“I don’t know,” said Williams when asked what position he’ll play this fall for the Bills. “If I was going to be labeled I’d probably be labeled defensive end because of my size. But I don’t have a position.”
Not giving a true position to Williams is intentional. Buffalo’s defensive coordinator purposely has a defensive scheme where versatility is the strength of the system and Williams appears to be the linchpin.
“He’s a versatile guy,” said Pettine in an appearance on the John Murphy Show. “I think he could play at the defensive end spot. He could play outside linebacker. He could be up. He could be down. I think there will be times in our third down package where he’s down over a guard, down over a center.”
The whole idea is to keep opponents from being able to identify where Williams will be on any given play.
READ: Mario Williams on new defense: "I am up for anything"
“What I don’t want to do with Mario is line him up in one spot where teams can draw a bead on him,” said Pettine. “He’s always the right defensive end or always the left defensive end. That way they can set formations to help protect. They can chip him with a tight end or a back.”
What will allow Pettine to keep offenses guessing is the myriad of places that his scheme allows Williams to line up.
“That one position really allows us versatility where that spot can play a 4-3 end and a 3-4 outside linebacker,” he said. “That gives us versatility there where we can line up in all our 4-3 fronts and 3-4 fronts and function at a high level. Every position kind of bleeds over into another one, but I think that’s the main one is the outside linebacker-defensive end in our base defense.”
With no true designated position Williams will be able to line up anywhere in the front from one snap to the next.
“We want to get the bulls-eye off him and move him around,” Pettine said. “We want to dictate to teams that if they’re going to deal with Mario, they’re going to have to find him first. I think he’s certainly smart enough to handle it and versatile enough to handle it.”
Williams clearly appreciates the approach that Pettine has for his role in Buffalo’s defense believing it will allow him to flourish and produce on a consistent basis.
“I think because I’ve done it before and things are working out pretty well,” said Williams when asked why he feels Pettine has put trust in him to handle a multi-dimensional defensive role. “I think they have faith in me in that situation and they know that I want to do it. Big guys want to play little guys positions and being that I have the ability to do it I’m up for it.”
“He’s done a great job of understanding very quickly,” said Pettine. “You can tell that he’s soaked it up. You can hear him in the back of the room kind of making the calls to himself and answering the questions. A lot of the questions don’t even pertain to his position and he still understands it really well.”
As varied as Williams’ position sounds, Pettine isn’t going to be foolish and keep Williams from doing what he does best, which is rushing the passer.
“We’re going to do what we do well,” said Pettine. “So if we have a guy that is an outstanding pass rusher then he’s going to rush the passer and his drops will be kept to a minimum.”
That’s why Williams’ attitude toward the upcoming season is filled with excitement and confidence that he’ll be put in position to be the player Bills fans expected him to be a season ago.
“There were a lot of things going on last year, but it makes you tougher,” said Williams. “The more adversity you go through the more I feel I can handle it. Last year it was almost like my rookie year all over again in the sense of a new place, big (contract) deal and everything that went into coming to Buffalo.
“It’s like I’m back now and here’s my second year and I’m really excited about going after it and with the group of guys that are leading us I have a lot of faith and a lot of dedication to going out and performing for them.”