is the worst start to a season in NFL history.

Game ball: The many members of the Greatest Show on Turf who were honored at halftime. Let's just operate under the assumption that many of the players who won a championship 15 years ago would still have performed better than what the Rams offered after the first quarter and a half.

What's next: The Rams now have the pleasure of staying home for a short week of preparation before hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. After Seattle's loss to Dallas on Sunday, that sounds like a barrel of laughs.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As one of the few training camps in the league at which music doesn't regularly blare through temporary speaker setups, the soundtrack to the St. Louis Rams 2014 camp is limited to the sounds of pads cracking and the ensuing trash talk.

It's a drastic departure from last year's camp, when the Rams attempted to turn their offense into a spread-based passing attack flinging the ball all over the field.

That experiment failed miserably but also cleared the path for the Rams to forge their current identity, which is regularly on display on the Rams Park practice fields.

At an early August practice, the sight of running back Zac Stacy and tight end Cory Harkey consistently dropping their pads and creating collisions with defenders set a physical tone that manifested into a fight between cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Austin Pettis.

As residents of the NFL's toughest and most physical division, the NFC West, the Rams permanently adopted the approach they used in the season's final 12 games. Which is to say, they want an offense based on a power-rushing attack and an aggressive defense.

If that plan sounds similar to what Seattle and San Francisco do, it's because it is. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

"Obviously, that's the way we're built," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We've always been built that way. That's what we're going to be based on -- play great defense, run the football. Our play-action game comes off of that."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Defensively, the Rams have the pieces in place to be one of the league's elite groups in 2014. Coordinator Gregg Williams gives Fisher's Rams the chance to move from a middling group to a top-10 or even top-five unit in the NFL. Even without Williams' aggressive guidance, the Rams have combined for more sacks than any team in the league over the past two seasons. With the additions of defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington, the defensive line is the deepest and best in the league. Defensive end Robert Quinn is already one of the best pass-rushers in the league and should get better. That group should be good enough to wreck game plans on a weekly basis.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoSam Bradford is on track to be fully recovered from injury when the regular season begins, and he has an offensive line with the potential to be among the league's best.
2. The aforementioned shift to a run-centric offense should be buoyed by the offseason addition of No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason, as well as the retention of guard Rodger Saffold. With a line built to run the ball and an offense that now knows what it should be, the run game should be better and more consistent.

3. The advancements in modern medicine should benefit the Rams, as quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long are on track to be ready when the season begins. Both are coming off major knee surgery, but you'd hardly know it from watching them move around on the practice field. Bradford is facing a huge season and knows this is the time to finally prove he's the long-term answer at quarterback. Long played at a Pro Bowl level for most of the past season, especially in the run game, and is critical to ensuring that Bradford stays healthy. Having both back this early would have been a big surprise in the past but is a welcome sight in St. Louis.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. For the second straight season, the Rams' offensive line has the potential to be among the best in the league. But the dark injury cloud hovering over that projection remains. Long, center Scott Wells and Saffold are each either coming off an injury, have a lengthy injury history or both. Although line coach Paul Boudreau has a gift for making it work with whoever is playing, he has a group of question marks behind the starters. Guard Davin Joseph is the only backup on the line with substantial experience.

2. Among the many positions in which the Rams are young, perhaps none are of greater concern than the secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is headed into his third season and third as a starter, which makes him the elder statesmen of the group. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald have experience, but they've also been spotty in terms of performance. The Rams are banking on the pass rush to help the secondary, but it's unrealistic to think the defensive backs won't have to stand on their own in key moments.

3. Attempting to project what any team will do in a season based on the previous year's result is a fool's errand, but it's hard to ignore the on-paper strength of the Rams' schedule, particularly in the NFC West. Like last year, it's possible the Rams will be better than the past season but left with nothing to show for it in terms of record or postseason appearances.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeSam
    Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesThe media circus expected to engulf Rams rookie Michael Sam at training camp has not materialized.

  • All that talk about defensive end Michael Sam being a distraction for this team has been just that: talk. Sam has earned nothing but positive reviews from his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and desire to improve. He still faces a battle to make the roster, but aside from a couple days of increased media attention, the circus many expected has never materialized.
  • Once again, the Rams are almost wholly unproven at wide receiver, but they believe they are ready to change that this year. Kenny Britt has been a pleasant surprise, both in performance and leadership, and has had a particularly positive effect on Brian Quick. Breakout is a relative term with this group, given that the Rams won't be airing it out like other teams, but big plays will be needed to complement the run game.
  • The Rams will miss young receiver Stedman Bailey as he serves a four-game suspension to start the season. He's been the most consistent wideout in camp and looks poised for a much bigger role upon his return.
  • Donald might not start, but he is going to play a lot. He has wowed coaches and teammates with his advanced technical skills and maturity. Some in the organization believe he could become Defensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Looking for an undrafted rookie or two who could win roster spots? Look no further than tight end Alex Bayer and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks. Both flashed potential in the spring, and it has carried over into training camp and the preseason.
  • Although Stacy and Mason garner most of the attention at running back, Benny Cunningham should not be overlooked. The Rams like him a lot, and he returned to St. Louis bigger, stronger and faster. He's another year removed from a serious knee injury and could play a more integral role in his second season.
WilliamsAP Photo/Jeff RobersonGregg Williams expects his players to be aggressive in whatever scheme he deploys.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much is expected of the St. Louis Rams' defense in 2014.

The Rams have spent the past three offseasons bolstering the talent on that side of the ball, regularly spending premium picks to keep building. Coach Jeff Fisher is defensive minded and he has an experienced coaching staff capable of leading the group.

In the offseason, Fisher finally got the man he wants to lead it all when he brought in Gregg Williams to be defensive coordinator after a series of stops and starts.

Now, Williams' greatest task is figuring out how best to use the talent that's in place so he can take a group that has been solid, if unspectacular, and make it the foundation upon which winning is built.

At the top of the to-do list is paramount for any coach worth his salt when he works with new players: Figuring out what their skills are so they can be best utilized.

And though the Rams offer great defensive promise in 2014, that process is still a work in progress.

“Improving, but it’s not there yet," Williams said. "One of the things, in the spring, I let the assistant coaches set all the depth charts. Obviously they set them the way I like them to set. I let them. I didn’t have any discussion with them."

In the time since the players and coaches departed for summer hiatus, Williams had plenty of conversations with himself. While most of the coaching offices were empty as the rest of the staff took a much-needed vacation, Williams remained in St. Louis. Aside from a quick stop at his annual charity golf tournament, Williams stayed in the laboratory cooking up schemes and options for his charges.

"I was here every day," Williams said. "I was here Saturday, Sunday, Fourth of July, going back through and getting ahead of a lot of things. Watching films and studying people that I don’t have time to study once the season starts. But the big thing, I went back and re-watched every single practice, every single drill. I’m a lot more familiar with these guys, but until the pads came on, that was the next step. And until we play a preseason game, that’ll be the next step. It’s ever changing. It’s moving on, but I’m getting a lot more familiar with them.”

That familiarity is the key to how fast the defense will coalesce. The best coaches find ways to tailor their schemes to the players rather than attempting to shoehorn players who might not fit into a hard and fast scheme. So while many expect Williams to play nothing but press coverage with a physical approach from the corners, he may ultimately decide that's not how they're best deployed.

That isn't to say he's leaning that way, just that making broad assumptions about what the defense will look like at this point is getting ahead of ourselves a bit. The Rams are still about only halfway through camp's version of defensive installation so there's plenty of room and time for tweaking.

At this point, the one thing we do know for sure is that Williams wants to be aggressive. That means a greater emphasis on takeaways and continued attempts to get after the quarterback. And with a defensive line he calls the best he's coached, Williams has more creative freedom to concoct schemes he's never used before.

“I tell the players all the time, and I’ll tell you guys: There’s not going to be any magic dust," Williams said. "There’s not going to be any LeBron James magic dust. That’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is these players are going to play aggressively. They’re playing for somebody and with somebody that’s on the same page as them. Nobody’s going to hold them back. We’re going to go and we’re going to play aggressive.

"If you want to make sure that you always have a fail-safe excuse about making a mistake, make it aggressively. That’s been the fun part of seeing them all of the sudden be so robotic. They’re a talented group of players, but I want them to play instinctively. I want the coaches to coach instinctively. Jeff’s allowing that to happen, and I’m happy that he’s allowing that to happen because that’s the way I’ve always been.”

Camp preview: St. Louis Rams

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's Nick Wagoner examines the three biggest issues facing the St. Louis Rams heading into training camp.

Sam Bradford's status: It's a familiar refrain that will be repeated ad nauseam for much of the offseason and camp, but it's the most basic and simple truth about the Rams in 2014 and the future: They'll go as far as quarterback Sam Bradford can take them. On the bright side, Bradford appears to be on schedule for a return to health from his season-ending knee injury, and the Rams expect him to be close to or at full speed for the start of camp.

That means Bradford will get a third season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense and the opportunity to get the Rams into the mix in the NFC West division. It's safe to assume the Rams won't ask Bradford to carry the freight for what will likely be a run-heavy offense, but they also will need more from Bradford than what was required of backup Kellen Clemens. The Rams have clearly abandoned the spread approach they were installing this time last year, but they will almost certainly be more balanced than they were after Bradford's injury in 2013.

The Gregg Williams effect: Much was expected of the Rams' defense in 2013 after it performed well enough to keep the team in games, especially divisional games, in 2012. But the group not only didn't take a step forward but regressed slightly under coordinator Tim Walton. So when the Rams had the opportunity to land Gregg Williams this offseason, they took it.

Now, the expectations are even higher after bringing Williams aboard and spending a first-round pick on defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Williams is expected to bring an array of exotic blitz packages and an aggressive approach to a defense that should be able to create consistent pressure. How that manifests itself in this training camp will go a long way toward determining the team's 2014 success.

Stability on the offensive line: The Rams made some major moves along the offensive line in the offseason in an effort to compete with the big, physical defensive lines around the NFC West. They used the No. 2 pick on Auburn's Greg Robinson and signed guard Rodger Saffold to a lucrative contract extension. On paper, an offensive line of (from left to right) Jake Long, Robinson, Scott Wells, Saffold and Joe Barksdale could be one of the better units in the league with a good mix of experience and potential.

But for the second straight year, that group faces the pressing question of whether it can retain some semblance of stability in the face of injury. The presumptive 2013 starting five played just 295 of the offense's 968 snaps, checking in just above 30 percent. Only three lines around the league spent less time together. Wells and Long are recovering from season-ending injuries, and although the Rams expect both players to be ready for the start of the season, it's fair to wonder how many games and what type of production they'll get. Saffold also has a lengthy injury history even though he has yet to suffer any serious ailments since moving to guard.

There are some intriguing young players behind the starting five, including Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Brandon Washington, but if the Rams are to be the powerful, run-heavy offense they aspire to be, they'll need the starting five in place as often as possible.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Finding new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the practice field is only as difficult as the ability to hear. Even if you don't spot him right away, you can follow the voice.

Whether it's the guttural scream of "Come onnnnn" at the outset of every snap or the occasional not fit for print dressing down for whichever player made a costly mistake after the play, Williams isn't too hard to find.

"I love it personally because it eliminates the margin for error," rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. "You need someone that is going to help you chase perfection knowing that it will never be caught, but in the process excellence will be achieved. He says that all the time. You need people like that in the driver’s seat."

That Williams is back in the driver's seat was a surprising offseason revelation, one that didn't seem possible after his close friendship with coach Jeff Fisher seemed to cool after Fisher's first attempt to bring Williams to St. Louis didn't work out. Any remaining hope seemed further removed when Fisher fired Blake Williams, Gregg's son, after a season together in 2012.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Gregg Williams
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson"He's the main voice in the room," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of Gregg Williams. "He can coach every position."
But here they are at this week's final organized team activities, about to put the finishing touches on Williams' first offseason program in St. Louis. And in the four-plus months since Williams has arrived, he's wasted no time putting his imprint on the defense. He's worked so fast that Fisher has even asked him to pump the brakes on occasion.

"He’s the main voice in the room," Fisher said. "He can coach every single position. You can see the change. You can see the energy. I’ve had to back him down just a little bit.”

If what's been patrolling the sidelines during OTAs is Williams in toned down mode, one can only wonder what it would like without the governor on. In creating what Williams likes to call the "organized chaos" of practice, Williams likes to push the tempo and intensity as much as possible.

At a couple of recent practices, Rams defenders have participated in a number of old-school drills under Williams' watchful eye.

One such drill emphasizing ball pursuit requires five players to do up-downs -- dropping to the ground, bouncing up -- hitting a blocking sled and then asked to sprint to the sideline where three footballs are lined up about 10 yards apart.

Any player who doesn't get to the ball is punished by having to do 10 more up-downs. It's a grueling drill but one that certainly tests the mettle of those involved.

Make no mistake, when the Rams aren't doing drills, Williams is concocting ways to best deploy his new group. That's been his top priority during the OTAs considering those practices have provided his first chance to work with his new players up close.

Williams is pleased with the talent he sees on the field, but he's also working through ways to be flexible if a player does something better or worse than he initially suspected. This is the time of year when Williams can discover what his players can and can't do, and instead of shoehorning them into roles they might not be capable of handling, he can adjust those roles accordingly.

“Until I’m out there with them, I really don’t get a good feel of, ‘How do you maximize the personnel?’" Williams said. "I think the best coaches in the league -- and I’ve always been able to do some of these things -- is how do you maximize the strengths of each and every guy? Everybody’s got weaknesses -- you, me, them, all of us do -- and everybody has strengths. That’s why we play so many packages of people.

"We’re going to package to situations, package to personnel the other team is bringing on the field and then package to our strengths. It’s a young group of guys but it’s fun to see them have tremendous strengths that I didn’t know about until I got out here and had a chance to compete with them.”

While Williams and Fisher are like-minded in their approach to defense and the scheme will remain similar, there are plenty of tweaks that come with Williams' presence. Even during OTAs, the Rams defense has been using a variety of different alignments, formations and personnel in the course of an average practice.

Aggressive and attacking are the two adjectives most commonly associated with a Williams defense and there are no signs that the descriptors will change in St. Louis.

"He’s old school in a way, but he’s updated in all the ways that matter," end Chris Long said. "His schemes are just awesome and unique. He puts us in positions to make plays and confuse the offense. That’s what you want to see on defense because you can play as well as you want, but if the scheme is not exactly right it can be hard sometimes. You just have the faith that with him the calls are going to be the right calls and he’s intense and he’s going to bring it."

As for any lingering hard feelings about the initial fallout in 2012 or anything that happened in the interim, there doesn't appear to be any leftover residue. Other coaches speak glowingly of Williams, and Blake Williams even paid a visit to Rams Park for a recent practice.

A Missouri native, Williams clearly feels comfortable in St. Louis in more ways than one.

"I can't tell you guys how happy I am to be back in Missouri and how happy I am to be back in St. Louis with a good group of guys to coach and a good group of guys to coach with," Williams said. "It's a lot of fun. And being out here on the grass and getting into the actual practices and getting into the competitions makes me even happier than I can ever get."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams got back to work Thursday with their fourth organized team activity open to the media.

As always, it should be noted that much of what happens in these organized team activities should be taken with a grain of salt (especially for the linemen). The players are not in pads and contact must be extremely limited. It's best not to get too excited or too down on anything that happens.

Williams fired up: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams isn't hard to find on the practice field. If you can't see him, take a moment and listen and you'll be able to spot him soon after. Williams regularly yells "Come onnnnnn" at the snap to get his defenders going and then offers an array of "encouragement" throughout the practice.

At one point during Thursday's practice after the offense hit a nice completion, Williams yelled "If you're afraid to compete, go home." That's one of the more print-friendly comments he offered but you get the idea.

[+] EnlargeLamarcus Joyner
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonLamarcus Joyner has been taking reps at slot corner and safety during OTAs.
So far, it seems the players are embracing Williams, too. Rookie defensive back Lamarcus Joyner offered praise for his new coordinator after the workout and he's not alone in that praise, either.

Speaking of Joyner: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly indicated that Joyner's primary function would be as a slot corner this year. While Joyner is getting plenty of work there, he's also taking reps at safety. Of course, the Rams are a little thin on numbers at safety for the time being so it's possible those reps will evaporate when some of the walking wounded return.

Receiver tally: There were some highlight-reel moments for the receivers during Thursday's practice. During a 7-on-7 period, Tavon Austin ran a seam route from the slot that turned the corner outside and then came in front of safety Cody Davis for a leaping 17-yard touchdown catch. Later on, Emory Blake made a diving catch on a slant route that drew some loud cheers from his fellow wideouts. Brian Quick had a drop early in practice during 1-on-1s but bounced back with a couple of contested catches after. Consistency is still the word of the day for him.

He's not a receiver but undrafted rookie tight end Alex Bayer had a good day catching the ball. And Kenny Britt continues to make plays, even getting it done after getting his left leg wrapped during practice.

Sitting it out: Tight end Jared Cook returned to practice Thursday but the rest of the names not practicing matched up with Tuesday's group. WR Jamaine Sherman, S Christian Bryant, S Maurice Alexander, RB Chase Reynolds, S Matt Daniels, DE Sammy Brown, LT Jake Long, DT Michael Brockers and DE William Hayes did not practice.

Brockers was also missing Tuesday and he watched Thursday's practice with his right ankle wrapped.

Bradford's day: Thursday was one of quarterback Sam Bradford's designated practice days and he did a similar amount of work to what he did in front of the media last week. Bradford participated in a pair of 7-on-7 sessions and again did work in the hurry-up team drills. He had some good moments, including the aforementioned touchdown to Austin and another scoring pass to wideout Austin Pettis. He also threw an interception to cornerback Janoris Jenkins during the 11-on-11 drills as pressure surrounded him.

Sam makes a play: As practice came to a close, defensive end Michael Sam made a nice play for the second-team defense. He read a pass, jumped to the outside and knocked it down, narrowly missing an interception. He continues to get reps with the second-team defense as Hayes sits out.

Up next: The Rams have now completed six OTAs with four remaining. All four of those will come next week with two more sessions open to the media on Tuesday and Thursday. There is no mandatory minicamp to complete the offseason.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have an extensive history of working together. Their defensive philosophies are similar and, now that they are reunited in St. Louis, the scheme isn't expected to change much at its core.

Sure, there will be tweaks here and there, but for the most part, the roles of the 11 defenders will be the same. But there is one player on the defense who figures to have much more on his plate in 2014 if Williams' history is any indication.

Second-year safety T.J. McDonald stepped into a starting role immediately as a rookie and Fisher clearly trusted him to take on a lot of responsibility in the defense. That role will almost certainly expand for McDonald in Year 2.

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceSafety T.J. McDonald figures to be a useful piece in coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme for the Rams.
“When T.J. got going early in the season before the injury, you didn’t look at T.J. and see a rookie," Fisher said. "You saw someone that played like an experienced player. With that being said, Year 2 is completely different. He understands, he’s in great shape right now. Gregg’s going to be able to do a lot of things with him on defense.”

For evidence of how that might manifest itself, one need only to look at how Williams has used big, athletic safeties in his recent past. While serving as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, Williams was able to take veteran safety Roman Harper and turn him into a two-time Pro Bowler. He did so by using the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Harper like a sort of safety Swiss Army Knife.

Harper spent plenty of time in the box, blitzing frequently and essentially serving as a de facto fourth linebacker. In three years with Williams as his coordinator, Harper posted 287 tackles, 12 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 16 run stuffs.

After learning of Williams' hiring, McDonald, the son of six-time All Pro safety Tim McDonald, quickly took to studying how Williams had deployed his safeties in the past. He immediately liked what he saw and began envisioning himself doing many of the things Harper once did.

"That is me," McDonald said. "I feel like that fits my game pretty well and it is me right now. Once I get a grip on it and everything comes together, I’m confident I’ll be able to make plays."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, McDonald actually cuts a more imposing figure than Harper, but it's easy to see how he could fit into a similar role. While McDonald has flashed some solid cover skills, he's probably best used closer to the line of scrimmage, especially so long as the smaller and speedier Rodney McLeod is playing more of a center field spot on the back end.

The Rams plugged McDonald into the 2013 starting lineup right away, a move that belied his third-round draft status and served as clear evidence of his football acumen. After starting the first four games of the season, McDonald suffered a fracture in his right leg against San Francisco on Sept. 26 but didn't need surgery and was placed on injured reserve with the "designated to return" label.

McDonald returned to the lineup on Nov. 24 against Chicago and played in the final six games. A solid start was interrupted and McDonald struggled to get back on track upon his return.

"It was hard," McDonald said. "Especially having to sit out those eight weeks. That was tough not being able to play with the guys. Coming back, I was trying to get better every week but not just mentally, but also physically and making sure I was getting back to 100 percent. I was just happy I got to play."

For what it's worth, McDonald spent his offseason back home in California, working out at USC with some former teammates. He says he's back at full strength during these organized team activities and has his eye on making up for the time he lost in his rookie season.

"There’s definitely ways that I wish I would have done some things better," McDonald said. "Based off the injury, it made things a little bit difficult. But I came back out there, put myself in position to make some plays and as a rookie you are always going to have things you want to improve on. For me, I am just focusing on a lot of those things and coming out this year hoping I can capitalize on everything I learned last year."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams will officially open their version of organized team activities on Tuesday, making them the last in the league to do so.

Tuesday's session is not open to the media, so we won't get a chance to see the Rams on the field until the first open session on Thursday. But as the OTAs finally begin, here's some things I'll be looking for.

Bradford
Bradford
Whither Bradford: According to the team, quarterback Sam Bradford has been well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Bradford has been moving around and throwing for awhile now and there are realistic expectations he will participate in OTAs.

The question doesn't seem to be whether Bradford will participate but the extent of that participation. It's unlikely he'll be at 100 percent or be asked to do everything since there's no need to rush him back, but his presence will likely be felt. It's no secret 2014 is an important season for Bradford. Every rep counts but the last thing the Rams want to do is rush him and risk a possible setback to his return.

Long
Line dancing: The status of left tackle Jake Long participating in OTAs is up in the air. Long's surgery didn't take place until January, so it's only natural that he'd be further behind in his own knee rehab. The Rams have remained insistent that Long can and will be back for the regular-season opener but in the meantime, someone is going to have to take the snaps at left tackle.

The most obvious options on the roster are rookie Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold, who are projected to start the season at left and right guard, respectively. Indications from the Rams are that both players will get some reps at left tackle during OTAs and into training camp so the Rams can have a couple of options ready to go in the event that Long can't. We'll be sure to monitor how those reps are divvied up, and keep an eye out for Long to see if he does any work on the side during these early summer sessions.

Beyond that, there are plenty of other offensive line issues to watch, including the development of interior swingman Barrett Jones and the return to health of center Scott Wells.

Sorting out the secondary: The top five defensive backs heading into OTAs appear to be pretty well set with Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety and Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner (nickel) expected to handle the primary duties in the secondary.

But the Rams have a lot to sort out beyond that group as they look to set the roster for next season. Assuming the Rams keep nine or 10 defensive backs, that would leave room for four or five more defensive backs. At corner, there will be plenty of competition amongst a group that includes Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid and some other youngsters including Marcus Roberson. At safety, names like Maurice Alexander, Matt Daniels, Cody Davis and Christian Bryant will jockey for position.

Williams' wrinkles: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has spent most of the offseason in the lab coming up with ways to deploy his new players. But most of that has been based off film study without the benefit of seeing his players working up close on an actual football field.

OTAs offer Williams his first chance to do just that and make determinations on how he wants to go about using the talent in place. The majority of work in OTAs is centered on installation on both sides of the ball so much of the legwork is already done, but there is plenty of time for tweaking if, for example, Williams views his players' skill sets different than he first suspected.

Britt
Britt
Likewise, it will give the defense its first chance to get used to what Williams wants to do and get comfortable with what will likely be a more aggressive approach in 2014.

Receiver rundown: Aside from the free-agent addition of Kenny Britt, the Rams stood pat at wide receiver in the offseason, choosing to bet heavy that their young receiver corps will be up to the task of taking the next step up the developmental ladder.

Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis return to the fold. Much is expected from Givens, Austin, Bailey and Quick, and Britt will get a chance to make a positive first impression on the field. The competition appears mostly wide open, making receiver a position full of intrigue as we head toward training camp.

Williams' work will be in the lab

February, 14, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As new St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stepped to the dais to meet the media for the first time Thursday afternoon, he quickly joked that the rest of the defensive staff was pleased to get a respite from him while he answered a few questions.

"I know this week as we’ve started meeting as a staff, that they’re probably great and they’re enjoying the fact there’s a little bit of a break in the staff meetings downstairs and I’m here with you instead of with them because we have a lot of work to do," Williams said. "We started early this week and we’ll be working hard and doing that knowing that you all want a winner.”

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams "is not going to do a lot of player evaluations," Jeff Fisher said. "I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."
Soon after a relatively brief news conference, Williams went back to work evaluating the current Rams defensive talent, meeting with his staff and getting the ball rolling for the 2014 season. Between now and the start of the season, that's going to be Williams' primary function, according to coach Jeff Fisher.

Even before the Rams officially hired Williams as defensive coordinator, many began wondering what his addition would mean to the Rams in terms of player evaluations and needs in the NFL draft and free agency.

By all indications, Williams isn't going to spend the next few months poring over tape of college prospects or traveling all over the country to pro days. Instead, Williams will spend his time in a sort of football laboratory, cooking up coverages, blitzes and more in an effort to help the Rams defense take the next step in its development.

"I told Gregg that this time around he’s going to be the mad scientist," Fisher said. "So he’s not going to do a lot of player evaluations. I’m not going to take his time up in evaluating unrestricted free agents and getting ready for the draft. I want him to take this defense and run with it and let us handle that part."

Fisher brought Williams back with the sole intention of helping the Rams move from a top 15 defense to a top 10 or better group. For most of his coaching career, Williams has had a reputation for aggressive, ball hawking defenses which feature aggressive press coverage and exotic blitz packages. Part of his job during this time will be figuring out how those principles mesh with what the Rams already have in place.

For example, the Rams finished third in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and seem to have a knack for generating pressure with just the front four. That would seem to alleviate the need to come with extra pass-rushers as much as Williams might be used to. That could allow him to concoct some different and unique ideas for third-down situations.

That isn't to say Williams is going to abandon what he believes in. Fisher wanted him all along for a reason, because they have similar beliefs on how to attack opposing offenses.

After Williams and Fisher were done speaking Thursday, Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis discussed what Williams' addition means for the defense. He's well aware that Fisher envisions Williams as one of the final pieces toward making the Rams a top 5 or so defense. He understands the expectations.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Laurinaitis said. "You want to have that expectation way up there, and he has it and we have it. Quite frankly, there's no excuses for this defense not to be there. That comes from myself, from all the guys, talking to them. We're fired up, and I think it's just really an understanding that we have to elevate our game. There's absolutely no excuses. We should be a top 5 defense."

What Dr. Williams cooks up in the lab over the next six-plus months will go a long way in helping them get there.
ST. LOUIS --Three of the league's top seven scoring defenses in 2013 resided in the NFC West. Seattle was No. 1, San Francisco was No. 3 and Arizona was No. 7.

And then there were the St. Louis Rams, who finished a respectable 13th in the league in points allowed but finished fourth in the division in terms of record and defense. That isn't preventing some NFL analysts from looking at the Rams' defensive foundation and seeing a group capable of unseating the Seahawks on the NFL's defensive throne.

In fact, over at NFL.com, Gil Brandt named the Rams his "defense on the rise," just behind five other defenses capable of becoming the next dominant group in the NFL.

Brandt writes that the Rams have "two thirds" of the needed parts to become an elite defense, citing the strength of the front seven but acknowledging the need for help on the back end. There's no doubt about that. The Rams' greatest needs defensively this offseason include a rangy free safety type and potentially even another starting caliber cornerback. An outside linebacker to complement Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis would also make sense.

Of course, another reason for Brandt's optimism as it comes to the Rams defense is the pending addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator. Brandt writes that Williams should help take the defense to the next level.

That's an opinion shared elsewhere. SI.com's Don Banks called Williams the best coordinator hire of the offseason.

I'm inclined to agree with both takes as the Rams have been building toward a dominant defense since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher. Many of the pieces are in place. Now, they need to add the final touches and let Williams mold it all together to maximize an extremely talented young group on a consistent basis.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we took a look at the latest round of rumors and speculation concerning the Rams and Los Angeles. ... Next, it was my column on why the time has come for the Rams to stop spending big in free agency and keep developing their young players. ... From there, we continued our series on possible future Hall of Fame Rams with a look at receiver Isaac Bruce. ... Finally, we offered some thoughts and reaction to the mock drafts of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

Elsewhere:

Speaking of the mock drafts (both links are ESPN Insider content):

Here's Kiper's latest offering.

Here's McShay's updated picks.

Tavon Austin joined ESPN's Toni Collins with thoughts on a number of topics relating to the memorabilia industry.

SI.com has its own updated mock draft following a similar blueprint as the Kiper/McShay takes.

NFL.com's Adam Schein ranks the Rams No. 8 as one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason.


ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams and Gregg Williams have agreed to a deal to make Williams the team's defensive coordinator.

It's a move two years in the making after Williams originally accepted the same role in 2012 but never did the job after serving a suspension for his role in the bounty scandal with the New Orleans Saints.

Williams served as a defensive consultant for the Tennessee Titans in 2013 but technically hasn't been a defensive coordinator for a game since his time in New Orleans.

There will be no sweeping changes in terms of the general defensive philosophy but Williams will certainly add his own flavor. To get a handle on how we got here and what Williams brings to the table, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett discussed the move.

Wagoner: Mike, it's been a long, strange trip to get to this point where Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams can finally reunite. You were there during the ups and downs of Williams' time in New Orleans. First, what are some of the things he can bring to the table from solely a coaching perspective?

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGregg Williams, a senior defensive assistant with the Titans this past season, will preach an aggressive style of play as Rams defensive coordinator.
Triplett: Williams made a huge impact on the Saints -- especially in his first year in 2009. For one thing, he was a creative and versatile coordinator who was great at tailoring his defense around players' individual strengths. One example that stands out most was the way he made safety Roman Harper into a two-time Pro Bowler by using him as a frequent blitzer and pseudo-linebacker. Williams would also mix and match between a 4-3 and 3-4. His most famous example was the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning when he had different plans for the first half, the third quarter and the fourth quarter.

What stood out even more was the way Williams lit a fire under his players as a passionate leader and motivator. And he noticeably instilled confidence in them. He brought a lot of the same qualities in his first season that we talked about this past year with Rob Ryan. Obviously you can't ignore the bounty scandal, though, when describing those traits because Williams took it to such extremes.

Do you think it was hard for Fisher to make this move with the bounty scandal still so fresh in Williams' past?

Wagoner: In all honesty, I was under the impression that this ship had sailed. Fisher was hesitant to even talk about Williams during the week leading up to the Titans game this season and he fired Williams' son, Blake. But apparently their friendship survived all of those things or they were at least able to reconcile enough to give it another go. When Williams first got suspended, Fisher seemed to be a bit taken aback by it. I wondered if Williams didn't provide all of the information. It put the Rams in something of a difficult spot that first season. The timing of all this seems a bit strange because Williams shook loose from Tennessee a while ago. I wonder how much time has been spent working out the details. At the end of the day, this was clearly what Fisher wanted all along so perhaps now the Rams can finally have some stability at defensive coordinator.

You mentioned the bounty scandal. One thing that raises a red flag with this hire is the lack of discipline the Rams had in 2013. They drew a lot of silly penalties. That's always been a part of Fisher teams and it doesn't seem Williams' style will do much to harness that. What were your impressions of his ability to walk the line between instilling discipline in his players while not taking away their edge?

Triplett: I don't ever remember penalties being a big problem with the Saints. In fact, many people pointed out during the bounty debate that the Saints had one of the league's least-penalized defenses during Williams' tenure. But I still think that's probably a fair concern since I wouldn't exactly characterize Williams as "disciplined." He wants to create big plays, and he blitzed a ton while he was in New Orleans. And sometimes that gambling nature led to breakdowns and big plays for the offense. It worked wonders in 2009, when the Saints led the NFL in combined turnovers in the regular season and postseason. But they had playoff blowups at Seattle and San Francisco the next two years.

The same goes for big hits, obviously. Williams saw the value in what he always called "remember me" shots, and sometimes that led to unnecessary roughness penalties. But it was never a case of the Saints playing "dirty" on defense or taking cheap shots to hurt guys. The philosophy was to be aggressive as possible within the rules (though the reward program was where they went too far).

You'll see that philosophy on display right away during summer practices. The defensive guys will annoy the offense by constantly swatting at the ball and trying to pry it loose and diving on every ball that hits the turf. And you'll hear Williams shouting often. The energy level will be unmistakable.

Wagoner: It should be a good thing for the Rams to have some stability at the position, finally. One more thing while I've still got you. One area that drove Rams fans nuts this year was a commitment to a lot of "off" coverage with corners playing soft zones. It would seem Williams doesn't abide by that approach. Can you shed some light on his approach to coverage schemes and how it might alter the type of players for the secondary the Rams will be looking for this offseason?

Triplett: You're right. His corners played a ton of man-to-man coverage in New Orleans -- often times pressing -- while doing a lot of blitzing. But I'm not sure that's always his approach. It's just how he decided to do things in New Orleans since he trusted the defensive backs' ability to cover more than the front four's ability to generate pressure without blitzing.

When he was here, he had corners like Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter and safeties like Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins, who all played very well during those years. Greer and Porter weren't very big or physical, so he doesn't necessarily require a big, physical corner. But he'd obviously like to find guys he can trust in man coverage.

Wagoner: There's no doubting the move makes sense for the Rams. Given the caliber of defenses the Rams face in the NFC West division, Williams' hire should help nudge them toward the elite status necessary to close the gap on Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.

ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Rams announced Wednesday that they fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the easy reaction wasn't necessarily to wonder why he was fired but why the Rams waited so long to do it.

It took all of about 10 minutes to understand. The Rams already had their replacement lined up, and technically, the replacement is the replacement's replacement. Got that?

ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported that the Rams will hire Gregg Williams to be their new (old?) defensive coordinator only moments after the team sent out a release announcing it was parting ways with Walton.

What a long, strange trip it's been for Williams and the Rams.

A brief history: Soon after the team named Jeff Fisher as head coach in January 2012, Fisher hired Williams as his defensive coordinator. Fisher and Williams were best friends and had worked together in Tennessee, where the Titans were regularly among the league's best defenses.

Not long after that, the Rams and Williams were forced to part ways because the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the bounty scandal in New Orleans. The Rams allowed Williams' son, Blake, to serve as a de facto coordinator in addition to his role coaching the team's linebackers.

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesGregg Williams will be hired as the Rams' defensive coordinator, reuniting with Jeff Fisher, sources said.
The Rams' defense was middle of the pack in 2012, but the younger Williams struggled to mesh with the coaching staff and was let go after the season. St. Louis hired Walton from Detroit, where he worked with Fisher disciple Jim Schwartz, because of his familiarity with Fisher's defense.

Walton's defense struggled mightily early in the season, especially against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco. Rumors persisted that Fisher took on a larger role in calling the defense around midseason, and the group finished in the middle of the pack once again.

But Walton's contributions were questionable as the secondary struggled with passive coverage schemes and the defense allowed a completion rate of 68.1 percent, tied for worst in the league.

Despite those struggles, Walton was in his first year as a coordinator and Fisher said he didn't anticipate making any changes to the coaching staff this offseason.

Perhaps Fisher didn't anticipate the Titans making wholesale changes to their coaching staff, where Williams served as a defensive consultant in 2013.

Which brings us to Wednesday and the report that Williams and Fisher are set to reunite. Given the way things ended between the two sides the first time around, it was fair to wonder if the bridge had been burned and reconciliation was even possible.

Fisher said in 2012 that he wouldn't rule out bringing Williams back at some point, but it seemed plenty had changed since. When the Rams and Titans played in November, Fisher didn't exactly offer up warm fuzzies when asked whether he talked to Williams much.

“I really never talked to him during the season anyway,” Fisher said then. “I'm sure I'll see him on Sunday.”

From Williams' side, one had to wonder whether his son's firing would create a wedge between the two sides.

Apparently, none of that was enough to damage the long and close friendship forged by Fisher and Williams.

From a pure football perspective, the move makes sense. Williams and Fisher built the attacking, aggressive defensive scheme favored by both coaches and will continue to deploy it in St. Louis.

Williams' involvement in the bounty scandal is sure to bring questions, but there's no denying his positive impact on Tennessee's defense in 2013. The Titans finished 14th in total yards allowed and 16th in scoring defense with Williams helping out after finishing 27th in total yards and last in scoring defense in 2012.

With Williams back on board, it's safe to expect the Rams to take on the personality that Fisher wanted to see from the get-go -- less of the soft zone, huge cushion coverage calls paired with relentless pressure from the front four and exotic blitz packages.

Those are all calling cards of a Williams defense and will almost certainly be staples of the Rams' scheme in St. Louis.

Given the state of the NFC West, where elite defenses are the rule, the Rams' middle-of-the-pack finish in the first two seasons under Fisher simply hasn't been good enough. While the unit didn't take any steps back in 2013, it also didn't make the leap forward to the top-10 group many hoped it would become.

To reach that level, Fisher appears poised to bring back the man he wanted all along.

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