Time to Shine: A Q&A With Cowboys’ ILB Jason Williams
As an NFL rookie and the Cowboys’ first draft pick last season, inside linebacker Jason Williams was desperate to hit the field in ’09. After running a ridiculous 4.49 forty-yard dash and recording a 39” vertical leap at his Pro Day, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding Williams’ addition to the team. Fans and coaches alike were eager to see how Williams would translate his incredible physical tools to the field in his rookie season, but unfortunately it did not happen after Williams got injured and was only able to rack up three tackles.
Williams was justifiably disappointed about the situation. Every rookie wants to prove they belong in the NFL, but Williams never got that opportunity.
Perhaps, though, his injury was a blessing in disguise. Taking practice reps and getting playing time is very important, but just as vital to a player’s growth is mastering the mental aspect of the game.
Williams was able to sit back and learn from two of the most cerebral veterans on the team, Bradie James and Keith Brooking. The veteran linebackers not only displayed how to play the game, but also how to lead a team. We all saw how important the addition of Keith Brooking was to the mentality of the Cowboys, and Williams was able to soak everything in and really learn what he needs to accomplish to eventually become the heart of the defense.
This season, Williams is out to silence his doubters and take a gigantic leap forward. We recently spoke with Jason to discuss the upcoming season and learn a little more about the second-year player.
Q: How is your offseason going? When do you plan on starting offseason workouts, and what sorts of things will you be doing?
A: My offseason has been going really well so far. It’s my first time having time off in over a year so the first thing I did was take a mini vacation. I plan to start my workouts March 1st and I want to focus on both getting back down to 235 pounds and improving my lateral quickness.
Q: How frustrating was it to get injured last season? Do you think you gained a lot of experience in the mental aspect of the game while you were unable to perform physically?
A: It was really frustrating, mainly because I’ve never even missed a game due to injury, let alone four games.
Yes, I believe I grew a lot mentally. I took more of an outside perspective of the game. I would be in practice watching the veterans go through certain calls and not being out there actually kind of helped me see what it is that they were seeing. That experience aided me on the field once I returned.
Q: How did being able to watch Bradie James and Keith Brooking in particular help you during your rookie season?
A: Being behind those guys taught me what being a linebacker and a real leader is all about. I learned more just watching those guys than I did my whole college career.
Q: You were a quarterback in high school. What do you miss most about playing the position, and what aspect of switching to linebacker are you happiest about?
A: The thing I miss the most about quarterback is the control and the pressure. When you’re the quarterback, you are either the hero or the one that takes the blame, and I loved being in that position. No matter what happened everything was on me.
I guess the thing I like most about being a linebacker is now I’m in a position to punish opposing quarterbacks and running backs after being on the offensive side of the ball for so long.
Q: You surprisingly didn’t get invited to the Combine. Was this disappointing to you, and have you used the snub as motivation?
A: Yes, I was disappointed after not being invited to the Combine and it did motivate me to perform well. I don’t use that as motivation anymore, though, because even though I didn’t get invited I still got to where I wanted to be. Now I just have to prove I belong.
Q: At 241 pounds, you ran a 4.49 at your Pro Day, while also recording a 39” vertical leap. Were these personal bests for you? How much of an advantage is it for you to have such incredible speed at linebacker?
A: Actually neither was a personal best of mine. My best vertical was 42″ and I’m sure I could have gotten that again if I would have had another jump at my Pro Day. Also, I was clocked at 4.42 at the Northwestern Combine, but the majority of scouts clocked me around 4.40.
I feel my speed is a great advantage because it makes me harder to block in space. I also use my speed to make up for any false steps I may take.
Q: How happy were you to be drafted by the Cowboys and how do you like Dallas?
A: I was ecstatic when I got the call from Jerry Jones. I don’t cry much but I definitely broke down that day. I love the city of Dallas. By me being from a big city like Chicago, it’s not too much of a difference.
Q: You lost your father when you were in eight grade. Do you feel like you are playing for your dad each time you take the field? Do you honor him in any way?
A: I do feel I’m playing in my father’s honor when I’m out there, but being the man he was, he would rather I play for myself instead of for him. But I do say a prayer to him before every game and I believe he’s with me whenever I step on the field.
Q: What do you think of players using Twitter and do you feel it gives you a more direct way to touch base with your fans than going through the media?
A: I feel Twitter is a good way for players to interact with their fans. The media frequently portrays players the way they want them to be seen, but Twitter gives us a chance to defend ourselves against anything that might have been taken the wrong way.
Q: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
A: The only thing I can say I do consistently is a sort of walk. I’ll pace back from about the 40-yard line to the 20 yard-line, just thinking about everything I could see out there. In college I had the same ritual and I’d also do a back flip before every game to get everyone going.
Q: Are you going to bring the back flip to the NFL?
A: Only when I become a starter.
Q: What sorts of things do you enjoy other than playing football?
A: Well, I’m in love with my Xbox (laughs). I can play video games all day. If I have to get out of the house, I’m a pretty good bowler and not bad on the pool table. I also practice a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira.
Q: Do you feel Capoeira has helped you on the field?
A: It has definitely helped my flexibility, but I cannot say for sure if it has helped me in football because I have only been doing it for a few years.
Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?
A: Well now that I have a year under my belt and I am a year wiser, I plan to be a bigger part of both our special teams and defense. I want to see a lot more of the field. It’s my time to step up.
Q: You will likely play special teams for the Cowboys in 2010. Have you ever played on special teams, and how do you feel about doing so?
A: I played special teams all throughout college and have no problem doing it. I love special teams.
Q: What is one thing you want all of your fans to know about you?
A: I want all of my fans to know that I am going to do everything I can to be the best player than I can possibly be.
Williams is doing everything possible to get on the field in 2010. While it was disappointing to not see his talent on display last season, the knowledge Jason was able to garner from the veterans may be just the blessing in disguise needed for Dallas fans to begin seeing back flips performed on the Cowboys Stadium turf, and perhaps sooner rather than later.
You can follow Jason Williams on Twitter: @TheRealJWill58