When new Ravens Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen met nose tackle Brandon Williams for the first time this week, they started talking about how Williams could develop into a Pro Bowl player.
Williams is a budding star in Baltimore's defense, and Cullen has high expectations for his new pupil. Cullen spent the last two years coaching All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in Tampa, and he shared with Williams what he sees as the next step in his game.
"I think he's really developed into one of the better nose tackles in the National Football League," Cullen said. "I told him to get to that level of being a Pro Bowl player, that as great as you do against the run, you also have to be able to rush the passer."
Williams established himself as a premiere run stopper last year in his second season as a starter – Pro Football Focus graded him as the best run defender in the NFL – and he is the anchor of Baltimore's defensive line.
Pass rushing has never been Williams' specialty, and he finished last season with two sacks. But his ability to get after quarterbacks has grown during his career, and he had a career-high 20 quarterback pressures last year.
"You don't have to have 10 sacks as a nose tackle, but just continue to develop. And I think he did that last year," Cullen said. "He also played the run as well as any nose tackle in the NFL."
Cullen has similar feelings about defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who is entering his third season. Jernigan was a second-round pick in 2014, and Cullen recalls having him graded as the draft's second-best defensive lineman behind eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald.
"I remember when the second round was starting, I walked back in and stuck around the draft room and said, 'Jernigan is there, he won't be there long.' And sure enough [the Ravens] took him off the board then," Cullen said.
Jernigan has been a spot starter and rotational player the last two years, and he's shown flashes of his potential during that time. Jernigan finished last season with 37 tackles and four sacks, and Cullen thinks he could flourish in Baltimore's defense as he continues to develop.
"He's a young player," Cullen said of the 23-year-old defender. "He's shown a lot of great flashes, great potential. To be a dominant player down in and down out, I just think it's the maturity and consistency that he has to get better at, and I think that's going to come."
Cullen comes to Baltimore with an understanding of the Ravens' history for having great defenses that are built on stopping on the run. He has a long-standing relationship with Clarence Brooks, who has coached the defensive line since 2005 and will transition into a senior defensive assistant role as he continues his battle with cancer.
Cullen's hope is to build off the tradition that Brooks and the Ravens have built.
"In the history of the Baltimore Ravens, they've had a dominant defensive line," Cullen said. "Some of those pieces are gone, but now it's the younger guys like Brandon and Timmy being able to carry the torch of those guys. And I take great pride in that, making sure that we're going to outwork everybody."