Man In The Middle

One of Rich Rodriguez's stated goals this spring was to get his fastest 11 defenders on the field. Doing so has resulted in moving one Mountaineer veteran to a different spot, and so far the early returns have been favorable for Reed Williams.

Williams spent most of last year rotating at the Sam (strongside) linebacker spot with fellow backer Bobby Hathaway. This spring, both Williams and Hathaway have moved to Mike (middle) linebacker in order to maximize the depth of the entire pool at that position. Though at first glance it looks as though Williams is just moving one spot inward, there is much more to it than just that.

"You're more of a leader at Mike linebacker," acknowledged Williams, a rising junior who hails from Hardy County. "You're making more calls, and getting people where they need to be. With that, there comes more responsibility that I didn't have as an outside linebacker. You're kind of like the quarterback of the defense. There are advantages and disadvantages. But I love a challenge."

Once the play starts, the Mike has differeing responsibilities from the Sam or Will (weakside) linebackers.

"Outside, you have to go up more and set the edge, trying to force things back," explained the former Moorefield Yellow Jacket. "At Mike, you have more of a free range to go make a play. You try to get on the tailbacks and get up through the seam to make a play."

The departure of senior starter Jay Henry left not only an empty spot in the middle of the defense, but also a gaping hole when it comes to defensive leadership. As Williams mentioned, there is plenty of natural leadership that is expected to come from the middle linebacker. By moving Williams to the middle, Rodriguez has also moved one of his most experienced linebackers into the spot that is naturally a defensive leader.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be a leader on defense," Reed said. "I grew up playing middle linebacker as a child and through high school. This is something I'm comfortable with, and hopefully it can continue on from here.

Having played the linebacker spot now occupied by freshman J.T. Thomas for two years, one might think that Williams would naturally find himself correcting the youngster at every turn. Thus far, that has not been a problem for Reed.

"Right now I'm trying to correct myself and fix the things that I've been doing wrong. If they have a question or something like that, I do my best to answer them. Other than that, I try to improve what we're doing."

Still, he admits that he's been impressed with the ability of Thomas and junior Johnny Holmes, who has moved up to Will linebacker from his spot at spur safety.

"Guys like that can just get out and run and make plays for you. Those guys are athletes. They have the speed and the ability. They're getting more and more physical each day. When they get it all together, they're going to be very talented and will really help our team out."

As for inspiration at his new position, he needn't look any farther than the nearest NFL Films show. A student of the game, Williams notes that he's always looked up to some of the great middle linebackers in the history of the game.

"You think of guys like Jack Lambert. Tough guys who don't want to put air in their helmet, but want to go out there and knock people around.

"I was a fullback in high school too Collisions: that's what I was all about."

As spring drills wind down, Williams will head into the summer with a new position both on and off the field. Over the past few weeks, the junior has shown that he's moer than ready to fill both roles for his team.

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