Some people have wondered how the reputable Jeff Fisher could partner up with former outlaw Gregg Williams. But people who understand them and the St. Louis Rams wondered how Fisher could not hire Williams to be his defensive coordinator.
Fisher and Williams are a match because they come from the same place philosophically. One of Fisher's primary influences was Buddy Ryan. Fisher played for him in Chicago, and it was Ryan who convinced Fisher to coach. Ryan also was an influence on Williams, as they worked together for the Houston Oilers in 1993. So when Jack Pardee hired Fisher to replace Ryan as his Oilers defensive coordinator the following year, Fisher and Williams clicked.
When Fisher replaced Pardee as the Oilers' head coach, he retained Williams—and eventually promoted him to defensive coordinator. For a number of years, their defense was the last remaining to resemble Ryan's old defenses with the Bears and Eagles. In fact, in 2000 their league-leading defense helped the Titans to a 13-3 record.
It isn't remembered much outside of Tennessee because the Baltimore Ravens defense overshadowed it, but the Titans' performance that year helped Williams to his first head-coaching job in Buffalo.
After 14 years apart, they find themselves together again, trying to recreate the kind of defense the Titans played back in the day. But it won't be exactly the same. The defense, and both men, have evolved.
"When Jim [Schwartz] took over the defense in Tennessee, it changed a little bit," Fisher told Bleacher Report. "Gregg went in a little different direction with the defense too. He's done an outstanding job wherever he has been. He's approached things differently year to year depending on where he has been based on the strengths of the football team. When they won the Super Bowl in New Orleans, they had a highly explosive offense, so the objective of the defense was: don't give up home runs, make people drive the football and get it back.
"And as we are seeing some changes in offensive philosophy with a splash of the read-option, I think we've done a good job the last two years here. He'll continue with that. But his version of the defense is still a defense I'm familiar with. And it's a defense players will really like to play in."
Williams' "new" Rams defense really isn't that much different from the defense the Rams have been using. Fisher recognized some of the old Williams trademarks when he was watching 2013 tape from the Titans, as Williams was a defensive assistant in Tennessee last season.
When Fisher came to the Rams in 2012, he hired Williams as his defensive coordinator. Prior to being suspended as a result of the Bountygate scandal, Williams installed his defense. The Rams used it that season with Williams' son Blake Williams mostly in charge, and they used it to a great degree last season with Tim Walton calling the signals.
Fisher and Williams grew apart after Williams' suspension. Fisher wasn't very happy about Williams' involvement in the scandal and what it did to his organization. And Williams wasn't very happy about Fisher firing his son after the 2012 season. But Fisher said they talked things out and are over it. Now they are back to being coaching brothers.
Fisher said he has no qualms about making his bed with Williams. "Gregg has come to terms with things," he said. "He did what he needed to do.
"He kept things in perspective. He is passionate about the game. I think he has a good relationship with the commissioner [Roger Goodell] and the commissioner has respect for him with how he handled everything. I think Gregg is eager and anxious to get back."
In Fisher's third season in St. Louis, he needs someone like Williams to help get the Rams over the top. Playing in football's toughest division, the Rams are searching for every edge they can find.
What really is significant is Williams and Fisher have some tools to work with, and there almost assuredly are more tools coming with the Rams having the second, 13th, 44th and 75th picks in the draft.
Defensive end Robert Quinn led the NFC in sacks and was the PFWA defensive player of the year. Fisher said he thought defensive end Chris Long rushed the passer so well that he could have had 10 more sacks than the 8.5 he had. He expressed confidence that young defensive backs Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins and T.J. McDonald will continue to make more plays.
And he believes linebacker Alec Ogletree, who led the Rams in tackles and had six forced fumbles, could do big things in his second season. "He was still seeing things for the first time through the middle part of the season, but he is a playmaker," Fisher said. "He's going to be an outstanding player."
Fisher believes Williams can help develop the young talent on the Rams and make the defense a more cohesive unit. "We're chasing the other three teams in our division right now," Fisher said. "But I think we're closing the gap."
• The Browns' front-office blowup might not have been possible, at least not the way it went down, if not for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Explanation: Word out of South Florida is Ross advisor Carl Peterson targeted Ray Farmer as the next general manager of the Dolphins. And the expectation was that Farmer was going to get the job. But then Ross got cold feet about Farmer. That's when Farmer backed out of the job. That made him available to take over the Browns' front office last week, when Jimmy Haslam finally decided to go in a new direction.
• The Browns blowup also might not have happened if the Chargers or Patriots could have beaten the Broncos in the playoffs. Explanation: It is believed Haslam really wanted Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase to be his head coach. And Gase was not ruling out the Browns solely on the basis of their Brownishness. He would have been open to considering the job if he could have been hired prior to last week. Gase didn't want to be the last head coach hired because it would have impacted his ability to put together a strong staff. So because the Broncos went to the Super Bowl, Gase backed out on the Browns.
The Browns' next choice, sources say, was Josh McDaniels. But the Patriots offensive coordinator forced the Browns' hand by asking if he was their guy at a point when Gase still was in the running. They had to tell him no. So McDaniels pulled out and apparently was not interested in getting back in when the Browns went back at him later in the process.
• Some suspect deposed Browns CEO Joe Banner will resurface in the league office, perhaps with Ray Anderson's old job as executive vice president of football operations. Banner is respected by many in the league office, especially executive vice president Jeff Pash. Banner played a major role in coming up with the league's rookie compensation pool.
• There is a reason Michael Sam might fall in the draft, and it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. One front-office man said based on his research, he has concerns about Sam's coachability. He thinks Sam does not always go along with what he is asked to do by coaches, strictly in a football sense. He believes it will affect the Missouri linebacker's draft status. A second front-office man echoed the concerns.
• It is starting to look like Devin Hester has brought back his last kick for the Bears. Hester's contract is up, and some suspect he is headed for a reunion with Lovie Smith in Tampa. At 31, Hester is not the player he was, but he still is one of the league's better return men. Last season Hester was exclusively a return man, and some teams prefer not to allocate a big chunk of the salary cap to a player who does not contribute to offense or defense. Given all the needs the Bears have, it is likely they will look for a return man who also plays offense or defense.
• The NFL competition meeting has its first meeting of the offseason in Indianapolis on Tuesday, and high on the agenda is the issue of replay. Almost everyone expects changes are coming to replay. The only question is to what extent. Centralized replay is not the slam dunk it has been portrayed as, but it has a decent chance of being accepted.
There are two issues with centralized replay. The first is it would take away the element of communication between the head coach and the official responsible for making the call. The second problem is at times there are as many as seven games going on at once. In the last two minutes of a game, there can be multiple reviews. It could be difficult for a centralized office to handle all of the reviews, and multiple replay officials would have to be at the ready.
One of the most significant but underrated aspects of the combine is the interview process. In fact, many front-office men look forward to the interviews more than the workouts. With that in mind, we polled several execs on which prospects they were looking forward to interviewing most. Here were their answers.
Chris Boyd, Vanderbilt WR: Prosecutors accused him of assisting a cover-up of a rape, and he was dismissed from the football team in college. NFL talent evaluators want to give him a chance to tell his version of the story and see if they can get a comfort level with Boyd's character.
Martavis Bryant, Clemson WR: NFL teams have questions about his maturity and willingness to conform. One scout said he wanted to get Bryant on the board and talk football with him.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina DE: Clowney will be probed about his drop-off in production in 2013, and two front-office men said they are curious to see what his tone will be and if he is accountable. One personnel exec said he wants to ask Clowney these questions: "Did you hold back?" "Were you not in shape?" "Did injuries affect your performance?"
Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota DT: NFL teams will pepper him with questions about his tough upbringing, his off-field decision-making and an academic suspension. They also want to see what he has to say about being such an inconsistent player.
Seantrel Henderson, Miami OT: "He needs to interview well," one high-ranking exec said. Henderson will have to answer about off-field problems, suspensions and benchings.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State RB: He has a suspension and an off-field incident to explain. One veteran scout also said he wanted to ask Hyde about his work ethic.
Colt Lyerla, Oregon TE: Scouts think he isn't a bad player, but they want to hear him tell the story of why he quit the team and left school in October. They also will ask him about his arrest for cocaine possession and want to see if he is willing to work through problems. One front-office man said Lyerla is a "total wild card" because of his issues.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB: One front office man said he wants to try to get a feel for how serious Manziel is about football and how hard he will be willing to work. Manziel will get questions about his love of the game versus his love of the celebrity life.
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee DT: Front-office men want to see what this monster of a man says about letting his weight go at various points of his college career, and if he is willing to do things differently to control his weight in the future. They also want to ask him about taking plays off.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington TE: He will be asked about a DUI and a team suspension. But the bigger issue might be Seferian-Jenkins' inconsistencies on the field. He dominates at times and then disappears. Said one exec, "I want to get a feel for if I can trust him."
• Free-agent-to-be Michael Bennett wants NFL teams to know he won't be offering a discount like Costco. NFL teams that are interested in Bennett want him to know they are not expecting a markup like Tiffany's.
• Select Dolphins season ticket holders are being given the opportunity to attend a yacht party (via the Sun-Sentinel). Interest in the event would be much higher if Bryant McKinnie were on board.
• Jason Garrett observed (via The Dallas Morning News) a Southern Methodist basketball practice in order to learn from coach Larry Brown. If Garrett really was paying attention, he would now know to always have his resume updated and ready to distribute.
• Mayor Rahm Emanuel would like to bring a Super Bowl to Chicago (via the Tribune). The chances of that happening are about the same as bringing the Great Barrier Reef to the coast of Lake Michigan.
• And finally, should anyone be surprised that Pot Roast wants a bigger piece of the pie?
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.