No final decision has been made yet, but in recent practices Williams has been working with both return units, including staying late after practice to get in extra work. "I'm working on kickoff returns and punt returns," Williams said. "The coaches moved me back for punt returns the other day. Right now they're rotating us in, letting us all get our catches. Once it gets closer to game time they'll decide who they want back there."
Williams had always been slated as a prime option returning kickoffs. So when Antonio Carter's lingering problems from off-season surgery kept him from that duty, Williams quickly moved up to the first unit with Triandos Luke. But shagging punts is something new. "Of course that's only if AC can't go," Williams explained. "I think AC is a great returner, and if he's well enough then he deserves to be back there. He did a great job last year. (My returning punts) is only the option if AC is not ready to go."
Williams's debut in Crimson has been much anticipated by Tide fans. A gifted runner, Williams is frankly dangerous attacking the corner or in the open field--and he doesn't mind running up between the tackles as well. In fact, the new A-Back position was created with Williams in mind. On any given play the talented junior could line up at tailback, fullback, H-Back--or even lined up outside as a wide receiver.
So, is there anything the talented transfer can't do well? "I can't play golf worth a darn," Williams replied, laughing. "I think I might be halfway decent at all the other things. It's important to be versatile. I'm flexible, so (the coaches) can move me here and there. Being that way will help me get on the field a lot better than just being one-dimensional. I think it'll work to my advantage."
Williams had a stellar freshman season at Texas Tech, earning conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors. But a change in coaching staffs prompted a transfer to Alabama, and according to regulations he sat out last season. "I think maybe (the Alabama coaches) are trying to make up for lost time," he joked. "I didn't get to do anything last year, except get my head smashed in on the scout team. Now (the coaches) seem to let me try everything. I guess they are making up for lost time.
"I'm okay with it."
Brandon Brooks and Roberto McBride are also working at punt return, and both athletes show real promise in the role. But under the current coaching staff ball security is frankly everything, and Williams is a responsible, veteran athlete. "He is a trusted kid," Mark Tommerdahl, Special Teams Coordinator said. "He's a smart kid. He's really done well with everything we've given him, and we're thinking about using him even more. He's very much a trusted guy."
Last season Carter was hardly the flashiest punt return man around, but the Tide staff knew that he wouldn't do anything to get his team beat. And when it became obvious that Carter probably couldn't go this year, the coaches went looking for another player they could trust. "Coach Fran mentioned to me that he felt comfortable with me back there, so he'd like to see it work if it was at all possible," Williams related. "I've returned kickoffs recently, but I haven't returned punts since high school. They never kicked it to me in high school, so this will be something new.
"I'm up for it. If Coach Fran has enough confidence in me to put me back there, I'll accept the challenge. If it'll help our team win I'll get back there and do it."
There's no question that the Tide staff would breath easier with Williams back on punt returns, but first they've got to make sure he can handle the job. Tommerdahl explained, "You don't worry about him under pressure at all. The only thing that you would be concerned about is just his lack of experience back there returning punts. He's played big-time football--but not returning punts.
"We're trying to put him under fire in practice as best we can, which is easier said than done."
Just the job of returning punts alone would concern the average athlete---not to mention doing it with little prior experience. But Williams is okay with it. "No; it doesn't make me nervous," he related. "The only pressure that will be put on me is the pressure that I put on myself. I'm real hard on myself. I'm a competitor. I like to compete. But I feel confident that if they put me back there I can do the job."
There is some carryover from returning kickoffs to punts, but Williams explains that the two involve different challenges. "On kickoff returns you definitely have more time to catch the ball and see everything develop. On punt returns, it happens a lot quicker, depending on how high the punter hangs the ball and if his gunners get down there. It's a lot different.
"You've just got to sit in there and be patient--and hope they don't break the halo rule."
"On kickoff returns you catch the ball and then get up the field first," Williams continued. "The main deal on punt returns is to make that first guy miss. If you can make the first guy miss, then you've got a pretty good chance. That's what it boils down to."
Three years ago when Freddie Milons returned punts, kickoffs and also started at wide receiver, there was concern that the multiple responsibilities wore him down during the season. But Williams discounts that possibility. "No; I've got a lot of energy. I'm so pumped up and energized to be here that I don't think they could wear me out. It's all going to work out for the best. I love everything that they're doing with me.
"I'm energized and ready to go."