FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - If there's one thing that defined the Jets in the final two years of the Todd Bowles Era, it was their maddeningly underachieving defense. Every year they seemed to have so much talent and potential, but the production just never matched.
The strong belief inside One Jets Drive is that storyline is about to change dramatically under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Because if he can't get something out of this defense, then it's possible that nobody can.
The 60-year-old Williams was the most interesting, controversial, and by far the best hire that Jets coach Adam Gase made when he assembled his staff over the last few months. And it didn't take long for Williams to leave his mark on the team. His loud, profane voice has dominated spring practices, the same way his defensive players have often dominated on the field.
Their attitude and energy level has just felt different and more edgy, from the way they break defensive huddles (with a chant of "Come get some, bitch."), to the amount of trash talking they do towards their own offense, to the wild celebrations when anyone on defense makes a play.
Those are the hallmarks of a Gregg Williams defense: Energy, toughness, brashness, aggressiveness, and an unapologetic feeling like they won't back down from anyone.
And yes, that's all by design.
"My secrets get out," Williams said on Thursday when he met the New York media for the first time. "The reason I keep getting hired is culture, and culture beats strategy any day of the week. It's about how you find the ways yourself to be tougher, how you find ways to play harder, play smarter for longer than any opponent you go against.
"It comes from an attitude. It comes from a personal understanding of what it takes to play this game at this level to the highest standard. Players can smell and feel and know whether you're conning them faster than coaches do because they see the personal side of it. So, yeah, I push, prod. And attitude does come first. And I tell them 'Attitude is everything. Pick a good one today.'"
There is no doubt that hard push for attitude has cost Williams during his 30-year NFL career. He lost a year of his career to the BountyGate scandal, where the NFL found he started a financial fund with the New Orleans Saints to reward his players who injured opponents. That was a stain on an otherwise stellar NFL resume, and has almost cost him any chance at his first permanent head coaching job since he left the Buffalo Bills in 2003.
Gase and the Jets are obviously not concerned about that history. In fact, they're so unconcerned that they've paired Williams with outside linebackers coach Joe Vitt, who is Gase's father-in-law and also was a former Saints assistant who became one of the NFL's star witnesses in the NFL's BountyGate case against Williams.
And though neither Vitt nor Williams wanted to talk much about each other on Thursday, except to insist they're friends, it was clear that Vitt still had a respect for Williams and his coaching style. When asked how he would describe a Gregg Williams defense, Vitt said "Listen man, you've got to be tough, you've got to be passionate about what you do, and your effort has got to be relentless."
Williams makes sure of that in practice, where he can be obviously hard on his players - often with a point. To illustrate that, he said when he met the Jets' talented and cocky star safety, Jamal Adams, for the first time he told him, "I've coached a lot better people than you before."
There's no doubt that's one way to light a fire under Adams. And Williams obviously knows how to light that fire under every player he coaches.
"My coaching style is extremely encouraging," he said. "When you guys see maybe the voice, the loudness and stuff, that's premeditated. For whatever reason, when you have slow motion practices then you're shocked on a fast-paced Sunday. So we try put as much external pressure on them as we can - distractions, voice, fake anger, that kind of stuff to get them ready to play on Sunday. You'll see a lot calmer me on Sunday, but I have to do that Monday through Saturday."
His history has shown that works. And though he may downplay his scheme and it's 42 defensive packages, history has shown his scheme works pretty well, too. He also knows how to make the most of the players he has. So when he says of the perennially underachieving Leonard Williams, "We're really looking forward to cutting him loose," it's easy to believe that he will.
Time will tell, of course, but for now it's hard to imagine this Jets defense will rank 25th for the third consecutive season or worse. They have too much talent, and Gregg Williams knows it. He also knows how to get that talent out of them, too. They already feel the attitude. They can already sense the aggression.
Or, as linebacker Jordan Jenkins described the Gregg Williams approach earlier this week: "In my mind, it's F you before it's F me."