ARLINGTON, Texas — To a man, Alabama players who speak with reporters always mention the same name when asked who the team’s best pass rusher is: outside linebacker Tim Williams.
“Tim’s probably one of the most unique guys on the team,” said Tide tight end O.J. Howard who often faces Williams in practice. “His pass-rushing skills are probably, I think, the best out of everybody. Fast, hard to block, so quick, kind of small but I mean he’s just very different from a lot of people, man.”
Williams, a junior from Baton Rouge, La., ranks second on the team with 9.5 sacks, has a total of 11.5 tackles for loss (-82 yards), four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.
The speed is obvious. The quickness is obvious. It’s the confidence that makes him special in his mind.
“It’s like when I get down on the line, I know he can’t beat me,” Williams said during Alabama’s Cotton Bowl media day session on Tuesday. “I know he can’t block me. I can only defeat myself. I feel like the only way I can allow someone to block me is if I let them do it. It’s technique and taking off. If I take off, half the battle is won right there.”
The “he” being opposing offensive linemen who’ve tried to stop Williams without much success this season. If Williams isn’t sacking the quarterbacks, he’s forcing them out of the pocket and likely into the hands of a teammate.
Williams is a part of a stout defensive front that has Alabama back in the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide plays Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve at 8 p.m.
Despite being a situational pass rusher who comes in mostly on third downs, Williams is tied for third in the SEC and ranks in the top 15 nationally in sacks with 9.5.
“My goal was to get double-digits, at least 15,” Williams said with a confident grin. “I know I can get it.”
Williams treats the situational role as a game within the game. He said he loves it and call it “Tim Williams time.”
Talent and ability were never problems for Williams. Tide coach Nick Saban said Williams needed to improve away from the field before he could be trusted to become a key player on it. Williams took that to heart this offseason, and made the necessary adjustments. One of the biggest changes was becoming more of a student of the game.
“Just basically studying in the film room,” Williams said. “In high school, they just let me go and there weren’t really any plays. I didn’t know that in football you really had to study the plays, all the tendencies your opponents have and that type of stuff.”
Williams dedication has helped him and Saban connect even more. Williams said their relationship has “grown tremendously.”
“Me and him have always had a good relationship. Him and (running backs) coach (Burton) Burns,” Williams said. “By him having somewhat of a pipeline in Louisiana, I always felt comfortable with Nick Saban because he coached at LSU, knew how the culture is around there and how to coach the players. I didn’t want to stay home so I felt comfortable being taught by someone like him.”
The next step for Williams is becoming a more complete linebacker.
“In Tim’s case, he’s got to learn how to play outside ‘backer and understand pass coverage concepts,” Saban said. “When he drops, I’d say that’s the biggest thing that he has to develop. I think the way he’s developed in other areas, that’s something that we certainly have great hope for that he’ll be able to do in the next year so he can become an every down player for us.”
Williams agreed with Saban’s assessment as he hopes to become a first-, second- and third-down linebacker. He mentioned learning how to better read run-pass options from the offense and improving on stopping the run as areas he hopes to refine going forward.
For the Alabama fans wondering, Williams will likely continue to hone those skills in Tuscaloosa. While he’s draft eligible as a true junior, Williams said he plans to return to school for his senior season.
“Am I ready for the league? Nah,” Williams said. “I know I need to come back and work on some stuff. By coming back, it’s going to put myself and my family in a better position for the future.”
Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.