As players take their final breaks before training camp, The Redskins Blog will take a look back at the new faces from this offseason and what we've learned about them, football and otherwise, so far.
Today we’ll focus on defensive backs coach Torrian Gray:
1. He is familiar with the DMV area.
Though born and raised in Florida, Torrian Gray played safety on scholarship at Virginia Tech. The three-time all-Big East player led his team to two conference titles and was then selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
After a knee injury ended Gray’s three-year professional playing career, he coached at various universities, finally returning to Blacksburg in 2006. In his 10 seasons coaching the Hokies, his unit allowed just 185.0 passing yards per game and a 106.5 opponent passer rating – both ranked second in the nation at that time. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 50.4 percent of their passes in those 10 seasons, the lowest percentage against any defense in the nation.
2. He has coached on six teams in 16 years.
Gray has traveled up and down the East Coast coaching collegiate defensive backs for 16 years. Beginning in Maine in 2000 and ending in Florida in 2016, Gray has contributed to the programs of Maine, Connecticut, Virginia Tech and Florida, as well as one year as an assistant with the Chicago Bears. The Redskins’ 2017 season will be Gray’s first as a defensive backs coach for an NFL team.
“It was surreal a little bit, and ‘wow they reached out to me,’” Gray said of the Redskins’ hiring phone call. “It’s everyone’s dream to be able to coach football and having the opportunity to coach at Virginia Tech, Florida, and now to be able to coach in the highest level with the Redskins is extremely exciting.
“It just kind of worked itself out, happened that way,” he added. “I’ve always enjoyed the college game, loved the college game, and this opportunity presented itself and I’m glad that it came about because I’m having a blast.”
3. He is a teacher of technique.
Ask any player or coach, and they will tell you that Gray preaches technique. While many NFL coaches expect their players to arrive in the league refined, Gray makes no assumptions when training his unit. The coach prioritizes attention to detail, an aspect of the game that many overlook, and the team thanks him for it.
“His deal is technique,” safety Will Blackmon said of Gray. “Everything from being in press to off progression as a corner to having your run reads and run fills as a safety. Communicating, reading the quarterback, reading schemes, formations, that’s football. The difference between college and the pros is situational football and that’s his thing—situation and technique.”
Cornerback Dasahun Phillips echoes his teammate’s praise of the coach.
“I’m finally learning football,” Phillips said. “I’m learning techniques. I’m learning what to be looking for, to be able to slow myself down and just play ball, you know, versus using athletic ability all the time.
“I feel like he’s taken the time to teach us the right things,” Phillips continued. “He takes the time to teach us how to play certain things, you know, because after the few seconds in to it, it does become athletic ability, can you make that play or not, but he’s teaching us how to progress each play to be able to play, versus just going out there, telling us what we’re in, and we’re just playing ball.”
Head coach Jay Gruden identified the team’s need for a technique takeover and is grateful that Gray has delivered.
“No disrespect to the coaches we had, they were more of the big-picture-type coaches and they’re good coaches,” Gruden said. “But Torrian is more of a hands-on, fundamental, technique guy, and I think that’s something we really needed to work on.”
4. He has developed star players.
During his two decades as a coach, Gray has trained countless defensive backs, including cornerback Brandon Flowers, safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Kyle Fuller, among others. He even worked with two Redskins draft picks, defensive back Kyshoen Jarrett (2015) and cornerback Jonathan Allen (2016).
Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall, who played at Virginia Tech before Gray served as a coach there, has observed the success of Gray’s teaching on his products.
“You know, just seeing some of the players he’s kind of helped bring up and produced and recruit and train, you know those guys have a great football IQ, and you know that’s something I feel like, you know we kind of lacked a little bit in years past,” Hall said.
Hall is confident that Gray can bring these positive results to the NFL, and, more specifically, the Redskins.
5. He brings props to practice.
If verbally reminding his players about technique isn’t enough, Gray emphasizes the message by holding up a sign at practice: “Greatness is in the details.”
“We just do the detail things that we talk about—our reads, our keys, our fundamentals, our progressions and things like that,” Gray said. “If we’re detailed with those, then we don’t have any other choice but to be great. I just keep driving that home—greatness is in the details.
“I want guys to be able to understand the game, have techniques fundamentally sound, and understand the game mentally. To know formations, down and distance, splits, and things of that nature. We got to be able to communicate well as a whole unit from the safeties to the corners and just to be big on all those kind of details,” Gray added.
6. He’s adjusting his coaching style for professional play.
With a strong background in collegiate coaching, Gray understands how to manage student athletes. Now, working with professionals, he hopes to find a balance between instruction and independence with the players in Washington.
“These are professional guys, it’s not like they’re going to do everything you say the exact way you want it,” Gray said. “You have to kind of show them the ropes, so I’m learning to get my point across in certain ways, but it’s been fun.”
Though safety DeAngelo Hall has spent preseason on the sideline recovering from an ACL injury, he has been working with the Redskins defense for years and knows its strengths and weaknesses. He believes that Gray’s coaching approach can improve the unit.
“We didn’t get a lot of that technique work,” Hall said of the defensive back group in the past. “A lot of coaches, when they get in the league, tend to let guys kind of do it their way. You feel like you have professionals, let them do it their way. Torrian came in kind of with a college mentality; sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. For us, it was great. He got us back to the basics, reading quarterbacks and drops and routes and things like that instead of just going out there and playing football...
“He’s been a breath of fresh air and we look forward to keep working with him. So far, I’m definitely thoroughly impressed with him,” Hall added.
7. He got the job in Washington with the help of a few players.
Gray became interested in an available position with the Redskins after a phone call with Kendall Fuller, a Virginia Tech product and 2016 Redskins draft pick. Though the then-Florida defensive backs coach had been considering the move from collegiate to professional work, it wasn’t until this conversation that he viewed it as a true possibility.
Fuller and Kyshoen Jarrett, another Virginia Tech player and 2015 Redskins draft pick who was waived last year, advocated for their former coach in Washington and presented the candidate to Jay Gruden.
“[I said] I thought he was the best defensive back coach in America,” Fuller said. “I just left it at that.”
Gruden seemed to have taken Fuller's pick into consideration, hiring Gray in February of this year. Though nerve damage has forced Jarrett out of the game, Fuller looks forward to working with Gray again.
“He’s going to push all of us to be great, he’s going to demand a lot out of us. I can probably go on and on,” Fuller said. “Just a lot of little stuff, technique, fundamentals, study habits. It’s his work ethic. He’s the first one in and the last one out.
“You know, just that demeanor, that mindset he brings to the group. His foot is always on the pedal,” Fuller added. “He’s demanding greatness out of all of us and high expectations, so just that energy that he brings to the table is special.”