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Steve Wilks, Brandon Williams And CB2

Posted May 4, 2018

Coach knows how to develop defensive backs, and that's what Cardinals need

Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams takes part in Phase Two work earlier this week.

Steve Wilks had a sign posted for his defensive backs when he coached in Carolina, a sign Josh Norman remembers to this day.

“Hands, feet, eyes, hips are going to be the key on every play,” the current Washington cornerback recalled, “whether you make it or not.”

Wilks is a head coach now, but he got here in large part by the way he guided defensive backs through his career.

The draft brought Wilks a quarterback of the future with Josh Rosen, and a veteran to quarterback now in Sam Bradford. The draft also gave him a wide receiver in Christian Kirk to pair with Larry Fitzgerald, and more help on the offensive line with third-round pick Mason Cole.

What the draft – or free agency – has not directly addressed is the hole at No. 2 cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals did draft Chris Campbell in the sixth round, but he wouldn’t be expected to make an immediate impact. Then again, with Wilks’ history of developing cornerbacks, maybe Campbell is the answer.  

Maybe Wilks can even develop Brandon Williams, the Cardinals’ third-round pick in 2016 who to this point, hasn’t been able to earn (much) defensive playing time. He played one defensive snap in all of 2017.

Williams may be running around with Peterson in early voluntary work with the first unit, but Wilks insisted “it’s too early to determine anything from the standpoint of a starter at this point.”

“You see the athleticism, you see the size, you see the ability,” Wilks said of Williams, who was a running back in college until his final year, when he moved to defensive back. “Everything we’re emphasizing right now is the fundamentals and technique, and I see him progressing.”

Williams played 240 defensive snaps as a rookie. Last year, he couldn’t get on the field. He never really threatened Justin Bethel as a starter in the offseason or camp, and Tramon Williams quickly passed him by on the depth chart as Bethel was benched.

There are options besides Brandon Williams for Wilks, assuming the Cardinals don't sign another veteran. Bené Benwikere started 14 total games for for Wilks in Carolina over three seasons. Lou Young also played for Wilks with the Panthers, while Marcus Williams once had six interceptions in a season for the Jets in 2015. There is Campbell, and in the past, Wilks has made rookies work.

The most notable was Norman, who started as a fifth-round rookie before evolving into a Pro Bowler – albeit with some ups and downs. But Wilks – who played defensive back in college at Appalachian State – has a personality-driven style to go with his football teaching.

“It’s kind of cool how he breaks it down,” Norman said.

Williams said he already has embraced that, knowing everything Wilks can offer at the position.

“If he sees something I’m doing incorrectly, my leverage isn’t right or my technique isn’t right, he’ll pull me aside and tell me, ‘Play it like this this time,’ ” Williams said of the head coach. “A lot of times he’ll come down to our end (with the DBs) and have a little ‘rah-rah’ with us. I can definitely see he’s a defensive backs guy.”

Peterson said he and Williams have been working out together “endlessly,” including training in the Bahamas in the summer. Williams was “rough around the edges” as a cornerback when he showed up, Peterson said. That is slowly changing.

“He’s a guy that really, really wants to be the corner across from me, and he’s working hard towards that,” Peterson said.

If that’s true, Williams isn’t letting on.

“I don’t think about it,” he insisted. “I think about it as if the book is already written. The guys upstairs know their plan, they know who is going to play and who is not going to play. All I can do is make sure I am prepared if I am that guy. If I am not that guy, be prepared so when the time comes to showcase what I can do, I’ll be ready.”

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