The talent has always been there for New York Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams.
Harvesting it, however, was a tougher row to hoe, as Williams, who played his college ball at South Florida, struggled with staying healthy and showing the consistency that he knew was just waiting to bubble over the surface.
While it’s still relatively early in the preseason, Williams believes he’s about ready to turn that proverbial corner and take his game to the next level.
“I believe there’s a system that we go through as players,” he said on Tuesday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. “Some guys have the ability in their first year to just go out there and be professional.
“I believe that it takes that third or fourth year for you to get comfortable with everything and have better structure in your life, and that’s part of the development process.”
As a rookie, Williams walked into a rather stable NFL environment, a meeting room that had veterans Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn as the primary voices at the linebacker position.
Boley and Blackburn have since moved on, replaced by Jameel McClain and Jon Beason, two very vocal leaders who have contributed to a renewed sense of energy in the linebackers meeting room.
“It’s a great thing,” Williams said of having the chance to learn from Beason and McClain. “They keep the room structured and that’s the good thing about those guys. They give a lot of good points about things that need to be fixed.”
It’s that encouragement and tutelage that Williams has received that he believes has cumulated in him reaching a point in his young career where he’s finally able to play his style of football and not worry about any of the extraneous stuff.
“The biggest leap for me, I feel, is all about the trust in the room. To be in a room with guys that bring their own set of skills and who allow me to just be myself, that’s the biggest leap I feel now. We’ve only played one preseason game, but that trust has allowed me to be the player I am.”
In his 2014 preseason debut, Williams, who was bothered by a nagging knee injury for part of last year, made the most of his 20 snaps on defense.
He finished with two tackles and contributed one of the Giants’ seven passes defensed in coverage in his quest to show his coaches that he can be an every down linebacker.
“No doubt. We always say that no one comes to the league to do one thing,” Williams said. “I never want to be known as just a passing down linebacker.
“No, I’m an every down linebacker. Will it take work? Yes. Will it take practice? Yes. Will it take experience and coaching? Yes. Am I an every-down linebacker? I am.”
Williams is also starting to find his leadership voice, that a result of his growing confidence and the daily kudos he has received from Beason, McClain, his coaches and his teammates.
“To be surrounded by guys like that recognize what I can bring…I’m a firm believer that each year—remember Kiwanuka was once in the room—there’s always a linebacker that uplifts your spirits,” Williams said.
Williams was particularly appreciative of the encouragement he’s received from Beason.
“I’m a firm believer that each year, there’s always a linebacker that uplifts your spirits. Having Jon in the room– because he’s a specimen and he has the ability to play every down, and to watch and hear someone with the same ability that I have say those things, that’s great.”
Williams smiled when told he was starting to sound like Beason. “That’s good,” he said. “I’m a linebacker. That means that as a linebacker, every time we go in there, we have to be ready for everything. We’re the leaders of the defense. That’s me. That’s part of my role.”
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Playing at a high level in the NFL is enough pressure as it is, but for Williams, this year he has the added bonus of playing for his next contract.
With experience, though comes maturity and Williams just shakes his head when asked if knowing that a big pay-day is on the line is sitting there in the back of his mind.
“In my rookie and second year, I obviously wasn’t thinking about my contract. Were there other things on my shoulders? Yes,” he said, noting that learning the playbook and battling with his knee were two of the things that were on his front burner at the time.
“I’m not going to put something extra on my shoulders as far as a contract and allow that to hold me down on the field,” he added.
“Is it a part of my life and a part of what I have to do to take care of my family? Yes. When the time comes will it get done? Yes. Would I like to be here? Yes.
“But no, it doesn’t weigh me down, and no, it’s not going to stop me from accomplishing what I have to accomplish on the field to prove to the league, myself and my team that I belong here, with the NY Giants.”