Gregg Williams has already made quite the first impression among his defensive players.
The status quo is no longer acceptable.
The new defensive coordinator of the Browns is already getting after his players and they haven’t even hit the practice field yet.
“It’s a shock, but that’s what we need,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We need somebody that’s going to switch it up, change it up, tell us something, cuss us out, scream at us, let us know that we’re sorry right now and we’ve got to be better. I’m excited about having him here because I feel like it’s a new energy and, shoot, we need that.”
It’s a good thing Haden played through a pair of groin injuries last season, even if they adversely affected his performance on the field, because he wouldn’t be here, a point Williams made to the 2-time Pro Bowler when they met.
“When I first got here and I met him, I went up to his office and we talked for a while, just about my toughness and about the biggest thing he told me was, ‘If you didn’t play through your injury I would tell them to get you out of here,’” Haden said. “So he was in my face as soon as I met him.”
Haden has missed 14 games over the last 2 seasons due to injuries – 10 for concussions, 1 for a rib and finger injury and 3 because of a pair of groin injuries that he had surgery in January to repair.
Although he was named a Pro Bowl alternate last season, Haden has a lot to prove – to himself and Williams.
“Of course, I think I can be the best corner in the game still,” Haden said. “This is my eighth season, I just turned 28, I’m ready to get after it. Without the injuries, without the stuff – it’s been a lot, it’s been tough, trying to fight through it but I feel like when I’m out there healthy, can’t nobody mess with me.”
Williams’ presence is an eye opener for defensive tackle Danny Shelton who enters his third season with the Browns after being selected 12th overall in the 2015 draft.
“He is an intense coach,” Shelton said. “You can tell that he wants to change the culture around here. I think he is the perfect fit.”
Shelton’s sophomore campaign was a step up from year one but he still hasn’t come close to realizing his full potential, something he hopes will happen under Williams.
“It is exciting to come to work and know that he is going to have a challenge for you every day,” Shelton said. “It is going to be a lot of work this year.”
Last year the Browns’ defense was ranked near the bottom in just about every major statistical category – 30th in points allowed, 31st in overall defense, 31st against the run, 21st against the pass, 32nd in passing touchdowns allowed, 30th in turnovers, 27th in average plays per drive, 29th in average yards allowed per drive, and 32nd in average points per drive.
Williams is expecting to change those rankings in quick order, and it has already begun by him readjusting players attitudes, work habits and expectations.
“He definitely brings a different attitude. He’s very, very vocal, in your face and I feel like we definitely need that,” Haden said. “We need somebody that’s going to keep everybody accountable, me, Kirksey, Collins, Danny, he’s definitely going at us. Everybody’s on the same slate. He tells us we’ve been losing here for a reason and he’s here to change it. Just with his passion and the way he’s coming at us, we have no choice but to turn up.”
The Browns haven’t just been losing. They’ve turned it into an art form during a playoff drought that extends 14 seasons and included 12 double-digit loss campaigns. Cleveland is coming off the worst season in franchise history and the team hasn’t finished above .500 in a season since going 10-6 but missing the playoffs in 2007.
Since going 4-28 in his first 2 NFL seasons, Shelton is tired of the mounting losses and for that reason alone he doesn’t mind Williams’ in your face approach.
“I think we did need that,” Shelton said. “I think his mindset is what Cleveland needs in order for us to change and turn around the program.”