Williams a key cog in Baltimore defensive machine

OWINGS MILLS -- In the specialized world of football, the Baltimore Ravens are banking significant dividends from their investment in a dime. That would be Chad Williams, the stocky reserve safety who acts as the Ravens' dime back. "He is a tremendous asset to us," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of the 5-foot-9, 207-pound defensive back drafted in the sixth round a year ago out of Southern Mississippi.

"If he was 20 pounds heavier, he would be an all-world linebacker. He has excellent football skills." 

Williams' value to the football team was demonstrated at least twice during a 35-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns that granted Baltimore (9-6) a one-game advantage in the AFC North heading into Sunday's regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even before his 52-yard interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Williams literally made an impact. Diagnosing that Browns running back Jamel White was the safety valve for Tim Couch, Williams broke crisply on a casually-thrown swing pass in the first half. White wasn't able to protect himself as Couch hung the ball up too high. That left him totally vulnerable to a noisy collision from Williams that qualifies as one of, if not the fiercest hits this fall from a Raven. "I think that kind of demoralized them a little," Williams said. "You dream about a shot like that." 

The tackle left White woozy and energized Baltimore. Williams took a few steps away from the fallen White before allowing himself a moment of jubilation. "There wasn't much of a celebration for Chad," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "To have the presence of mind to step away so there was no taunting, and, to his sideline, kind of give that wink and a nod, that's Chad Williams. That was a pace-setter for us." 

Williams wasn't done, though. In the fourth quarter with Baltimore holding a 21-0 advantage, Williams forecasted Couch's intentions and broke in front of an errant throw for an interception. He actually fell down during the return, but was able to scramble back to his feet and follow cornerback Gary Baxter's interference into the end zone for his second career touchdown. "I was looking at Couch the whole time," Williams said. "Baxter did a great job of cutting the guy off. The ball just came in my hands. I got it, saw the end zone, but I saw a couple of Browns in front of me. "I tripped and fell and I think that was the best thing that happened to me because they gave up on the play." 

During his rookie season, Williams tied for the team lead with three interceptions and 17 special-teams tackles. Williams quickly evolved into a key figure in the defense's substitution patterns. "When Phil Savage and Ozzie Newsome thought about drafting him, they thought he could have a unique role in the sub package and, in time, maybe work in as a full-time safety," Nolan said. "He has shown every indication that is who he will be." Williams was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week last year after returning Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna interception 98 yards to tie a franchise record.. He also blocked a punt that Ron Johnson returned for a score in that December win. 

Against the Houston Texans, Williams preserved a win with a late interception of top overall pick David Carr. When Williams delivered his shot on White on Sunday, Nolan quipped that he initially thought it was All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis that struck the Browns runner. "Chad kick-started us with that big hit," Nolan said. "He knew he had the chance to take that knockout shot because he was confident people were around him. He was able to turn it loose, and he certainly did." 

This season, Williams has 29 tackles, six pass deflections ane one forced fumble. He had been fairly quiet until Sunday's game, though. Against the Steelers, the Alabama native will often be matched opposite imposing tight end Jay Riemersma. Riemersma caught a touchdown during the teams' first meeting this season and will hold an advantage of eight inches and 47 pounds over Williams. Nolan isn't concerned. "Height can be an issue on the jump ball against a tall tight end in Jay Riemersma, but Chad is typically outmatched from a height standpoint," Nolan said. "He uses very good leverage and body control. He has the feet of a corner. He just doesn't have a corner's speed. "He's skilled enough to be a factor in the box for us and an asset in the deep zone, too. We have a lot of confidence in Chad." 

NOTE: During the Ravens' ceremony Sunday night to induct outgoing owner Art Modell into the team's Ring of Honor, Modell will be introduced by ESPN analyst Paul Maguire during the first seven minutes of halftime. Modell will join former running back Earnest Byner, the team's director of player development and assistant running backs coach, along with the entire Super Bowl championship team, the late Johnny Unitas and other Baltimore Colts' Hall of Famers. 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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