Back at 'backer

The installation of a new base defense caused several Tennessee Vols to change positions this spring. Sign in or subscribe now to read about one of the most encouraging transplants.

Two years ago the Oregon Ducks envisioned Jordan Williams being a quality college linebacker. Apparently, they were right.

After spending his freshman season at Tennessee as a reserve defensive end last fall, Williams moved to the Jack linebacker spot during the Vols' just-concluded spring practice. The results were very encouraging.

"Jordan Williams is coming along," defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said recently. "He's done a nice job. We've just got to keep him coming along. I'm going to grind him. I'm going to make sure he understands it because he has the ability. He's 260 pounds playing outside for us, and that's a lot of weight."

Williams, whose weight is distributed evenly over a 6-foot-5 frame, is not a total stranger to linebacker play.

"I played linebacker my junior of high school and enjoyed it," he recalled. "My senior year I went back to end."

Although he enjoyed linebacker and was recruited to play there by Oregon, Williams signed with Tennessee assuming he'd play exclusively end for the Big Orange. He was wrong. The Jack position will find him playing upright as a linebacker some of the time and playing as a down end the rest of the time.

"Playing both, I feel like linebacker is more of a mental game," he said. "You have to know more, see more. I feel like transitioning to that this season is testing my knowledge of offenses."

Although he hasn't played linebacker in almost three years, Williams seems to be readjusting well to the position.

"I'm running with the Twos in the base," he said, "and in the sub-packages I run with the Ones sometimes."

After finishing the spring as the No. 2 Jack behind rising junior Jacques Smith, Williams is excited about his role.

"I like playing end," he said, "but at Jack I feel like I can see more."

He can disrupt more, too. Because he can play up or down, blitz or drop into coverage, the Jack linebacker can confuse blockers.

"The offensive line talks about that," Williams said, flashing a smug grin. "They have to call out the Big — the end. When me and Willie (Bohannon) are in the game they don't know which one of us is the end and which is the Jack."

With Tennessee switching from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base, Vol defenders have much to learn between now and September. Williams thinks great progress was made during the spring, however.

"I feel like we're definitely getting it down," he said. "It's a lot to learn but I feel like we're getting it. From the first scrimmage to the second, the number of missed assignments that we cut down on shows a lot."

Like most of his fellow defenders, Williams loves the upfield, aggressive nature of the new scheme.

"Oh, yeah. It's fast," he said. "I feel like we're just confusing the offensive line. They don't know where we're coming from or who's coming."

Whereas the 2011 defense was built around filling gaps, the 2012 defense appears focused more on crashing into the backfield and wreaking havoc.

"I definitely see that," Williams said. "I'm not sure if there's a play where somebody's not blitzing. It's definitely a more aggressive defense.

"Last season we were reading mostly ... reading the offensive line and playing off of that. This year they're reading off of us, so we definitely have the upper hand."

One of Tennessee's most glaring weaknesses last fall was pressuring the quarterback. The 2011 Vols finished 11th among the 12 SEC teams in sacks (16) and 10th in pass defense efficiency. Williams believes the pass rush will be exponentially better in 2012 because of the confusion it creates among offensive linemen.

"We're coming at them from so many different spots," he said, "that they're running out of (protection) options."


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