End of the story

It took him 12 months but one Tennessee football player finally has made the transition from 'backer to sacker.

The reference, of course, is to linebacker-turned-defensive end Gerald Williams. The 6-4, 248-pounder from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., was virtually unblockable in Saturday's preseason scrimmage, storming into the backfield to record two sacks and four hurries.

The obvious question: What has enabled him to become such a pass-rushing fiend?

"Long arms and speed," he replied, smiling.

Williams also exhibits a relentless nature in his pursuit of quarterbacks.

"He's everywhere again," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "I think that's probably six straight practices where he's made two or three significant plays each practice.

"I love the story of Gerald. Here's a guy who's buried on the depth chart early on, and probably not a lot of people had hope for him. But we just kept pushing him and he had a great off-season. The No. 1 theme in the program is competing, and he did that. He didn't give up, worked hard and he's starting for us right now."

Williams had to overcome a lot to get where he is today, including his own stubbornness. After joining the Vols from City College of San Francisco last fall, he insisted on playing linebacker. He hardly saw the field in 2008 until he made a midseason move to end, yet he insisted on opening spring practice of '09 back at linebacker.

Returned to end a week into spring drills, Williams pouted. Unmotivated and unhappy, he finished the spring No. 3 on the depth chart at left end behind fellow junior Ben Martin and redshirt freshman Willie Bohannon.

During the summer, however, Williams realized he could be an exceptional defensive end if he'd stop being so mule-headed.

"It was pretty tough," he recalled, "but it was the best move for the team and for me. I'm adjusted to it now."

Now that he no longer fancies himself a linebacker, he has come to embrace his role as a pass-rush specialist.

"I've embraced it pretty hard," he said. "That looks like where my best future is going to be at, so I'm just going to roll with it."

The fact that pass-rushing defensive ends tend to be early picks and instant millionaires when the NFL Draft comes around each April is making Williams' switch to end a lot more tolerable.

"That makes it a whole lot easier, especially talking big bucks," he said, hastily adding: "But I'm not really focused on that right now. I'm just going to stay with this college ball and just roll with defensive end, make the best out of it."

He's rolling, all right. Williams has absolutely terrorized Vol quarterbacks in practice the past 10 days or so. The sudden surge in his level of play, he says, is easily explained.

"Just getting to learn the defense, getting a real feel for the defense and coming off the ball hard every down," he said. "I've been watching film of guys in the NFL, (working on) staying low and using my hands."

As the 2009 season approaches, Williams is relieved to be playing just one position, even if it's end instead of linebacker. Learning one set of assignments is a lot simpler than learning two.

"It's very easy," he said. "You're concentrating on one position, not having to wonder about going back and forth. It feels real comfortable, and that's where I'm at."

So, here's the ultimate irony: In Monte Kiffin's scheme, Vol defensive ends occasionally play upright and drop into pass coverage ... essentially filling a linebacker role.

"Yeah," Williams conceded. "The defensive package we're in, certain times I'll be able to drop some."

Most of the time, though, he'll be asked to drop quarterbacks instead of drop into coverage. He and fellow junior Chris Walker just might give Tennessee the finest pair of pass-rushing ends in the SEC.

"All of the ends - the whole D-line - we all pass rush pretty well," Williams said. "Our thing is attack, attack, attack, attack. With Chris and Ben Martin and Willie Bo (Bohannon), we're going to be all out."


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