Mike Preston: In fighting shape, Brandon Williams is leading by example

In fighting shape, Brandon Williams is leading by example, writes @MikePrestonSun.

Sometimes Ravens head coach John Harbaugh can't help himself. He flashes a little grin when someone mentions that outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith or fullback Kyle Juszczyk look great.

And then there is nose guard Brandon Williams. The new off-season conditioning program has Williams down to a fit 343 pounds.

No kidding.

"He trains really hard," said Harbaugh of his fourth-year tackle. "He's in great shape. He's 343 pounds [and 6-feet-1], which is fighting shape for him. He's in fighting shape right now. For a big guy to stay that way at this stage of the season is pretty remarkable. I'm just very impressed with him and expect him to play really well."

After two weeks of OTAs, Williams has been a standout. Of course the players aren't practicing at full speed, but the Ravens haven't been able to move him much in individual or team drills.

He doesn't appear to be breathing very heavy either. Some players have privately complained about the rigors of Steve Saunders' new training regimen, but Williams hasn't missed a day.

"I think the new program is cool, great, and it gets you ready for OTAs and training camp," said Williams. "It's not more running, but more natural football movements, like sled pushing and sled pulling, and working over hurdles."

"It's not like you are lining up on the goal line and just running sprints," said Williams. "I love it because that is what I really do anyway [in games] is push sleds."

This off-season could be the difference in Williams making the Pro Bowl. He was generally considered one of the top run stoppers in the AFC last season, finishing with 53 tackles including two sacks.

But that wasn't good enough to earn postseason honors. According to one AFC assistant coach, Williams was the key in the Ravens' run defense and if you could block him, you would have success.

He also said Williams' biggest problem was playing with his head down and that he had to become more of a pass-rushing threat.

"This is my fourth year so I want to come in ready to go and give everything I got," said Williams. "There isn't an area I don't want to improve in. It would have been nice to have gone to the Pro Bowl but that's behind me now. This year is a new season."

It's also a great opportunity for Williams to become a leader on defense and one of the faces of the organization. Since 1996, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has made it a priority to have a big body in the middle of his defense.

And those players have become some of the Ravens' most dominant personalities like the obnoxious Tony Siragusa or the moody Sam Adams. There was also "Mr. Royal Farms" Haloti Ngata, and the "Jelly Roll" himself, Lional Dalton.

Williams is an entertaining dancer, but he probably won't market himself unless it is on the field. And there is certainly an opportunity because the Ravens are young on defense with linemen like Williams, fellow tackles Carl Davis and Timmy Jernigan and ends Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi.

"It's not just on one guy, this is not the Ray Lewis era anymore," said Williams. "I have to step up, Timmy Jernigan has to step up and so does C.J. Mosley. It's our turn now and we have to take some of these younger guys under our wings because guys like Chris Canty are no longer here."

"Leadership just comes along with the territory," said Williams.

But it has to come from self first, and Williams is leading by example. Big guys like him can blow up 35 to 40 pounds in an off-season because they continue to eat like they did during the season, but aren't burning up as many calories.

Williams has struggled at times, but he's got the weight and his game under control.

And the only person who might be smiling more than Williams these days is Harbaugh.



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