Williams says he was "more excited than nervous" prior to his first start. He calmed down a bit after getting some sound advice from Demonte Bolden, the Vols' other starting tackle.
Williams recalls the conversation this way: "Before the game Demonte said, 'Big dog, you're just out there playing football. Go out there and play your game. You've been here before. You've scrimmaged with the first team a couple of times when me and J.T. were hurting, so it shouldn't be nothing new to you."
Starting a regular-season game WAS new, however, so Williams felt a little jumpy when he lined up for the first scrimmage play vs. Southern Miss. His bout with nerves was a brief one, though. He quickly settled into a rhythm.
"Right after the first play," he recalls. "After the first snap, I thought, 'I've been here before. I know how to play football, and it's time for me to go.'"
Williams was all "go" against the Golden Eagles, leading all Tennessee linemen with 4 solo tackles and 2 assists. It wasn't a dazzling debut but it was awfully solid.
"Dan's getting off blocks and making plays," defensive coordinator John Chavis notes. "That's what you've got to have in the interior line – not just guys that can take up a gap but guys who can get off blocks and make plays. His numbers show he's being productive."
Williams says he was "pleased for the most part" with his starting debut. Still, he says Chavis noted some mistakes.
"I kind of stepped out of the gap a few times," he recalls. "That will hurt us if I keep on doing that. I need more gap discipline, to shoot my hands more and to stop taking false steps. For the most part, though, I think I did all right."
Obviously, Chavis thinks so, too. Otherwise, Williams wouldn't be starting Saturday at Gainesville in what could be the Vols' biggest game of the year.
The task for Williams and Tennessee's other defenders is obvious ... throttle quarterback Tim Tebow, a powerful 6-3, 235-pounder who is equally adept running and throwing the football.
"He's a dual-threat quarterback," Williams says. "He can run the ball and throw passes. He makes a lot of plays for them."
Asked if Tennessee hopes to dissuade Tebow from running by hitting him hard at every opportunity, Williams shrugged.
"You've got to wrap up," he says. "He's a good runner, so you've got to wrap him up and hold on."