Commentary

Williams transitions to linebacker

Injuries force junior safety into new role, but 'team player' gladly accepts move

Updated: September 20, 2011, 12:42 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- Shawn Williams had played linebacker before last Saturday's game against Coastal Carolina, but there was a major difference between this attempt and his previous turns at the position.

"In high school, you're just about the same size as the linemen you're playing against, so that's really the biggest difference," said Williams, a junior safety listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. "In high school, there weren't any 330-pound linemen."

[+] EnlargeShawn Williams
Darrell Walker/Icon SMI Junior safety Shawn Williams' late-game interception against Mississippi State preserved his teammates' facial hair.
Because of Georgia's depth problems created by starting linebackers Christian Robinson and Alec Ogletree's foot injuries, Williams made the much publicized position shift last week. He recorded three tackles and one stop for a 2-yard loss, earning praise from coaches and teammates for his willingness to make an uncomfortable move to provide depth at a shallow position.

"The personnel got all messed up by the injuries on the inside. We had to move some guys around and Shawn came in and did a magnificent job," fellow safety Bacarri Rambo said. "Shawn had never played linebacker in his college career, but he came down, and I'm thankful. I'm glad to be one of his teammates because any other guy, they'd probably be like, 'Nah, I don't want to do that,' but he was like, 'I'll do it for the team.' He's such a team player, and I'm thankful for that."

The Coastal Carolina game came at a convenient time for Williams to make such a transition. The FCS-level Chanticleers did not offer much of a challenge in a 59-0 loss to Georgia (1-2), allowing Williams to make his linebacking debut with less pressure than he'll face Saturday at Ole Miss (1-2).

The Rebels' starting offensive line averages 321 pounds, only slightly larger than Coastal Carolina's average of 312, but Williams knows the Ole Miss line will feature players more skilled at knocking undersized linebackers out of the way.

That will be his biggest challenge, he said, along with adjusting to running backs diving at his knees on cut blocks.

After watching the game on film, his head coach agrees.

"He's got to learn how to take on linemen now in these blocking schemes. It's a little bit different for him," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There are times as a safety where you get a pulling lineman out there you're dealing with, but it's just different living in that box than it is out there in space. We thought he played well and we're going to keep him there and hopefully let him continue to get better and create some depth at linebacker for us."

Richt expects both Robinson and Ogletree to miss the Ole Miss game, but he remains hopeful that Robinson might return to play against Mississippi State the following week. His return, coupled with the continuing emergence of true freshman linebacker Amarlo Herrera, could free Williams to return to safety, but he's a linebacker for now.

If his playing out of position helps the Bulldogs recover from their 0-2 start, Williams is happy about making the move.

"He had a tremendous attitude about it," Richt said. "He could've been like, 'Why me?' but he embraced it. And the defense got excited about it and it allowed us to play pretty fast defense. A bunch of [defensive backs] -- three safeties and three corners, basically, when we got in the nickel."

In fact, that versatility could become one of the most positive aspects of Williams' move. Once Ogletree and Robinson are back in the lineup -- Richt believes that will happen around midseason -- Williams' services will not be as necessary at linebacker.

However, his knowing the position would give Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham the ability to get creative with some of the personnel and defensive alignments he throws at opposing offenses as the season progresses.

"If Coach Grantham wants to put in some new plays down the road when we get all our starters back, maybe that would give us a chance to do something different, show some different looks," Williams said.

That open-mindedness -- combined with his ability to blitz or lay a big hit -- is what made Williams an ideal candidate to fill in at a new position.

He simply sees it as part of being a team player.

"We're all trying to get a 'W' at the end of the day," Williams said, "no matter where you're playing."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.