In his transition year from cornerback to safety last fall Aaron Williams looked surprisingly comfortable making the switch. His anticipation skills and angles looked on point for the most part in training camp and the preseason. They were all encouraging signs as to where he could take his new role on defense. Then at the tail end of the preseason
He would start the next four games at cornerback before making his last seven starts at safety. The flip-flopping back and forth between positions compromised Williams’ growth at the safety position. Now with newfound depth at cornerback with the free agent addition of
That continuity at one position, especially in a new scheme under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, will serve Williams’ game well.
Over the past two seasons however, he’s developed a close friendship with veteran
“After the season we had a comprehensive off-site with Coach Marrone and Doug Whaley and Jim Monos, our Director of Player Personnel, and really laid out in detail our master plan moving in to the future,” said Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon at the time Williams signed a contract extension in March. “Obviously extending a player like Aaron was a priority for us and we’re thrilled that he’s going to be with us long term.”
“We talked at the end of the season that they’re going to give me the responsibility of leading this defense to where it used to be,” said Williams. “I like being in control and making sure everybody is in the same position and the right position. Putting people in position to make plays. It’s being back there as a quarterback and it’s something I grasped in the last season and Jairus (Byrd) taught me a lot in how to control the defense and how guys can trust me to put them in the right position.”
In Jairus Byrd the Bills had a Pro Bowl caliber safety, who was as good as there is in the league when it came to range in the deep half of the field. There aren’t many who can track long balls and turn them into interceptions better than Byrd. To his credit Byrd also improved his run support and was a factor when it came to forced fumbles. Where things got tricky with Byrd’s game was when it came to coming down to the line of scrimmage to cover a slot receiver or a tall, rangy tight end.
Byrd was not called upon to handle those responsibilities, but that is something Williams will be asked to do at times in Jim Schwartz’s defense. Williams coverage background as a cornerback combined with his strength, size and length make him ideally suited to handle the kind of coverage assignments that are becoming more and more commonplace for todays’ NFL safeties.
“Aaron has shown all of those qualities,” said Schwartz. “He can range from the middle of the field. He can cover a guy man to man. He’s got those hybrid corner/safety skills. And the one thing that probably impressed me the most was his physical play. He’s a tough guy. I thought last year was the year you started to see what Aaron could do. He could make an impact on the game. An interception, a big hit, a blitz, he can do all those things so we’re excited to have him.”
While much is made of the talent on Buffalo’s defensive line, and rightly so with three Pro Bowl players and a 10-sack end in
Williams has a keen awareness as to how both McKelvin and Gilmore play their coverage assignments on the outside. In addition he’s worked with Searcy and Robey in subpackages when Searcy served as a hybrid linebacker/safety and Robey as the nickel corner.
“We’re fine. We have great chemistry,” said an assured Williams. “We keep in contact even now through the offseason, checking on each other, making sure everybody is doing their job and working out. I just let the guys know when we come back the standard is going to move up even higher now.
“We set the limit last year finishing second in interceptions. We wanted to be first, and unfortunately we didn’t get that. So now we’re going for first in every stat on defense. I told the guys enjoy your time off, but when we get back get ready to work.”
The more one hears Williams talk about his role at safety the more convinced one becomes that it’ll be his home for many seasons in Buffalo’s secondary.
“I do feel comfortable out there,” said Williams. “Moving to safety is probably one of the best things to happen in my career.”