Tim Williams is taking it slow, which seemed to be the problem for him last season as a rookie. But this time, the Ravens outside linebacker’s reluctance crops up when outsiders praise him for his performances in the preseason, not when it comes to understanding his role on the field.
“It was all right,” said Williams, who matched rookie cornerback Darious Williams for the team lead in tackles with five while adding a sack and a forced fumble in Thursday night’s 33-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at M&T Bank Stadium. “It’s just the preseason. So I’ll be building on it. I’m not really getting too excited because it doesn’t count right now. So I’m just building to get better every day.”
It’s a revealing statement from a young player who could have been frustrated by his lack of activity last season after making 19½ sacks in his final two years at Alabama.
Blessed with tantalizing speed that convinced the organization to invest a 2017 third-round draft pick in him, Williams at times looked lost in the Ravens defense, which asks its edge rushers to also set the edge in running situations. An inability to contribute on special teams also played a role in the linebacker seeing action in just eight games and on only 20 defensive snaps. He finished with six tackles and zero sacks, and was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the season.
For his part, Williams, 24, said he was not bothered by sitting behind Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.
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“It wasn’t necessarily frustrating,” he said. “It was a learning experience. The learning curve was special teams. That’s the Raven way. That’s how you’re going to get your reps, that’s how you’re going to get your plays. You’ve got to ball out on special teams and show the other guys that you’re willing to step outside of your position and make a play. So that’s the main focus right now — to regain the trust of my teammates for me to be able to go out there and make plays.”
Williams said he mistakenly believed he had to add weight to his listed size of 6 feet 3 and 260 pounds to compete against the bigger blockers in the NFL. He said his weight ballooned to 270 pounds, but he has trimmed down to 248.
“My rookie year, I came into the league and I thought I had to weigh 280, but I’m at my right playing weight,” he said. “I feel better than I was in my rookie year because I didn’t know what to expect when I came in. You know, with the big guys in the NFL, I thought I had to eat, eat, eat, eat. So my rookie year, I was running with a lot of bad weight on me. This year, I feel like I’m doing what got me drafted.”
Whatever the reasons, coach John Harbaugh described Williams’ growth from his rookie campaign as “remarkable.”
“He shows up in the games, he’s been showing up in practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think even before that, it showed up in his work ethic — in the weight room with [strength and conditioning coach] Steve Saunders. He put the time in throughout the offseason, throughout the summer, and that kind of attention to detail with the process, that kind of work ethic tends to pay off when the lights come on. That’s what we’ve seen with him.”
Williams acknowledged he felt a sense of relief after he sacked quarterback Brandon Allen for his first of the preseason and stripped him of the ball, which the Ravens recovered. Williams, who had two tackles in the team’s 17-16 win over the Chicago Bears on Aug. 2, credited his improved effort in the preseason to a growing familiarity with the defense as run by new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
“I just feel more comfortable,” Williams said. “I know what to expect. I know what to expect at practice, I know what to expect from my coaches. I know my place, I know my role, and I’m just trying to walk the path and gain the trust of my teammates.”