Monday, October 19, 2009

Jason Williams makes the transition to the NFL

By Ken Woods

Western alumnus Jason Williams recorded his first NFL tackle as a linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 4.

For every Pop Warner player the dream of competing in the NFL looms in their mind at some point. Often those dreams don't become reality.

However, former Leatherneck and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jason Williams is living the dream. After being selected in the third round (pick 69) of the 2009 NFL draft in April, Williams has successfully made the transition to the pro ranks.

Soon after Williams arrived, the Cowboys grabbed headlines for the destruction of their practice facility. Fearsome winds forced the domed structure to collapse. Williams was inside but safely made his way out.

"That was really crazy because it's one of those things where you have to react but you're kind of frozen," Williams said. "I did both, because I was watching it collapse but it seems my body was already moving, fortunately I got out without being hurt."

Once Williams made it through training camp, it was time to prepare for live competition in the preseason. The adjustment to a new spot on the field served as a learning curve.

"I just needed to get used to a new position, well in college I played linebacker too, but that was a lot closer to the line of scrimmage," Williams said. "Now I play further back, and I have to adjust to the play from a different angle so it was different for me in the preseason."

The learning curve did not stop between the sidelines; it also carried over into the film room. The NFL is much more detail oriented than the collegiate game.

"One day I might watch (film) for what the offensive line does, the next I might watch for what the quarterback does," Williams said. "In the NFL you have to really study players and their mannerisms. Players don't think they have tendencies, but when you watch film, you really get a chance to pick up on the things that give away plays or blocking schemes."

Entering the regular season, Williams suffered a high ankle sprain and could not compete for the first two weeks. He had not been injured during his time at Western; so managing it was something new for the linebacker.

Although the injury was not very serious, it proved to be one of the most difficult things to handle in his short NFL career.

"Dealing with being injured really bothered me," Williams said. "I had to miss the first two weeks, and I didn't really know how to handle it. I was anxious, and I have never really been injured before so it was challenging."

Williams came back in the third week and recorded a solo tackle in the contest. At Western he rarely came off the field, now he is used sparingly on defense and mostly on special teams.

He was prepared for his current role on the Cowboys from past experience at Hanson Field.

"It's actually not much different from freshman year," Williams said. "I was a redshirt freshman, and I had to watch and learn things without playing a lot. So it's really no different from then."

In addition to limited playing time, Williams had to make adjustments in other areas on and off the field.

"It is really challenging trying to occupy my free time," Williams said. "We have a lot of down time, and it is difficult trying to manage it, so I have to really get used to that. On the field the players are much smarter at this level. I came from an FCS school, so the speed is a little faster, but the main difference is that everyone is smart. You have to be smart too because all the players are already good at this level, so the smartest players are usually the best."

Williams has received help in this area from veteran linebacker Bradie James. He has become a mentor to Williams in some instances and it has helped boost his football IQ.

"Me and Bradie James actually talk a lot, and he tells me that he was in this position before, so he knows how it is," Williams said. "He tells me about some mistakes I made on reads or helps me with the little things. He has been helpful."

Williams is only six weeks into his NFL career and the best part of his experience has been the people in the stands.

"The fans are just so passionate, and they really love their team," Williams said. "They come to the games with their faces painted, and they are pumped up like they are about to play. They can come up to you and they know your whole bio already. I have never seen fans like this."

He served as grand marshal at Homecoming during the Cowboys' bye week. Williams will return to regular season action next Sunday, Oct. 25 against the Atlanta Falcons.