Last year at the Senior Bowl, Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams was vague on his plans. Numerous questions were answered with the sentiment that he wanted to get to know his players better before commenting too specifically after making the move from the Indianapolis Colts to the Minnesota.
This year, Williams is feeling more comfortable answering questions after a full offseason and full season with his players on the defensive side of the ball. That comfort level also helped the defense improve.
Williams said he felt the most progress in being able to communicate with his defenders better the more he got to know them.
"Communicating what I want, what we wanted as a staff for our defense. I think as the year went along, the coaches communicated to me, ‘Hey, coach, we need to make this type of adjustment and this is the person that can do this well,' and I got better in communicating, ‘Hey, you need to do this in this situation,'" Williams said. "There was less fluff in terms of what we wanted them to do. We narrowed it down. We were more specific in terms of what we wanted the guys to do."
Some improvements were more pronounced than others, but the most meaningful improvement was in the points allowed. In 2011, under then-defensive coordinator Fred Pagac, the defense ranked 31st in points allowed. In fairness, there were numerous injuries, especially in the defensive backfield, that Pagac had to overcome, but in 2012 the Vikings improved to 14th in points allowed, dropping from 28.1 points per game to 21.8 in one season.
While Williams had the added component of first-round safety Harrison Smith, the defense wasn't without its injury issues, even if the injured reserve list was minimal in 2012. Jared Allen played the entire season with a torn labrum and Brian Robison had a tendon issue in his elbow and then a shoulder injury – he played through both and didn't believe he would need surgery.
The Vikings were still among the bottom three teams in the league in interception rate, but despite the injuries on the defensive line, their sack ranking only fell from second to seventh in the league. With Allen's sack numbers falling from 22 to 12, others pitched in. Robison had 8½ sacks and Everson Griffen had eight.
The first-year defensive coordinator said he believes he improved in his play-calling, too.
"Towards the end we were a little bit more aggressive in how we called games," he said.
Williams said the reason for the increased aggression in play-calling was two-fold: He was more comfortable with the players and which ones he could depend on during blitzes, and there were some adjustments in the scheme, too.
"As the season went on, I knew what our players were capable of and they grew also. We started off with a young defense, a young staff in terms of us working together and so we grew as a whole defense, coaches and players together, so we knew what the players could do," he said. "They knew what we wanted from them and they grew so I could depend on Harrison (Smith) to do more. I could depend on Jamarca (Sanford) to execute more. I could depend on Jasper (Brinkley) to get us in and out of plays because he knew what I wanted. It wasn't just me that was growing; we grew as a staff."
While the points surrendered improved, so did the yards. The Vikings went from 21st in yards allowed in 2011 to 16th in 2012, and from 21st in yards per play to 11th.
Some of that improvement likely had to do with better and more available talent, but Williams should also receive some of the credit in his first year as defensive coordinator of the Vikings.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Coordinator talks about progress in defense
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