PITTSFORD – Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change for the better in star defensive end Mario Williams.
“This is the happiest I’ve seen him,” Marrone said of Williams. “He’s energetic. He’s running around. He looks great, and he’s having fun. I couldn’t be more excited of where he is.”
That’s good news for the Bills, and bad news for the rest of the NFL.
“He’s flying around, taking all the reps,” Marrone said. “It’s exciting because he’s a dominant-type player in this league. I know when I played against him … you’ve got to know where he is. He’s a matchup problem.”
Williams agreed with his coach’s assessment regarding his mental outlook.
“I’m just really excited to be back. You know, I think outside of football there’s so much stuff going on, and it’s almost like a … safe haven,” he said. “Just get back here and it’s all football. Kind of serenity, I guess.”
Williams appears to have found his happy place after a sometimes tumultuous first two years with the Bills. While his on-the-field play has mostly lived up to what the team hoped for when it signed him to a contract worth up to $96 million in 2012, Williams made reference to the off-the-field issues he’s gone through.
Most notably, there was a lawsuit filed by his ex-fiancée regarding ownership of a $785,000 engagement ring. Williams and the woman announced early this year that a joint confidential settlement had been reached in the case.
There is also the matter of health. Williams entered camp in 2013 with a mysterious foot injury later found out to be plantar fasciitis. While the injury did not keep him out of any regular-season games, it became a prominent storyline last summer.
While Williams cautioned Monday that NFL players are never truly 100 percent, he looks to be in terrific shape and hasn’t been limited in the Bills’ first two training camp practices at St. John Fisher College.
Williams and the rest of the Bills’ pass rushers had a banner day Monday, racking up at least 10 would-be sacks.
“Really we’re not even doing much up front,” he said. “We don’t have pads on, so we’re doing certain things as far as a few blitzes here and there, but most of the time it’s just front four.”
Williams attributed that to new defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and assistant defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich putting players in the right spots.
“Really they’re just showing us how we can play off one another across the board as opposed to just spotlighting one guy,” he said.
The switch from Mike Pettine to Jim Schwartz at defensive coordinator has not been much of an adjustment, either.
“It’s fine with me,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, attack, attack, attack and with his mentality, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to be able to cover guys and then get after the quarterback.”
One of the traits of Pettine’s defense in 2013 was shifting players around, so that the opposing offense would have to adjust to where they were rushing from. Schwartz addressed that possibility regarding Williams during spring practice.
“The offense knows what number he wears,” Schwartz said. “He’s so damn big and he’s such an explosive player, even if you move him, they’re still going to account for him.”
“There’s a fine line there. You want to be able to be creative, move him around a little bit, but then there’s also something to be said for him being comfortable in one position, being able to create a matchup against an offensive lineman.
“It’s hard to work an offensive lineman, meaning set up your speed-to-power move, or set up a spin move, if you’re not matched up against that guy a lot. So we’ll balance that. It’s a good situation as a coach that you have a player that’s multidimensional enough that you can move around, you can stand up, you can drop him in coverage – even though we’re probably not going to drop him a whole lot. The quarterback’s happy when he’s dropping in coverage. He’s going to get a lot of attention.”
Williams said he doesn’t have a preference on moving around the line or playing his usual spot at left defensive end.
“We’re going to know tendencies prior to the game,” Williams said, “so it’s no problem for me.”
Williams’ 13 sacks last season led a Buffalo defense that racked up 57 total, second most in the NFL. He feels the transition to Schwartz’s scheme is going well, even though it’s early.
“We’re grasping it,” he said. “There’s still some hiccups, but that’s going to happen in general. … We feel very comfortable with it, it’s just a matter of us understanding how it goes against certain things that we see, and then knowing what we can take advantage of and capitalize on.”