Williams Makes Most of Big Ten Spotlight
By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
CHICAGO – He may not be used to wearing it, but boy, did Aaron Williams sure look sharp in his dark suit and bright red tie on Tuesday.
The Nebraska junior safety smiled repeatedly for television cameras and sat at a podium microphone while answering reporters’ questions for roughly an hour. He took his turn on the Big Ten Network television set, too, along with senior linebacker Chris Weber and junior quarterback Tanner Lee.
Hey, come to think of it, Williams isn’t used to this circus, either.
“I think he gave me this experience to get my brand out, so I’m enjoying it,” Williams said, referring to Nebraska coach Mike Riley. “It’s better than I expected.”
Never mind that Williams served as a last-minute replacement for senior cornerback Chris Jones, one of three Huskers originally scheduled to represent Nebraska at the annual Big Ten Football Media Days and Luncheon in downtown Chicago.
“I never would’ve dreamed about going, even next year,” Williams said. “It probably never crossed my mind about it.”
Said Weber: “I don’t think he’d ever worn a suit before."
That wasn’t the only thing Weber learned about Williams, and vice-versa, as the two shared a room on this trip.
“I found out he snores when he sleeps,” Weber said. “He would tell you I talk in my sleep.”
Perhaps that’s a sign of high intelligence.
“Chris is probably one of the smartest guys on the team, probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my age group right now,” Williams said. “He’s very detailed, and he’s very serious about his work.”
The same could be said of Nebraska's defensive unit, which underwent a huge change in the offseason, what with the addition of coordinator Bob Diaco and the transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Initial installation began in the spring, and Weber said the Blackshirts must utilize every minute of every day of 5 weeks of fall camp, beginning Sunday, while continuing to improve across the board.
Throughout the summer, players and coaches could interact 2 hours a week with football-related drills, sans football. They’d also meet once a week in the meeting room, watching film and breaking down plays on the white board.
Come Sept. 2, when Nebraska opens the season against Arkansas State, Weber said the defense wants to show intensity from the get-go.
“The first thing we want to do is fly around to the football,” Weber said. “I think if you’re doing that as a defense … first off, without doing that you can’t be a great defense. So flying around to the football, we need to make some turnovers happen, and just a buy-in across the board that we’re pushing for something, we’re working for something to be a great football team.”
“The freshmen we brought in are all outstanding to work with, and the thing that is nice for the upperclassmen is they’re here to learn,” Weber said. “They’re asking questions, they’re wanting to spend more time in the meeting room. When you have that desire and you have that desire early, it means you’re going to be successful in the long run.”
While the linebackers enter fall camp with ample experience and promising young talent, the defensive backfield is a bit in flux.
Jones didn’t come to Chicago because he’s recovering from knee surgery that will sideline him 4-6 months.
“It’s a little speed bump in the road, but he’ll get over it,” Williams said.
Nebraska was already without sophomore cornerback JoJo Domann, who suffered an ACL tear in April and is contemplating a redshirt.
“I know us as DBs, everybody has to elevate their game to get better,” Williams said. “We have a lot of young corners who are going to be ready to step in and fill his shoes, but everybody else that’s been there, we have to elevate our game.”
Both Weber and Williams expressed confidence in sophomore Eric Lee Jr. as a candidate to help fill the void at cornerback.
“His growth as a player has come tremendously,” said Williams, who also mentioned redshirted freshman Dicaprio Bootle and sophomore Jeremiah Stovall as players to watch. “He always had the skill set, but now his mind is there. The only person who can stop him is himself. I think he’s getting ready. He knows he has to step his game up, too. He should do a good job.”
Williams witnessed his best friend on the team, senior Joshua Kalu, “make a big jump” during spring practices, when Kalu moved to safety. While Riley seems reluctant to do so, he acknowledged another option to replace Jones is moving Kalu back to cornerback.
Either works fine with Williams and Weber.
“He’s ready to produce wherever he’s at,” Williams said. “Whatever they ask him to do, he’s going to produce to the best of his ability.”
Weber said Kalu has been solid at corner his entire career yet made a seamless transition to safety.
“I’ll leave it up to the coaching staff where they want to put him,” Weber said, “but I think he could be an impact player at either. That’s nice to have.”
Williams, meanwhile, returns after making 11 starts at safety as a sophomore. He finished the season with 62 tackles, including 30 solo stops. He added six tackles for loss, two sacks and tied for third on the team with three interceptions.
Williams credits much of his success to Nathan Gerry, a stalwart at safety the previous three seasons who’s now turning heads as a rookie linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I grew up under Nate, so I was used to following Nate Gerry around. He was a smart player,” Williams said. “Nate used to tell me, ‘You don’t have to play that hard and fast all the time. If you understand and know what’s about to happen, you can put yourself into position faster than a freshman who’s running out of control not knowing what’s going on.’
“That always stuck out to me. Nate, he’s probably the reason why I will go in and look at the playbook. Me, personally, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to be the best at it.”
Perhaps, then, Williams had better hang on to that suit for next summer, too.
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.