As soon as Shonn Greene broke left past the line of scrimmage, most nose tackles would’ve slowed down and allowed the next levels of their defense to make the play.
Not Dan Williams.
When Greene, the New York Jets’ running back, bounced outside on first down late in the second quarter, Williams didn’t let up. The Cardinals’ 6-foot-2, 327-pound nose tackle kept sprinting until the play was dead and Greene managed just a five-yard gain. Although Williams didn’t have a hand in the tackle, he ran about 15 more yards than was required by most standards, just so he could potentially make a play.
Sunday was Williams’ breakout game this season with a career-high 10 tackles, but throughout his three-year career he’s been as active as nose tackles come in the NFL.
“Honestly, I believe that’s the reason why I was drafted,” Williams said. “I tried to run to the ball as much as I can.”
Williams played 56 snaps Sunday, about 15 more than his previous season-high, and he was still feeling the effects on Wednesday. The Cardinals used their base defense most of the game, which kept Williams on the field more than usual but that was a reaction to what the Jets were doing offensively more than what defensive coordinator Ray Horton was calling.
Williams doesn’t find himself on the field for typical passing downs such as third-and-long but in an era when teams are opting to pass more than they have in the past, the nose tackle’s job is evolving.
Williams looks at fellow defensive linemen Vince Wilfork of New England and B.J. Raji of Green Bay as examples of nose tackles who can rush the passer from the inside and be effective doing it.
When Williams gets the chance, his job is to get to the quarterback.
“Even in a pass-heavy league, the nose tackle still has got to put pressure on the quarterback in the quarterbacks’ face,” defensive line coach Ron Aiken said. “And that’s what we expect our guys to do. A lot of time when he puts pressure on the quarterback’s face, the quarterback steps out and other guys will get sacks.
“In the run game, a lot of time he’ll use up blockers and get tackles and other times he’ll use up blockers and chase down the field like he did this week.”
The speed Williams put on display in New York didn’t come as a surprise to Aiken, who three seasons ago told a then-rookie Williams, fresh out of the University of Tennessee, that he was drafted partially because of his speed.
Williams’ mother, Karen, was a sprinter, running the 100- and 200-yard dashes in high school. Dan Williams joked his athletic genes came from her, and that’s something even Williams’ father, a musician, won’t argue.
Teams are learning how to spread defenses wider and thinner. With that comes fewer opportunities for Williams to put that blazing speed – for a nose tackle, at least – on display.
His 40-yard time at the 2010 combine was 5.17. He got even faster after dropping weight heading into this season.
He’s had to learn how to play within the defense and, Williams said, he’s not out there to rack up tackles or be “an individual.”
“Just being a football player and doing this since I was 5 years old, you always want to be on the field,” Williams said. “You think you can do everything but at the same time we’re doing what’s best for the team.”
And if that means sprinting around the field, that’s what Dan Williams will do.