TEMPE, Ariz. — With four months distance to sharpen his perspective, Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams likens his rookie NFL season to a baby learning how to walk.
“Me switching to DB basically put a reset on me as a football player,” he said Tuesday after the first day of organized team activities at the team’s Tempe practice facility. “Me switching positions is almost like taking a guy who’s never played football before and telling him to go get it. That’s how I felt last year and my senior year at [Texas] A&M when I switched. I just woke up, got out of bed one day and it was, ‘go play cornerback.'”
Predictably, things didn’t go smoothly for Williams, who started the first two games before Marcus Cooper replaced him for all but one of the team’s remaining 13 games. Williams culled some valuable lessons from that experience.
“That football is not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle, especially at the DB position,” he said. “You just can’t turn it on when it’s time to practice. It has to be on all year if you want to be an elite guy. That’s what I’m trying to be so for me it’s football 24/7. It’s watching film, working on my technique, whatever it might be.”
The Cardinals surprised some analysts when they did not select a cornerback on the first two days of the 2017 NFL Draft. The preliminary read is that they feel confident enough in Williams and a healthy Justin Bethel to let those two compete for the starting job opposite Patrick Peterson.
“I have all the confidence in the world because he has all the ability in the world,” coach Bruce Arians said of Williams. “It’s just a matter of maturity and learning how to play defense, having been an offensive player for so long. He’ll tackle. He’ll compete. I thought he played extremely well those last couple ball games.”
Rookie sixth-round pick Rudy Ford (Auburn) is still transitioning from safety and rookie free-agent signings like Wisconsin’s Sojourn Shelton face a steep learning curve, but if Williams or Bethel can rise to the occasion, the Cardinals won’t be forced to make a deal as they did last September when they traded a conditional seventh-round pick for Cooper.
“That’s a good feeling to have, knowing the coaches have put their faith in you and they’re beginning to trust you,” Williams said of the opportunity ahead. “That’s all it is in this business, man. When coaches trust you, good things happen. When coaches don’t trust you, other things happen.”
To maintain his coaches’ trust, Williams has maintained a maniacal offseason schedule with workouts in the morning and afternoon, film study every evening and a strict diet that speeds his recovery and maintains mental focus despite physical fatigue.
“Typical day for me: I get a workout in in the morning, around the evening I get another workout in. And when I say workout I mean as far as DB stuff: back pedaling, press, and then the last thing I end with is film and that is every day,” he said. “Technique is vital. Without technique you won’t be a good DB. I wasn’t used to watching film, doing something every day, so it was a big change for me.”
Williams said he has had to change his entire mindset, going from running back to defensive back.
“At running back, you depend on a lot of guys; your O-line and quarterback. With DB, it’s really you,” he said. “Some of the stuff I have to do as a DB I never did as a running back. Example: running backwards. Being on an island by yourself with a guy that is just as capable as you are and going to battle for four quarters, it’s a whole new mental make-up, it’s a whole new physical thing. Like I said, it’s a whole reset for me.”
Williams said he is undaunted by the prospects of starting opposite Peterson.
“All that means is an opportunity to make plays and an opportunity to step up to his level,” he said. “The more targets, the more production. That’s how I look at it.”
With a year of experience, a greater understanding of the position and a better sense of the expectations of this particular defense, Williams feels better prepared for the 2017 season.
“That’s any player when you come into your second year,” he said. “You know what to expect and stuff is not flying around and you’re more confident with yourself and your technique. That’s how I feel right now.
“Last year was more of, ‘I hope I do.’ Now, this year, it’s ‘I’m gonna do.'”
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