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Damien Williams Comes Off The Sidelines To Help Cardinals

Running back working off practice squad to aid injured backfield

Running back Damien Williams carries the ball upfield against the Rams last weekend.
Running back Damien Williams carries the ball upfield against the Rams last weekend.

Damien Williams spent the beginning of the 2023 NFL season along the sidelines of a football field -- it just wasn't an NFL field.

Instead of strapping up his own helmet and lacing up his cleats, Williams doing the same for his son while coaching youth football. The hope that the 31-year-old running back had in finding an NFL roster after being cut by the Raiders in August was dwindling.

Then the phone rang.

"I'm at home doing daddy duties and doing a lot of things as far as just prepping for life in general," Williams said. "Getting a call, it's very exciting knowing that your name is still circulating through buildings and knowing that you can come in and still compete and play."

On Oct. 5, Williams signed with the Cardinals practice squad. The transaction came while running back Keaontay Ingram was recovering from his neck injury and a few days before James Conner went down against the Bengals.

Now, he will help in his second straight game Sunday when the Cardinals visit Seattle to play the Seahawks after being elevated again.

For Williams, there's a different approach when being on the practice squad. It wasn't too long ago that he scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl and helped the Chiefs hoist the Lombardi Trophy after the 2019 season.

"It's a very humbling experience being able to be at the top of the game, winning the highest thing of all and then coming here and being on the practice squad," Williams said. "I don't take it for granted. I love the situation I'm in and it's about not being comfortable being in this position."

"I'm still going to process things the way I process them, as far as I'm playing. Whenever I'm elevated to go up and play it's because of my preparation."

Ahead of the Rams game last week, the coaching staff saw enough from Williams to elevate him to play. He had a solid game, rushing for 36 yards on eight carries.

Coach Jonathan Gannon said that Williams performed like an experienced running back, but also "liked the look in his eyes" during the Rams game.

"He knows he can produce at a high level and if he's in there, we need him to produce at a high level," Gannon said. "It's always good to have some guys that have a fire about them that they want to play football."

The team's practice structure allows the team to practice a lot of their own plays against each other. There's still a portion of practice focused on scouting your opponent, and in this case, it's the Seahawks. Players appreciate the setup because they could be fairly evaluated and "if this guy played pretty well on Thursday and he deserves to have a jersey on game day, that's what we'll do."

Seattle's run defense is one of the best in the league. They're fourth in run defense per game, giving up under 80 yards on the ground, and sit atop the rankings, allowing a tad over three rushing yards per play.

Before being placed on the injured reserve list, Conner was the most experienced running back in the room. This is Williams ninth season in the NFL and with that comes a lot of knowledge. His leadership and willingness to help the backfield has stood out to offensive coordinator Drew Petzing.

"That's the role of a lot of vets in this league and they had people who did it for them when they first came in," Petzing said. "He's been around a long time and done this at a high level. So, I think he is a great resource for those younger backs to talk to and watch and learn from."

Williams said that Ingram and undrafted rookie Emari Demercado have asked from his perspective how he's read run plays and what he's looking for. He referred to those details as his "secret sauce."

Adjusting to this new role for a former Super Bowl champion is something he's still getting used to. But regardless if it's on the sidelines of his son's game, on the practice squad, or on Sunday in Seattle, it's the sport Williams loves to play.

"Football is football, and you have your X's and O's, but you still have to go out there and win those one on one battles," Williams said. "I feel like at the end of the day, we have a great group. We just have to put all phases together and it's going to be an easy run from here."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 7 regular season matchup against the Seattle Seahawks