Senior Spotlight: LB Jafar Williams

Jafar Williams cracked the two-deeps as a true freshman with Jim Lambright's defense back in 1998. He was undersized at 6-0 200, but played with the heart of a lion and had sub 4.5 speed. As he bulked up he became a stalwart on the Husky stopping unit, earning the starting role as a sophomore at outside linebacker.

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He and Anthony Kelley traded off at the "SAM", or strongside outside linebacker position, for the next two seasons. In an attempt to get both he and Kelly onto the field at the same time, Williams was tried at inside linebacker during his junior season for the first two games. However, as Derrell Daniels solidified his role, Williams was moved back to SAM and finished up there for the last nine games, including the Rose Bowl.

Williams, who had played safety in high school, absorbed a terrible physical beating on his body. He was so dinged up that he never fully recovered from the 2000 season and instead of spending his final season as a Husky at something less than 100%, he and coach Neuheisel decided that it would be best to spend last season getting healthy. He had not used a redshirt season up to that point, so he spent last year on the scout team at inside linebacker.

After surgeries to his right ankle and left shoulder, he is now at full strength and ready to leave Washington with a loud bang, as opposed to a quiet limp.

"It feels great to be out here and contribute. I'm happy," said Williams after practice on Monday.

"He's doing really well, and having a great spring," said Neuheisel of Williams. "It's fun to have him back and he's excited to be back. He feels good and I think a year off to watch things was good for him. Now I'm excited to watch his senior year."

The senior from the Bay Area finds himself back to where he was as a sophomore, starting at the strongside outside linebacker, or "SAM" position. It's a position he knows well, and carries a lot of responsibilities with it.

"You want to keep containment, above all. Especially on sweeps and stretch plays. Power plays that run off tackle, you want to stretch it to the sidelines so our inside linebackers and safeties can get to the football," said Williams.

SAM also covers receivers a great deal. "Basically, you are a strong safety that lines up on the line of scrimmage. You cover a lot of curls, the flat, and if the offense lines up in ‘trips" (three wide outs on the same side of the football), or twins (two wide outs on the same side), I walk out to cover them. Just like a safety, really. There are some calls where I cover the tight end one on one, and others where I have responsibility for the running back."

Having recovered from two nagging injuries, Williams was having a very good off-season until he suffered a slight setback. "I ran a 4.59 in the 40," said Williams with a frown. "We had winter workouts and I sprained my ankle that I had surgery on. The scar tissue swelled up pretty bad so I had to take a couple of weeks off. I ran my 40 without working out beforehand, so I'm a little disappointed. It still was a decent time."

Now he's regained his speed and should save a tenth off of that time.

At 6-0 223, Williams is at a good size. He's big enough to where he can make tackles on bigger ball carriers and tight ends, but he is still quick. "I'm at a good size, but I may try to trim my body fat a little more before the fall," said Williams.

He and fellow senior-to-be Ben Mahdavi are two of only three seniors projected to be in the starting lineup (DE Kai Ellis is the third). Williams feels a certain responsibility comes with that. "I'm a veteran and I've got a lot I can teach the younger guys. We have a lot to work on before fall, particularly our pass defense. We are young, especially on our defensive line. We are young everywhere except in our linebacking corps and I feel we have a great shot to lead this team to great places."

Depth at SAM is very thin, so much so that safety Ty Eriks will be moved there. "Ty just moved over and Anthony Kelley is working on getting his year back, so there are some people that can come and help at the SAM linebacker. But I don't care if anyone is backing me up, I'll stay in all day long if that's what it takes," said Williams.

Starting defensive end Terry Johnson can't say enough things about having Williams back. "Getting Jafar this year is HUGE! Just huge," said Johnson after practice yesterday. "He's going to be big time for us this year."

Is Williams ready for his final campaign at Washington? You could say that. "I'm excited to be back. YES," he added with a smile.

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