Nose tackle Dan Williams (92) talks with linebackers Paris Lenon and Joey Porter during practice Sunday at NAU's Walkup Skydome.
FLAGSTAFF – At some point, Dan Williams knew nose tackle was going to be his job.
"When you're drafted number one, there will be a point where they tell you, 'You're the guy we are counting on,' " Williams said.
At this point, though, that isn't the end of the message Williams is getting. The Cards, who have the second-year player atop the depth chart, are also telling him he needs to be in better shape.
"I need more out of him," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "We need him to get into shape, and we need more out of him. We think he's a Pro Bowl-caliber nose tackle. That is what we are going to demand and expect from him."
Playing a position where size and girth are a benefit, the Cardinals still want Williams under control weight-wise. He is listed at 327 pounds, and whatever extra weight he was carrying it wasn't significant (one report had him seven pounds heavy to start camp). More importantly, the Cards want Williams better conditioned to be able to hold up during the game.
Given that the nose tackle holding up is crucial to Horton's defense, it's not a small request. Williams emphasizes he did work out in the offseason, but also knows he fell short of his – and the team's – goals.
"I'm not in football shape and 7,000-foot elevation doesn't really help, but for the most part, I feel good," Williams said. "Against Oakland I didn't really get winded, so what I am doing now is helping. You can't change the past but I'm just trying to help the team."
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett praised Williams, saying his teammate "took it to heart" when he realized he wasn't ready for camp.
"I had a long conversation with him, and it's funny, I only had to have one conversation," Dockett said. "He's in here twice a day with cardio, he runs after practice extra every day. He don't even complain, because he knows what he has to do. The defense can't go without him."
Horton is still trying to figure out what makes many of his players tick, and that includes Williams. The learning curve is being climbed – "I said something subtle to Dan and he came back at me, so I know he's competitive," Horton said – but there is also competition. Horton made clear he likes sixth-round pick David Carter, the backup nose tackle.
Williams said learning the defense enough so that he is reacting more than thinking will help his play. But that's only part of the equation, and Williams needs to improve both places to become the player Horton and the Cards crave.
"You definitely have to get your job done," Williams said. "If not, you'll hurt the whole middle of the defense. Now it's get your hands on people, make sure you hold up the center. You can't really look for the ball because you'll get driven back. I've got to get to my gap and stay there. You're the key."
It is clear Whisenhunt believes Peterson will get there, though, in large part because of his confidence.
"He's a very confident young man but it is not an arrogant confidence," Whisenhunt said. "He wants to do it the right way and he is eager to learn. A lot of this business is how you respond to failure. Whether you run the wrong route or don't line up on the right side of the formation or you don't hit a kick well, you're going to get yelled at or receive criticism. In a 60- or 70-play game, there will be things that don't go right. How you respond to that defines what you become."
"In certain situations, we're going to ask them to play, ask them to lead," Whisenhunt said.