The road to becoming an NFL defensive coordinator has been a slow, deliberate build for Anthony Weaver, ever since he retired as a player after the 2008 season. From cutting his teeth in the college ranks on Urban Meyer's Florida staff, to working for coaches like Mike Pettine, Rex Ryan, and Romeo Crennel in the NFL, Weaver has been a rising star in the coaching business for some time.
That time arrived after a 2019 season where the Texans finished 10-6, DESPITE a defense that finished 27th in Football Outsiders' DVOA statistic. Weaver was indeed promoted from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator, and now it's his job to revive a defense that is now a few years removed from leading the league in fewest yards allowed per game. That was 2016. Those days are long gone, and Weaver has an uphill battle.
That said, if his Zoom press conference with the media on Wednesday afternoon is any indication, Weaver is up for the battle. Here are four quick takeaways from Weaver's first meeting with the Houston media as defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.
Things are going to operate a little differently than they did under Romeo Crennel
The expectation is that, while Weaver spent the last several years working for Crennel, he will be incorporating more of what he learned under Rex Ryan. In other words, expect some more creative, aggressive schemes. In fact, Weaver himself used the word "exotic" on Wednesday to describe his vision:
“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.”
For fans who grew tired of Crennel's gamelans, this is exciting and intriguing, if nothing else.
Weaver clearly realizes how big an issue the pass rush is
Weaver was asked quite a few questions about generating a pass rush, and understandably so. Once J.J. Watt went out in Week 8 with a torn pectoral muscle, the Texans just simply could not generate heat on opposing passers. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that they're largely running back the same group of pass rushers that were on the field in 2019 (plus third round OLB Jonathan Greenard, who I am admittedly excited about). The pressure will be on Weaver and his staff to develop players like Jacob Martin and Duke Ejiofor. Weaver all but said the main issue was the pass rush when he was asked about the secondary and their difficulties late last season:
"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."
Lonnie Johnson will not be moving to safety
Speaking of the young talent at cornerback, Weaver was asked about the possibility of moving second year corner Lonnie Johnson to safety. It appears that ain't happening:
"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.”
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J.J. Watt will still be allowed to be J.J. Watt
I remember one time talking to Weaver after a practice in West Virginia, and telling him how good his group looked that day. His comment back to me was very funny and very telling — "Yeah, I'm a much better coach when 99 is out there." Weaver knows as well as anybody that, when you have a healthy J.J. Watt, you must let him go eat. When asked about balancing adherence to scheme with allowing freelancing, here is what Weaver said yesterday:
"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."
Professional initiative! I am here for some J.J. Watt professional initiative!