Defensive tackle Dan Williams (92) is congratulated by teammates Calais Campbell (93) and Frostee Rucker (98) after notching a sack in Dallas.
Calais Campbell figures there is no one closer on the Cardinals to Dan Williams than himself, and yet Williams doesn't talk often about his late father or the accident that took his life last season.
When Williams does bring up his Dad, it's usually to echo a little of the bits of wisdom he imparted on his son.
"Like my Dad always told me, 'Just control the things you can control,' " Williams said.
So he has.
The big defensive lineman had a team-high seven tackles in Dallas, a sack, a couple of tackles for loss in putting together what everyone unanimously said was Williams' best game since becoming a pro. Even Williams says that, although he believes he's been playing that way all year.
"When people look at the film, they might be looking for someone else," Williams said, "but I know I pop up on the screen too."
Williams, who will be a free agent after the season, can't control his contract situation. He can't control his playing time or how he's used, and sometimes that means few snaps or just anchoring the middle of
the line, invisible to much of the world. He can't control those who believe a former No. 1 draft pick should be a superstar.
He's lobbied to up his play time, even last year before his contract headed into a final season. Williams appreciates that there are times when he must simply be a space eater and guy who sucks up blocks, but these days, the Cards have needed him to be more than that.
The season-ending knee injury to Darnell Dockett pushed defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to look at other options. Then Campbell's knee injury in Denver forced the Cardinals to move Williams around. Suddenly, Williams wasn't just a nose tackle but playing some end, and showing well.
"He's kind of like an unsung hero," Campbell said. "He's pushing the pocket, or making the running back bounce, and he doesn't get a stat for either. Our defense, being as good as it has been especially against the run, he's been a big reason."
General Manager Steve Keim has had discussions with Williams' agent but nothing is imminent in terms of a new contract. Keim praises Williams' work and ability to keep his weight in check and become a complete player.
"Nose tackles generally don't get a lot of credit," Keim said, "but Dan is a major reason why we have been so successful against the run."
Williams shrugs off contract talk, figuring it will work itself out. Campbell said it's part of the game, wondering about one's future.
"He might do so well we can't afford him," Campbell said. "And that's what I want for him. If he can continue to contribute like he did last game and
be the reason we win, it'll be hard for the Cardinals to let him go. And it'll be hard for anybody else to pass him up."
Williams just smiles when his status as a No. 1 pick comes up. Few think of him that way anymore. When he makes a play, "it's like it's a surprise" to people. But Williams played in a 4-3 defense when he was in college at Tennessee and was asked to penetrate upfield a lot of the time.
He's three defensive coordinators in during his tenure in Arizona, and while all have played a 3-4 base – and with Campbell and Dockett, Williams was always out of luck when it came to playing sub-packages – Williams feels he can play any type. He can eat space and two-gap. He can penetrate out of a 3-4 or a 4-3. The Cardinals called him the nose tackle of the future when they took him, but he's always felt he could be more if they just asked.
But whatever they ask is fine, anyway, Williams said. More wisdom from Dad: "Son, when you are on the field, just be your best."
Perspective hasn't been a problem since losing his father. Often, Thomas Williams would talk to Dan early in the season and then leave him alone until season's end. So last year, after the car wreck -- as the family was driving from Memphis to New Orleans to watch the Cardinals play the Saints -- Williams was mostly worried about his mom, injured and now without her husband.
Thomas' absence hit home harder this year, right before the season, when the talk wasn't there.
There was another reason why it was a big deal to have a big game in Dallas. Once, Williams' dad explained to his son people made memories because at some point, the people you make memories with won't be around.
Williams didn't comprehend it much at the time. It hit home after his father died. And he thought about it last week.
"He always talked about going to Jerry's Playhouse," Williams said of the trip to AT&T Stadium. "I know he's right there with me. He checked out Jerry Playhouse right there with me."
STINSON HURT, QUESTIONABLE FOR SUNDAY
Rookie defensive lineman Ed Stinson left practice a few minutes early Friday after hurting his groin. Stinson said he didn't think it was serious, but he is listed as questionable for the Rams' game. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) is out after hurting himself Wednesday doing extra running after practice. Running back Stepfan Taylor (calf) is also out.
For the Rams, linebacker Daren Bates (groin) is doubtful to play, while safety Cody Davis (concussion), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (knee) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) are all questionable.
Images of key players from this week's opponent, the Rams