Saints' Williams preaches necessary roughness
METAIRIE, La. (AP)
Gregg Williams exhibits a fanatical devotion to the concept of necessary roughness.
The Saints' defensive coordinator is quick to remind his players that defenses are ''respected when they're feared.''
He also won't punish players if they're flagged for late hits or unnecessary roughness, as long as the penalty resulted from aggression, not ''stupidity.''
Defensive end Will Smith explains it this way: ''The intimidation part is just the way we play, just playing hard and fast to the ball. ... It hurts a little more when you have multiple people hitting you at the same time instead of just one person.''
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma said creating a fear factor is as fundamental to Williams' approach as being in the right spot on the field.
''You can only be feared if you're hitting,'' Vilma said.
Still, some outside of New Orleans have wondered aloud whether Saints defenders have taken Williams' philosophy a little too far - namely, Vikings coach Brad Childress, whose club opens its season in New Orleans on Thursday night.
This week, Childress stood by an earlier assertion that the Saints appeared to be trying to use late hits to hurt quarterback Brett Favre in last season's NFC championship game.
Had he been making a presentation to a jury, Childress might have replayed video of three plays in particular. One was a hi-low hit by tackle Remi Ayodele and former Saints end Bobby McCray, which resulted in an interception by Vilma.
No flag was thrown, but McCray was later fined for the low hit.
On another play, McCray was flagged, and later fined, for hitting Favre after a handoff. Anthony Hargrove also was fined for a roughing-the-passer penalty that was called when the 272-pound lineman lifted Favre off his feet and slammed down on top of him.
''I don't think we were trying to hurt him at all,'' Ayodele said. ''It's football. It's a physical game. If you watch all of our games, we did that every game. I just think it was a bigger deal because it was Favre.''
Childress and Williams have somewhat of a history. Williams was the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator when Childress was the offensive coordinator for NFC East division rival Philadelphia.
''His defenses have always been aggressive,'' Childress said. ''It's always been a storm-the-castle type of approach. (He's) kind of known for that. ... What I hate to see are late hits or attempts to hurt anybody.''
When pressed if he thought the Saints were guilty of that, Childress responded, ''Yes, I would have to say that.''
The Saints, as one might expect, take issue with accusations that they're dirty.
''Everybody knows that's nonsense,'' Smith said, adding that Childress is ''probably trying to lobby the refs to call a tight game.
''We played like that all (last) year and we didn't hear anybody else complain.''
Favre, renowned for toughness throughout his career, said he didn't see anything dirty about how the Saints played.
''I've heard that from a lot of people and you know what my response is? It's football,'' Favre said. ''In a roundabout sort of way, every defense wants to get the opposing quarterback out, you know? ... Say we played Drew (in Minnesota) and we were able to hit him like that. We would have been saying, 'Hey, great.'''
Williams considers himself a disciple of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, defensive coordinator of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears and later head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Oilers. Williams worked under Ryan in Houston.
''I'm not going to apologize for how hard our guys play, and I'm not going to apologize if they're trying to lay the wood on everybody,'' Williams said after a recent preseason practice. ''When the other team is worried about protecting themselves over protecting the ball, we all like that a lot better.''
Williams delights in reminiscing about great defenses of the past which were known for brutal physical play, such as Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s.
''I can remember times when I was growing up and looked at that tremendous Steel Curtain defense - guys that didn't have teeth,'' Williams said. ''Look at the way Jack Tatum played when he was still alive and playing for the Oakland Raiders and look at the greatest defenses that Buddy Ryan had. All those defenses had an intimidating factor about them.
''We're looking to live on the edge, play on the edge,'' Williams continued. ''My whole life, I've tried to speed up players, make them more aggressive, make them tougher, make them play nastier and I'm not going to back them off - not going to look to back them off in any way.''
NOTES: The Saints signed veteran LB Danny Clark to their roster, adding depth to a position group that was thinned by LB Jonathan Casillas' season-ending foot injury in New Orleans' final preseason game. TE Tory Humphrey was cut to make room on the roster. ... CB Tracy Porter, who missed the last two preseason games with a sore left knee, returned to practice on a limited basis. Vilma, who missed the last preseason game with a right groin injury, also practiced on a limited basis.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minn., contributed to this report.