In the midst of his first full NFL offseason, Aaron Williams is preparing to step into a starting role at the left cornerback position. It is quite different from last season when Williams was forced to learn the NFL game on the fly, as a rookie, due to the league's lengthy lockout. Now, with some experience under his belt and a full offseason, he feels far more comfortable than he did one year ago.
"It has given me more time to be in the playbook and it's given me a chance to get more acclimated to what my job is," said Williams. "It has helped my technique, allowed me to be coached more, and not just be thrown into the fire."
Not only was he thrown into the fire during training camp last season, but he was also unexpectedly put into the season opener when his teammate, Terrence McGee, went down with a hamstring injury. He had only been a pro for about a month and a half and played fairly well considering the circumstances.
"Last year on the first play Terrence (McGee) pulls his hamstring and we have to throw him in there," said Bills secondary coach George Catavolos. "The first three plays we were lucky to get him lined up and he was struggling on some things, but then he got his senses back and started to play the type of football he is capable of playing."
This may not have been the way the Bills coaching staff planned on Williams entering the league, but the experience that he gained from last year prepared him for the opportunity that has presented itself this season.
"It taught me a lot about what I need to do to make myself a better player," Williams said. "The mistakes I made last year are the mistakes I do not want to make this year."
Williams certainly gained some significant game experience last season, but also missed out on some time due to an injury. Therefore, when it comes to what he learned during his rookie season, the answer is simple.
"Keep your body healthy", said Williams. "That is the thing; you wouldn't be here if you were not good. The main thing is to do what you have to do to stay on the field, and if you stay on the field plays will come with preparation."
When he was on the field last year, Williams proved that he is a very physical cornerback. He recorded 32 tackles in just nine games played, which is impressive for a corner. In the passing game, he also had five pass break-ups and an interception. Williams does not label himself a specific kind of cornerback because he feels he is well-rounded.
"Hopefully I am looked at as an overall cornerback," Williams said. "Not just someone who can help in run support or as someone who just defends the pass, but a little bit of both."
"He is a very physical corner with excellent size and ball awareness," Catavolos said. "He can make plays on the ball and give people some problems."
Catavolos is also confident that as long as Williams stays the course and focuses in on the details this offseason he will continue to improve every day.
"We all know he has very good athletic ability with excellent size. He is progressing. It is just like everything else, but he has made a number of plays. He knows he still has to work on a lot of things, but he just has to keep concentrating on his technique and footwork and getting better at it."
Williams and his counterpart Stephon Gilmore are leading a youth movement at the cornerback position in Buffalo, as both players have been working with the starting defensive unit this offseason. While both players have performed well to this point, nothing in this league is promised, and everyone's name is written in pencil on the depth chart at this time.
"Right now both of them are at a starting position and they are working, but there are guys that are behind them pushing them," said Catavolos. "They can't rest and they have to keep working every day. These guys know just because they are lined up there doesn't mean they are going to stay there, so they have to just keep working at it."
"Right now I am not guaranteed a spot," said Williams. "I have to figure out what I am doing wrong and pick it up a little bit. The best guys are going to be out there, but whatever my role is on this team I am going to do it to my best ability."