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New Orleans Saints News



The message defensive coordinator Gregg Williams delivered at his first meeting with rookie Saints defenders was short and direct.

"Knock 'em the (. . .) out!"

Mission statements don't get much clearer than that -- simple and to the point.

In one five-syllable directive, the Saints new defensive coordinator set the tone for his defense and made it known what he expected from his troops during the five-practice minicamp.

"I loved it," said rookie safety Chip Vaughn, a fourth-round draft pick from Wake Forest.

The read-and-react era of Saints defensive Football officially ended Friday, the first on-field work of any kind for Williams as a member of Coach Sean Payton's staff.

No more rope-a-dope.

No more bend-but-don't break.

With Williams calling the shots, the Saints will attack from the opening snap and not back down. At least that's the impression Saints defenders received from Williams during their initial meeting.

"That's the way I like to play, just pin your ears back and go," Vaughn said. "I have no problems with that at all."

The 28 Saints defenders worked without pads against "air" for most of the day and will not go "live" against veterans until the first full-squad minicamp next month, but Williams was no less intense in his coaching.

After calisthenics, he gathered the 28 defenders into a huddle in the south end zone of the Saints' practice fields and delivered a terse command.

"He told us to dominate," said cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, the team's first-round draft pick, from Ohio State. "He wanted us to set the tempo at practice. I think we did a pretty good job of it today. I guess we'll find out in about 30 minutes when we watch the film."

I wanted to ask Williams what he thought of his first day on the job, but he and other Saints assistants are off limits to reporters until training camp, per Payton's media policy.

So we were left to observe from afar during a limited 20-minute window at the morning practice.

Clad in a black Saints visor and trademark wraparound shades, Williams spent most of the workout roaming from position group to position group, barking orders intermittently to stoke the pace when drills lagged.

He's not a high-volume yeller like former Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook or red-faced screamer a la ex-defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Instead, he maintains a professorial demeanor and picks his spots to make a point.

"He was mostly observing and monitoring us today, but you can still feel his intensity," said linebacker Jeff Souder, an undrafted rookie free agent from Nebraska-Omaha. "You can see it in his eyes."

Vaughn said Williams reminded him of former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Dean Hood, now the head coach at Eastern Kentucky, not only in demeanor but in his philosophy of attacking on defense. Hood's Demon Deacons defenses annually ranked among the national leaders in take-aways and turnover margin.

"He doesn't want us to let up at all on the offense," Vaughn said of Williams. "As soon as we got that choke hold, he wants us to squeeze the life out of 'em."

For Jenkins, the weekend was his second encounter with Williams. The first came over dinner in Columbus, Ohio, the night before his pro-day workout at Ohio State. It was there that Williams discussed his defensive philosophy and explained in detail his plans to overhaul the Saints .

"He wants smart players who are tough," said Jenkins, the gem of the team's four-man rookie class and the focus of a large media contingent throughout the workout. "If you are going to loaf or not play hard or make a bunch of mistakes, then he doesn't want you on his team."

There was no loafing Friday. In fact, when a few unfortunate rookies ran the wrong way during a drill early in practice, they were forced to drop and perform pushups before rejoining their teammates. The message: Mental errors, even seemingly harmless ones, will not be tolerated.

Assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones meted out the punishment, but it was clear where the idea came from.

"He's the type of guy who is real, real smart, but he's not going to take no stuff from you, basically," Jenkins said. "That's the type of coach I like, that can rip you but still teach you. He set the tone in the first meeting with us, he said as a defense we're going to set the tone, we're not going to react to what the offense does, we're going to dictate the practice."

In the 20-minute window we were afforded to view practice, it was impossible to tell whether Williams' troops accomplished their mission or not. But one thing was certain: They weren't confused about what it was.

. . . . . . .

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 9, 2009

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