For those of you that only follow Notre Dame's machinations on game day, that fact only becomes relevant if Williams makes good on his substantial talent.
The 6'5" 255-pound former five-star phenom from Brooklyn posted six tackles as a freshman in 2011, then 22 as a sophomore with extensive backup time as a Cat linebacker last fall. Assimilation complete, Williams has two years to increase his impact.
"As the season went on I got a lot more playing time and felt good about it, but I'm not satisfied," said Williams of 2012, a season in which he finished with 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble that led to teammate Stephon Tuitt's 77-yard touchdown scoop and score vs. Navy. "Its a process getting more comfortable. When I got here (January 2011) I didn't know what I was doing. It was a new environment. The next year I knew the people better, knew the terrain better, my teammates and as you go on in they system you get more comfortable with it and how you can help more."
Though largely in an effort to augment depth, Williams has been asked at times to help as a 3-4 defensive end this spring. Make no mistake though, he's an outside linebacker, one that just happens to be blessed athletically.
"He trains primarily with coach (Bob) Diaco and the linebackers because that is his primary position," said defensive line coach Mike Elston. "We really only utilized him in substitution packages to this point in his career. He plays (4-3) end in our sub package so its an easy position for him to facilitate us practicing. We were down a guy, but now that Stephon (Tuitt) is back, Ishaq is back at linebacker full-time."
Williams ability to play in space meets or exceeds his prowess at the point. In a late October upset of Oklahoma in Norman, it was the 255-pound Williams running stride for stride with Sooners slot receiver in bracket coverage down the seam.
"Yeah," Williams said laughing at the fond memory. "I played receiver and a lot of offense in high school so I felt like I know that side of the ball pretty much. Its difficult going the other way (backpedaling), but its just another adjustment to the college game. You take things you already know and apply them."
Lack of Bulk, not AbilityAs a 3-4 defensive end, Williams would be a full 50 pounds lighter than Tuitt or last year's starter Kapron Lewis-Moore. His long arms, speed, strength can make up for that weight disparity says Elston.
"When he comes over to end he's going to be asked to play how the ends play. In the packages its not, its pin your ears back and go. But he's going to be asked to learn to do some other things that he doesn't do in the (package) end position.
"(Expected starter) Sheldon Day isn't 310 pounds, but if you get a guy that's extremely quick and explosive, that plays with great leverage, that is powerful in other areas with the explosion, 'Shaq is fine holding up in there against those big guys," Elston offered. "The outside linebackers face those big tackles all the time anyway. I don't see him getting overwhelmed with power or size. He's so explosive and long, and keeps those guys at arm's length and that helps him at getting off blocks and making plays."
Still looking for his first official sack, Williams is well-aware he needs to make more plays.
"I don't lie to myself. I knew I didn't know what I was doing and wasn't comfortable, so I had to work on that," he said of his first season, 2011. "And last year wasn't good enough. I need to get better in every aspect. I have to work harder, run faster, hit harder, rush the passer better."
Its likely Williams will be a backup Cat (behind senior Prince Shembo), backup defensive end, and starting nickel/sub packages linebacker next fall. That duty would put him on the field often, and that's exactly where Elston believes he belongs.
"Ishaq is too good of a player to have him standing on the sideline," he said. "We're trying to get him on the field, trying to get him prepared for the situation, whether its at outside linebacker or end, he's going to be one of the better guys so we're just trying to get him in there and get some reps."
What Williams does with those reps will go a long way toward determining the defense's final standing next fall.