It’s been an interesting 2013 for Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. Acquired by Chip Kelly’s team as a free agent in March, the six-year veteran won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens in February but is remembered primarily for shoving an official in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. He’s made it through just a few practices because of a nagging hamstring injury, and missed parts of OTAs due to home construction, dental work, and a dance recital that his daughter was in.
When Williams did get on the field for practice last week, the drama continued. He was benched during a three-day joint practice with the New England Patriots after fighting with Pats rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, New England defeated the Eagles, 31-22, in the Friday preseason opener for both teams, and the Pats frequently beat Philly’s defense off the line of scrimmage on the way to 248 rushing yards on 31 carries.
On Sunday, Williams told the Philadelphia Inquirer that if he was still in Baltimore, none of this would have happened.
"No question," Williams said of the Patriots players during the practices. "They came in there talking. They had a lot of jokes and laughs, a lot of dirty plays that were going on. So there was a reason behind what I did, there was a reason behind the madness. At the end of the day, I still got to do things the way coach wants me to do it, and I understand that. But it definitely would have been a different situation if it was in Baltimore. It wouldn't have been a fun practice for the Patriots, I can tell you that."
Williams, who didn’t actually play in the Patriots game, then said that he wanted to establish a new toughness on defense.
"I feel like we need a nasty, no question," Williams said. "I feel like we’ve got to establish a tenacity, a tough-nosed defense, a hard-nosed defense, something that's to be feared when it comes out to each and every week. [Legendary former Eagles safety] Brian Dawkins alluded to it a couple of times when I spoke to him. He was talking about bringing that fear back here. Right now, I don't know if there's anybody out there that fears this defense, especially after last week. So I think we have to come together, and find a way to get back to those old days when Brian Dawkins was here. Strike the fear in individuals or teams."
On Monday, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis responded to the idea that his defense was somehow soft.
“I think every NFL defense, every defense in the NFL is striving to be a feared, respected defense,” Davis said. “The only way you can get to where you're feared and respected is by playing great defense and being able to get off blocks, make tackles, stop the run. To have a fear of the pass rush they're afraid of, a blitz package with lockdown coverage, cover corners and safeties to where you're playing great defense. Swarm to the ball and have big hits and tackles. That's what puts fear in people.
“The only way to get to that is by playing the individual techniques and learning the defense and playing together. So it's the same goal for every NFL defense. There is not one defense I've been on that hasn't talked about wanting to be feared. The only way to get to it is simply by putting the pads on people and being great at your trade and your craft.”
Davis also said that the Eagles weren’t quite there yet.
“We don't collectively have the mindset that needs to be where it is. It's a daily ‑‑ you don't just talk about it and say the words and all of a sudden everybody has the attitude. The way you get that confidence in your defense and in your techniques is by having success during the games. You can tell, we did not have that success in that game.
“Nobody wants us to be a more feared defense than the guys in our locker room. Nobody wants that swagger more than the guys. But it's not words that get you there. It's putting it together on the field during the games that will get us there.”
Meanwhile, Williams backtracked a bit on Monday.
"My intentions were never to bring grief between me and my teammates, or me and this coaching staff," he told USA Today after talking to Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman. "I wasn't trying to be a jerk about the situation or tell anyone what needs to happen. I think we're trying to get that culture, and we're well on our way.”
Step one for Williams to assist in that process will be to get on the field when it matters. Step two will be to up his own game -- in the 2012 regular season, opposing quarterbacks threw for 1,000 yards, six touchdowns and a 91.6 quarterback rating while targeting Williams. He also ranked 79th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Success Rate metric against the pass, and ranked 64th in Pro Football Focus' "Coverage Snaps per Reception" stat. More playing, less talking? That would seem to be the solution here.