- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Michael Williams is trying to think less. It might sound odd as he is in the midst of transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle, but understand his logic.
He was a processor at Alabama, needing to understand everything he saw and then making calls and decisions off those reads. As he moved to tackle, he discovered he no longer had to make the calls.
He still had to recognize the actual calls so he could understand and adjust his assignment, but the decisions no longer rested with him.
"I’ve always been a player to actually think about stuff while I’m doing it," Williams said. "But I think I have to retool my mind to just go."
So far, he has. Williams initially made the position switch prior to spring workouts to elongate his career, now in its second season with the Detroit Lions. He saw more long-term stability at tackle, didn’t mind the blocking much to begin with and had a body that could add weight while not losing his speed.
Even with the weight gain, his footwork has apparently remained. While he is still in his infancy of playing offensive line, the way he made the move impressed his coaches with his movement and ability to take contact.
"That one is unique in itself," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "Offensive linemen and defensive linemen, I think you have to go through a psychological metamorphosis to go in there and play from where you’ve been previously, particularly if you were outside those particular areas.
"This guy has done it and he’s done a nice job within it and he’s getting better every week."
Whether that progression continues in Detroit might depend a lot on what happens over the next two weeks. Williams missed almost a week of the preseason because of injury, yet when he returned, he ended up as a second-team tackle against Oakland last Friday.
He had a positive grade from Pro Football Focus against the Raiders, including one of the highest pass-protection grades on the team.
The transition has been hardest in protecting Detroit’s quarterbacks. Run blocking as a tight end is similar to run blocking as an offensive lineman. But on pass plays before, he would be running routes, not staying in trying to keep defensive ends from annihilating his quarterback.
Pass protection movements are less instinctual than mauling an opponent against the run. It requires more balance and leverage, which has been tricky.
"Anyone can kick back and do it and make it look good," Williams said. "But when you get to the top of that set and you have a 300-pound man rushing you, you kind of have to have some kind of balance to punch him, so as long as you are doing that and have balance at the top of your sets, you’re doing pretty good.
"It just takes a while to get that, and I’m trying to get it."
It is something that takes linemen years to master, and Williams is trying to accelerate the process enough to have a chance at a roster spot. With the balance and pass-protection movements, he is still "50-50 on that," when it comes to how natural it is.
This is expected and why, if Williams does not make the roster and clears waivers, he could be a strong candidate for a spot on the Lions' practice squad to see if he can continue to develop as a tackle.
"He’s going to play tackle in the NFL. He is, at some point. I don’t know when, but he will," Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said. "There’s just not a lot of tackles out there with his kind of speed and balance.
"He’s going to continue to get technique and Bobby Johnson has been working with him a lot, with his pass-pro technique. I’m excited to see what happens to him."
Where that happens is the question.
1dEric D. Williams
1dEric D. Williams