DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR / DEFENSIVE LINE COACH ANTHONY WEAVER
Can you give us an example of what you've been doing with the defense during this virtual offseason program?
"We've tried to operate as best we could to keep things as we would if we were in the stadium. So, early on all of us, the position coaches, had individual meetings with our players, and then right away we decided to teach some of the changes we made from a terminology standpoint and then get right into the install. The one thing about this format is we can get into some graduate level details where we're not under the gun, we're not in a rush. Obviously the Commissioner extended the virtual program today, which I kind of guessed that was probably going to happen. So, we're being able to teach some graduate level stuff that probably you would skim over otherwise."
When you got this job, Rex Ryan talked about how you've been preparing for this job since you were a player. Can you talk about how you've been building up to this position and talk about a few of your new players?
"First off, thanks for the congratulations. Rex was obviously a huge influence on my career both as a player and now as a coach. As a very young player, he always prompted us to learn the big picture and learn all of the stuff that was happening around us, just because he thought that would enable us to make some more plays. That's something that I try to continue to convey to the players I have now. That obviously helped me in terms of once I got into coaching professionally, I was probably ahead of most players that jump into the coaching carousel. As far as the new players are concerned, I'm excited about all these guys, particularly the ones that we drafted, Ross Blacklock, Jon Greenard, John Reid. Those are guys that have played some significant snaps and have played well in college, and we expect them to come here and to contribute because they have the three qualities that we talk about all the time: guys that are dependable, guys that are tough and guys that are smart. They have those attributes, and if you have those things, then you have a chance to come in and come in and play early."
One of the criticisms of the defense in the past has been a lack of aggressiveness. Do you think that is a valid assessment, and do you see yourself being more aggressive?
"I don't know if that's necessarily a fair assessment, but I envision our defense being representative of our city. We want a defense that plays with passion, just like the city of Houston. I've been around this place a long time now, we're passionate about our sports. You've got to be Texans tough. We know everybody in the city of Houston, they're tough. You can't be from Texas and not be tough. And then you've got to be resilient. In the time that I've been here, we're been through a lot of things, hurricanes and now we're dealing with this COVID-19. People always come together in adverse times, they stick together, they get through it and they respond accordingly, and I plan on our defense being the exact same way. Whether or not we're going to be aggressive, we're going to do whatever it takes to win, but I'd like our defense to be representative of our city."
Can you talk specifically about the attributes of DT Ross Blacklock and OLB Jonathan Greenard and what you saw of them on tape?
"Starting with Ross Blacklock, he was a guy that from a measurable standpoint had all the attributes that you're looking for. Then when you watched him on tape, he was twitchy, he was instinctive and he found the ball. You can't teach instincts in this game. Jon Greenard was a guy that you could see doing a bunch of things for us, and I think position flexibility, particularly in the defense we're trying to institute, adds a tremendous amount of value. He's a guy that can rush off the edge, can rush inside, can drop into coverage, and when you can wear that many hates, that poses a lot of potential problems for an offense. That was probably the main thing we saw in Jon Greenard."
With the new safeties that your team added, how is this group going to be different from last year in terms of skillsets?
"We're extremely excited about Eric Murray and Michael Thomas. They're both proven veterans, phenomenal human beings that know how to play the game and how to win, but we have Justin Reid. I think Justin Reid is a heck of a football player, and now that he's going into year three, it was amazing to see some of the things that he did last year particularly when he was nursing really two shoulder injuries the entire year. So, when he comes back this year and he's healthy, 100 percent healthy, I could see him taking a huge jump as well. I have the utmost confidence in our safety position with just the professionalism we have in there and obviously the ability as well."
What do you need to see from CB Lonnie Johnson Jr. last year that makes you think he can take that next step?
"The cornerback position, particularly for rookies, is a difficult one. To come in and have success early at corner is not easy. Those guys, they're out there on those islands, they're all by themselves and sometimes they're just not being put in the best positions. We've got to help them. I've got the utmost faith in our DB room. They're competitive, they're talented and they can make plays, but we've got to help them up front. We've got to affect the quarterback somehow, some way to get that ball out quicker and not just leave those guys on islands."
What do you think about your pass rush, are you happy with it and how much are you depending on those year-two and year-three guys to make that jump to improve your pass rush?
"I am. We have a bunch of talented rushers on the roster. The beauty for me is that I've got to find ways to put them in the best place to be successful. We have guys that can win one-on-ones, now we've just got to put the pieces in the right spots. But guys like Charles Omenihu, guys like Duke Ejiofor who missed all of last year, Jacob Martin, Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt. We've got guys that can get to the quarterback and it's all about what we can do schematically to help present those matchups so they can be successful."
How do you find the balance between letting a player like DE J.J. Watt or other pass rushers freelance and doing things within the system? Also, I see your Muhammad Ali pictures behind you, do you talk to your players about him?
"First question, with J.J., those guys – particularly with guys like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, they understand the scheme. They're very smart players, so they're never trying to do anything intentional or malicious to hurt the defense. They know what they've got to do. That being said, while we want our defense to be disciplined, we want everybody to do what they're supposed to do, I don't what them to be robots. There's certain players that you've got to give a little bit of professional initiative and let them go make plays. I don't want to handcuff them. I think they're all smart enough to do that. In terms of my pictures in the back, I have pictures on the wall of just guys that I idolized growing up, and Ali was one of those guys. When I was growing up my dad made me watch all of those fights and to see a guy that just stood in there and take that punch and then obviously the things he stood for off the field, he was a tremendous example for me growing up. But I've got Joe Montana over here, I've got the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, there's Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, I've got Jimmy Hendrix over here. There's a bunch of guys that I idolize that are in this office right now."
What did you learn about your defense in the last playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs?
"That was obviously a tough day. We started off, we were on the highest of highs and then we couldn't have crashed on that roller coaster fast enough. The thing I mentioned earlier, we have to be a resilient football team. There's ebbs and flows to every football game, and we can't ride those waves. We've got to stay consistent throughout and just trust in our ability and trust that we'll be able to stop any hemorrhaging. I think I can help be a reflection of that. I'm not a guy that's going to get too riled up on the sidelines and scream. I'm going to stay in the moment, I'm going to stay locked in and I think our players will be a reflection of that."
What does it mean to be named defensive coordinator and what has the transition been like? Also, who has had the biggest influence to help you get to where you are today?
"It obviously means an awful lot to have the title. I can't be thankful enough to the McNairs, to Coach (Bill) O'Brien for just giving me this opportunity and for the amount of faith they put in me. I feel that responsibility and I have no intention of letting them down. In terms of people that influenced me the most, I've already mentioned Rex Ryan. He was obviously, as a player, he was a guy that was a player's coach but once you crossed those white lines, you knew what time it was. It was time to get to work, it was time to handle your business. Even before Rex, I played for a guy in high school, his name was Blaise Iuliano and he, in a lot of ways, was like a second father figure to me. He actually talked me into playing football at the time that I was trying to be Michael Jordan and he's a guy that's always been a very calming figure. He always offers just advice and wisdom that I would've never had if it wasn't for him. Then you think about the guy I've worked for, for the past four years, Romeo Crennel. Romeo Crennel, not only is he a tremendous defensive mind, but he is an incredible human being. He's been a huge mentor for me throughout, and I can't tell you how fortunate I feel just to still have him in the building and be able to bounce ideas off of him. So, those are three critical guys in my coaching profession right there."
How much has it helped that you were a player before you became a coach, and how has the transition from position coach to coordinator been so far?
"The responsibility of being a coordinator, that transition has been something I've been preparing for really since I've started coaching. I knew the defensive line play and I always wanted to learn the intricate details of the back seven. I met with Coach Meyer, Urban Meyer, who's been another influence on me. I've known Urban Meyer since 1996, 97. When he found out I had gotten this role he said, 'Weave, you're out of the suggestion business and you're into the decision business.' Those words carried a lot of weight to me. So, that's probably been the biggest transition, I just know that I have the final say and I'm always going to try to do what's best for the team. In terms of me playing and having played here, I just think with players it just gives you another level of credibility. The other thing I think I can relate to is I've been in those seats, so I know those days when they're beat up and they're stressed out. I feel like I know when to push and I know when pull and I think that gives me an advantage over some coaches that probably haven't played."
Does it excite you that you will start the season out against two good teams and will you prepare for those games differently than you would others?
"It's absolutely exciting. It's an opportunity for us to put our defense out there and showcase it to the entire world, and show them what we're going to be. In terms of preparation, that will all be determined when we figure out exactly how this training camp situation and everything is going to go due to COVID. We're all going to be in the same boat. Everybody will have the exact same amount of preparation time, all players involved, us, Kansas City, Baltimore. What I can tell you is that our guys will be ready to go. They'll be ready to go, they'll be champing at the bit and I'm sure having to play those guys in those first two games will be a little bit of extra added motivation going into camp as well."
Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien said you bring a lot of creativity and new ideas to the defense. How much has that helped you during this virtual offseason even though it's still early?
"The creativity part of defensive scheming is maybe one of my favorite parts about the job. You've got to love the chess match and trying to put the pieces in the right place, and get free runners, and hit the quarterback and do all of those things. That's part of the beauty and schematics."
What excites you the most about this season's defense?
"Everything. I'm so excited about the guys that we do have on the roster on defense right now. We have a bunch of guys who are – like I said earlier, they're dependable, they're tough, they're smart, they're passionate about ball. I think some of the schematic changes that we've made have brought on some excitement with them. They're excited about some of the new things that we're going to do and the places that we're going to put them. I can't wait to see it all come to fruition and see those guys on the field."
Who else is going to help you coach the defensive line?
"I'm still coaching the defensive line, but Matt O'Donnell, who was with me the last couple of years, he's been helping me. Akeem Dent, and then we hired an outside backers coach, Chris Rumph, who also has experience coaching the defensive line as well, and then I've got Romeo (Crennel). Romeo has no problem jumping in. He made hay in the league early on coaching the defensive line. So, I have a bunch of help and if there's any a time that I feel like I need to delegate some of those duties, we certainly have guys on staff that can handle it."
What have learned about being a competitor from Michael Jordan and have you watched "The Last Dance"?
"I have watched 'The Last Dance.' Michael Jordan for me growing up, you always kind of heard all these stories, but just to hear them from the man himself is truly amazing. He had a quote that I – and it's going to sound cocky, but when I was growing up I kind of lived by it. The quote was that he said, 'I don't have to raise the roof, I don't have to chest bump, because when the game is over, you'll know I'm better than you.' That's how I want my guys to be. I want my guys to be confident. I want them to feel like superman when they go into the game, but we're going to play the game the right way. We're not going to try to boast and showboat and do all of those things. We're just going to play really hard together and hopefully just intimidate people with 11 guys, just waves of guys at a time. Then at the end of the game, we'll see where the pieces fall. That's one of those quotes that have stuck with me my entire life."
What goes into correcting the issues the defense had on third downs last season?
"I think on third down, we obviously have players. We have some really good players that can affect the quarterback, we have coverage guys. We have all the pieces to be more successful on third down. I think schematically we'll probably be a little bit more exotic, which potentially will allow our guys to have more success so that offenses can't pinpoint exactly where players are going to be. So, we're just, again, through scheme, just trying to create more opportunities for our guys."
What would it mean to get a full season out of DE J.J. Watt, and is Lonnie Johnson Jr. someone you would consider moving to safety given his size?
"J.J. playing the full 16-plus is obviously critical for our defense. When he is on the field, he draws an incredible amount of attention from an offense. Then, obviously, he's going to be impactful and make plays. Him being out there is obviously huge for our defense. In terms of Lonnie moving to safety, I think Lonnie's a corner. I think Lonnie's a corner. I think he has press ability, he has length, he has speed. We've got to get his confidence right, and I don't think he lacks in that area either. But like I said, that rookie year for a corner is difficult. I think he's going to come in now with more knowledge, not only of just the system but just of DB play in general and I expect him to take a jump here in year two."