Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams sheds a block to tackle Rams running back Steven Jackson during last weekend's game against St. Louis.
Exhausted, Darnell Dockett trudged off the University of Phoenix Stadium turf Sunday, upset with another loss.
Then rookie Dan Williams walked up beside him as the two headed to the locker room, and Dockett leaned over to say a couple of words and pat Williams on the chest.
"You grew up a little bit today," Dockett told Williams.
"He made a lot of plays, real physical at the point of attack," Dockett said this week. "I was real impressed. He was getting off the blocks, staying low, and even facing adversity and what is going on in the season, he kept fighting. I appreciated it, and I told him. I was proud of him."
Williams got a similar postgame message from starting nose tackle Bryan Robinson and on Monday, coach Ken Whisenhunt noted Williams specifically as a rookie who has earned playing time as the season enters its final quarter.
That's good news for a team that needs some these days. Williams was taken as the No. 1 pick for a team looking for a long-term defensive anchor, although he didn't make the impact right away some had expected.
It's not always easy for someone in his position, a spot in which statistics do not always measure the man. It's certainly not easy when the team slides on a losing streak as the Cardinals have done. And during a difficult year for the Cards' No. 1 picks (Beanie Wells and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in particular), a top selection comes under heavier scrutiny.
"Sometimes you see other (2010 No. 1 picks) playing and you're thinking, 'We got drafted at the same time,' " Williams said of adjusting to a backup role behind Robinson. "At the same time, everyone's situation is not the same. Here I think I am in the perfect situation. Some guys are just thrown in the fire. Either way I was always prepared. As I said when I first got here, I knew I had to earn the respect of my coaches and teammates. I am just trying to continue to do that."
He's done that with Dockett, who said Williams is "by far the best rookie I've been around."
Whisenhunt hasn't gone that far. But he sees the upswing for Williams after watching his performance in the second half against the Rams. Williams has flashed, Whisenhunt said, particularly in the Cards' goal-line defense. Now there is some consistency.
"He has a tremendous amount of talent," Whisenhunt said. "I like the way that he's starting to show it late in the season."
Williams has accounted for 12 tackles the past two weeks after numbering just 16 in the first 10 games of the season. One of the reasons he was pleased with his showing against St. Louis, however, was that he didn't feel he played well against San Francisco the previous Monday night.
Against the Rams, that memory was in the back of his head, with Whisenhunt's words resonating.
"Coach said, 'Don't give up no matter what the situation,' " Williams said. "I tried to make sure Coach knew, 'I'm listening to you, I'm not giving up and we can still make plays.' I just want to do my part."
There has been a learning curve for Williams. In college, Williams said, "you just run around the field and push people around." Now it is about patience and discipline, playing the right spots so a running back doesn't pick you apart for mental mistakes. As the nose tackle, a Williams breakdown can mean a defensive breakdown.
If he does that right, Williams knows his veteran linemates will notice – and that, he said, makes him just want to further prove he can be the player they see. That he has been listening.
"There is so much on his shoulders," Dockett said. "But he has a positive attitude. I am looking for big things from him in the future."
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