After being away from the NFL for 12 years, Torrian Gray had to pick up the differences between the college and pro game. While the coach is usually the one to guide the players, the fact that the former Virginia Tech defensive back had veterans such as Josh Norman and D.J. Swearinger Sr helped him witness the faster speed of the game.
Having a year of experience guiding the Redskins' defensive backs, Gray looks to build off the chemistry he developed with the secondary for better results in 2018.
"The transition's been awesome because now obviously you've got a year underneath your belt," Gray said. "You understand the defensive system a lot more, you know how to present it, coach it a lot more. Players have heard the terms for all of the guys that are coming back and just the learning curve is so much quicker and now the expectations. So it's been great from that standpoint."
Gray had a short stint with the Chicago Bears in 2004-05, but when Lorenzo Ward left for a job with the Oakland Raiders a new opportunity was awaiting him. Virginia Tech invited the Lakeland, Fla., native back to his alma mater in 2005 where he developed a defensive backfield that was second in the nation in given up the fewest passing yards per game over a 10-year span.
Gray helped mold 11 prospects to play in pro secondaries, eventually catching the eye of head coach Jay Gruden. Inviting him to join Washington's coaching staff after one year at the University of Florida, Gruden expected that same success at the college level to transfer over to the NFL.
Having the privilege of coaching a former college understudy in Kendall Fuller during his second season in the NFL, it allowed Gray to be more comfortable coaching a new style to a veteran secondary. His first year saw a major defensive turnaround, with his defensive backs stopping opponents to the third lowest completion percentage (57.6). That was the team's best ranking since leading the NFL in that category in 2005.
With Gray getting more comfortable with the Redskins' goals on the defensive end, Gruden expects his defensive backs coach to continue to improve.
"He's done great, he really has," Gruden said of Gray. "I think he's got the system down. I think it's important to keep the staff around here because I think the more comfortable he is, the better he is. That's the case for everybody, quite frankly. He's a good communicator, does a great job with the safeties and corners – [Assistant Defensive Backs Coach] James Rowe with him. They are a good partnership over there and handle the room extremely well."
When Gray returned to the NFL, he discovered that players respond well in practice to intense communication. As a pass is being deflected, the second-year defensive backs coach is often seen chirping at his secondary to fire them up.
While this has always been his philosophy, it's something that he hopes the players use the energy to translate to critical stops on the field.
"I'm trying to bring energy," Gray said. "I'm always trying to bring energy and hopefully when those guys are bringing energy, like [in the last day of minicamp] or most of the practices, it's just fun to feed off of. I'm trying to just enthuse energy so those guys are always have energy, because I'm always asking it from those guys."
Looking to build off the secondary's success in 2017, Gray understands that communication and chemistry are essential in order to obtain that goal.
"Obviously if it's directed the right way, all of that stuff is fun and games and stuff," Gray said. "Some things you kind of have to work through because, 'Oh coach, I didn't see like this.' I might have seen it differently. So sometimes you have to get on video and watch it on video together to 'okay now this is what we need to be able to make this play or get what we want to get done.' All that stuff is fun and working through it."