Williams a 'big hit' at outside safety

Sophomore Mike Williams is thriving at outside safety this spring after making the move from cornerback...

LEXINGTON, Ky. --- In most cases when a player makes a position change, he finds himself looking up at a couple of other names on the depth chart while trying to make his pitch for playing time.

So imagine how Mike Williams felt when he found himself at No. 1 at one of Kentucky's outside safety spots headed into spring practice.

"I was very excited to see that," said Williams, a sophomore who played in 10 games as a cornerback and on special teams as a true freshman. "I knew this was the right spot for me. But I also knew I had to work hard this spring to keep it."

About halfway through the Wildcats' spring drills, he's showing no signs of relinquishing his spot opposite veteran David Johnson. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound Tallahassee (Fla.) native is trying to fill the hole vacated by Patrick Wiggins, who was third on team in tackles with 81 last season.

"I'm still getting the feel of the new position," Williams said. "I'm learning day by day and trying to cut down on my mistakes. So far, it's gone real good."

"Mike Williams has had a heckuva spring," UK defensive coordinator John Goodner said. "He's really come on and taken to that outside safety spot. He's a player."

"He's done real well," UK safeties coach Larry Hoefer said. "He's picking it up quickly. He's a good athlete, he's got good football instincts, and we're excited about having him there.

"All he needs is some time and experience, but he's getting better every practice."

The UK coaching staff approached Williams with the idea of moving from corner shortly after the 2001 season ended. Williams was more than ready to make the switch.

"I kinda wanted to play outside safety last year," he said. "I played safety in high school, but when I got here they really wanted me to try corner. Then after the season ended the chance for me to move to outside safety opened up, and I was ready. The coaches wanted me there, and I wanted to be there. It was a good fit."

"We feel like he fits that position well," Hoefer said. "It's kind of a combination of a safety, corner and linebacker. From being a corner, he's got good feet to cover man-to-man when he needs to, and he's an aggressive kid, so he can also come up and give you run support or blitz a little bit."

Williams has shown a propensity to make big plays this spring. More specifically, big hits.

When asked what he liked most about his new position, Williams said: "You get to roam around and hit people. I like to hit. I like to be around the ball, in the action."

His fellow Wildcats have felt the sting on a handful of occasions.

"He's a hitter, an aggressive kid," UK coach Guy Morriss said. "You have to tone him back a little bit. He wants to whack our guys a little too much."

"You gotta go full speed, but I try not to hurt anybody in practice," Williams said. "I try to play hard but not dirty. I'm not a dirty player."

The process of learning the new position has been smooth, but with more detail.

"Getting the feel of the calls, who I'm supposed to check, has been the toughest part," Williams said. "I've never really played a position where I had calls. In high school, I just roamed free and did what I wanted to do. Now I've got to think a lot more and make the right calls.

"Mostly I play off the (running) backs to see what they do. And sometimes if I have an extra receiver to my side, I have to take him. At corner, I was just playing the man in front of me, but at this position, I have to basically play everything."

He's leaned on Johnson, a senior and UK's most experienced defensive player, for advice.

"I learned a lot from him," Williams said. "I learned that you've got to be aggressive playing that position. You've got to be active and stay on your toes... David has taught me a lot about the position. I'd like to be able to play it the way he does."

Williams said he hopes he brings more aggressiveness to a UK defensive unit that has struggled in recent years.

"I think we're going to run more to the ball, be more aggressive and make things happen," he said. "We want to force some turnovers and be the aggressor instead of letting teams take it to us."

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