Over the last few years, each of the Super Bowl winners have had a certain toughness to them that is borderline dirty. Late hits and big hits from in-your-face players, those that fit the cliché of hating to play against them but loving to play with them. Last season, the Baltimore Ravens had a few of those, one of which was cornerback Cary Williams.
Williams, a former seventh round selection out of Washburn, is one of the league’s most physical and emotional players. He’s tough during and after the snap, constantly jawing at players and pushing them around with his 6’1″ frame. He’s even willing to mix it up with referees, a line that most players don’t come near because of the financial consequences, and tell the Philadelphia Eagles that he doesn’t “care” about skipping OTA’s. Interestingly enough, all of this makes him a great fit with the Eagles, the team he relocated to this offseason, and a team that former Ravens teammate Torrey Smith said Williams fits the “vibe” with.
“He’s emotional, he plays with his heart on his sleeve all the time, he’s a competitor, and he’s a guy that can spark the defense over there,” Smith said. “I think he can definitely grow into a great leader for them.”
Williams will add a level of physicality that the team has lacked since it lost stud safety Brian Dawkins and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in 2009.
He’ll also bring aggressiveness downhill that turns into quality ball-skills when he’s able to play off-man coverage on wide receivers. He is better in off-man coverage than press-man because he’s a high-cut athlete, suffering from a lengthy frame that makes it difficult for him to get in and out of his cuts quickly. It’s why when he’s able to play off the opposition and watch the route unfold in front of his eyes instead of breaking abruptly, and he can make moves quickly while tracking the football.
One example of such came against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 this past season.
It was the third quarter of a 16-10 ballgame. The Ravens were winning but the Browns were driving. They’d just passed midfield and were faced with a manageable third down, with five yards to go. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was under center with “11″ personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers) surrounding him, and he’d be targeting Z receiver Travis Benjamin, who was defended by Williams, on a quick out route.
A quick tap of the left foot by Weeden before the snap told Benjamin to cut down his split to just above the numbers. That gave him more room to setup Williams inside and run his out route.
Then the snap came. Weeden opened his body to his right as he executed a three-step drop and looked left to Benjamin. The receiver ran straight forward from his alignment and then stabbed his right foot into the ground. His shoulders and dreads swayed through the air as he broke stride to the outside.
Simultaneously, Williams watched the route and backpedaled with his shoulders high, a natural side effect of being 6’1″. He patiently waited for Benjamin to drop his shoulders, and when he did, Williams stuck his left foot in the ground, and started pursuing Benjamin while watching the incoming throw.
Williams quickly covered ground laterally, closed in on the throw, and jumped the route, intercepting the pass before returning it 63 yards for a touchdown.
Williams’ mix of toughness and aggressiveness is welcomed to every locker room. It adds a spice to teams which leads to big plays on the field, and that’s always a plus.
As much as Williams’ aggressiveness is welcomed, it also needs to be controlled. There are times when he finds himself in trouble during or after a play, whether he’s beaten on a route or penalized for being too aggressive, and it cost the Ravens last season. It could ultimately end up costing the Eagles in more ways than one (Williams signed a $17 million deal), but it could also be highly beneficial because the team needs players like Williams.
If Williams controls his aggression and continues to add toughness while also further developing his technique, the Eagles could have a quality player on their hands.