ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Rams haven’t had a defensive coordinator since Gregg Williams was handed an indefinite ban by the NFL for his part in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
St. Louis’ defense also hasn’t had a Pro Bowl selection since 2003, but with four games left in the regular season and faint playoff hopes still alive, the Rams are being led by their deepest defensive unit in years.
It has been especially strong up front, where the versatile William Hayes, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, has come off the bench to play several spots. He has 2 1/2 sacks in the past two games.
Jeff Fisher, who coached Hayes with Tennessee, said he’s proven more valuable than the team had hoped.
“He has a good feel for the defense,” Fisher said. “We’re able to move him around. He’s playing inside, playing both tackle spots, playing the nose, playing both ends and been productive for us.”
Hayes saw his playing time drop significantly after Fisher left Tennessee before the 2011 season. Injuries limited him to 10 games and coaching decisions took more time away.
He said coming to St. Louis provided an opportunity to prove last season was a blip. That’s why he’s fine playing more spots than his natural position of end. The versatility makes him more valuable.
“I definitely think this year I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity for me to do it. I’m content with the Rams for the rest of my career. I love it.”
His teammates are enjoying having him around, too, even if it means changing their mindsets. Chris Long had grown accustomed to having little support off the bench in his first four years with the Rams.
Now, he finds himself able to take a breather every so often.
“I just think that’s great for us to have that depth,” Long said. “And when we’re out on the field all at the same time on third down or something, seeing them chasing quarterbacks down when we have speed all over the field, that’s pretty awesome.”
Hayes’ four sacks this year equal his career high set during the 2009 season, easily his best since entering the league from Winston-Salem State. He had 51 total tackles that year, 19 more than his second best performance. He has 24 this season.
He insists that statistics matter little to him.
“I’m probably playing the best I have all season,” he said. “I’ve thought I’ve played pretty solid all year. But me, I’m not really a stat guy. As long as I was disruptive, than I did enough for the team to win.”
He gives much of the credit for his transition to defensive line coach Mike Waufle. He likes Waufle’s precise feedback, which has helped him better identify which improvements are necessary. That has been especially helpful for the positions with which Hayes is less familiar.
Having a coach to rely on is key because the defense doesn’t have a defined leader to look toward. Players say they don’t know who draws up the defensive plans for each game, and each coach handles his positions. It’s gone well despite the unorthodox approach.
“Well, it’s been seamless,” said assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, who speaks to the media on behalf of the defense each Thursday. “I think, of course, first and foremost, because of Jeff Fisher, the way that he has put this staff together, the way he’s run it and then the type of people that we put together as players.”
Hayes says the same about his transition to a utility player.
“We just got a great rotation,” he said. “I love my role. I couldn’t ask for nothing better. I’m content with doing this for the rest of my career.”