Birthday boy

One Tennessee football player is hoping to combine a coming-out party and a birthday party this Saturday by feasting on quarterback, as well as cake.

That would be Gerald Williams, the much-heralded but rarely seen transfer from City College of San Francisco. The 6-4, 240-pounder sat out Game 1 at UCLA due to delays in getting academically cleared, then played sparingly in Game 2 vs. UAB. Switched from linebacker to defensive end one week ago, he did not play in Game 3 vs. Florida because of his unfamiliarity with his new position.

If all goes according to plan, however, Williams will get a chance to celebrate his 22nd birthday AND his first significant action as a Vol when the Big Orange visits No. 15 Auburn this Saturday at 2:30 CST.

"We're trying to get him ready to play," defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said today. "Last week was tough because I only got him on Tuesday, and to get him in the ballgame with the number of calls we were trying to make was tough.

"Gerald is picking things up quickly and, hopefully, we'll be able to play him a little bit this week. We'll see how his practice week goes. He'll get more and more snaps as time goes on, obviously."

Since Williams played linebacker in high school, prep school and junior college, he will need time to adjust to the demands of defensive end.

"I don't think Gerald had played end before this," Caldwell said. "He had rushed some off the edge (as an outside linebacker) but he'd always been standing up. He hadn't had his hands on the ground."

In addition to good size and strength, Williams has the attribute that often separates the good pass rushers from the great ones – speed off the edge. Like former Vol ends Chuck Smith, Leonard Little and Shaun Ellis, he can get to the quarterback in a big hurry.

"What we like about Gerald is his speed," Caldwell noted, "but Gerald has the size also. He's got the full package. It's a matter of him buying into it as much as anything."

So far, Williams seems to be "buying into it" fairly well.

"Gerald just wants to do whatever he can to help the football team and help us win," Caldwell said. "He's got a great attitude about it, and I think he can be a real asset. It just takes a little bit of time.

"Everybody thinks it's easy (to rush the passer) – you just put your hand on the ground and run – but it's a different world when those 350-pound offensive tackles are coming out and hitting you in the face."

Williams is the latest in a long line of linebackers Tennessee has converted into defensive ends. The list includes Horace Morris, Ben Talley, Steve White, the afore-mentioned Leonard Little, DeAngelo Lloyd, Bernard Jackson, Omari Hand, Parys Haralson, Karlton Neal, Antonio Reynolds, plus 2008 starter Robert Ayers and 2008 backup Chris Walker.

As Caldwell explained: "Both Robert Ayers and Chris Walker realize "This is the best place for me and for the football team," so they've listened and learned."

Now Tennessee is counting on Gerald Williams to do the same. If he does, he has the potential to be an All-SEC player.

"He's got the speed and the size," Caldwell said, "so that excites us."


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