When Jairus Byrd left the Buffalo Bills just a few days into the free agent period last March, his absence left a void that the team said numerous times they were going to fill internally.
With Aaron Williams already in the fold, they decided to move him to free safety and create a competition primarily between two former fourth-round picks to be the starting strong safety. Only into his second year, Duke Williams feels like he’s ready to fulfill easy he’s been aiming to do since leaving Nevada.
“Certainly there's a big void to be filled with Byrd gone. We have guys that can fill in, and you know, we're competing right now. It's a great opportunity for me to establish myself as a starter,” he said. “I’m ready, I've been through it already. The first year I got my feet wet and now I'm ready to take over.”
Williams will be in a direct competition with 2011 fourth-round selection Da’Norris Searcy. The latter has more playing experience, but the former may have more potential. Either way, the two know what’s on the line.
“I love the game, he loves the game. We're real good friends, but you know, somebody's job is on the line,” Williams remarked. “So, we're just having fun with it.”
It wasn’t easy for the second-year safety from Nevada when he first got to Buffalo. He’s the first to admit that he struggled to swim to the surface with all the information being thrown at him in his rookie season.
Former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his complex scheme made Williams feel overwhelmed at times as a rookie. Whether it was the number of calls in the playbook or all the adjustments his safeties had to make, the former fourth-round pick just couldn’t get the grasp early on.
Later on in the year though, it clicked for Williams. He finally found his footing and the game started to slow down for him. The adversity early on in his career made him thankful for the player he is now.
“Actually, coming into this year now I am,” Williams admitted. “When I first came in here, I was just running around here like a chicken with my head cut off. And now, it's kind of like I'm broken in now, so I'm ready for anything.”
The safety cites both Byrd and former Bills player Jim Leonhard as two veterans that really took him under their wing and trained him on how to be a professional. Whether it was through studying the playbook, doing extra work on the field after practice or taking proper care of his body, Williams took his cues from a duo that have each found success as starters in the NFL.
The change wasn’t seen only by those two and by Williams himself, but by the coaching staff, and most notably defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.
“I'm a completely different person from when I first stepped foot here in Buffalo,” he said. “The coaches saw that and [Henderson] just said, 'Continue to get better, continue to improve on your skills and improve off the field. Get inside your playbook more, understand the game, learn what concepts we're playing and learn the game. Actually get inside the playbook and make the calls, make your adjustments. Be a safety and be the quarterback of the defense.' That's gonna take me to the next level.”
With so little time on the field on defense in 2013, it was essentially a redshirt season for Williams. Fans weren’t able to get accustomed to what type of player he is and how he approaches the game.
He took the chance to describe himself as a player.
“I'm a playmaker. I'm an aggressive player, all-around. I can play free, the strong, I can match up at the nickel position,” Williams said. “I’m just a player that brings a lot of energy and brings a spark to the defense every single down. If you see 27 out there, that's what he's gonna be doing.”
If he does all the things on the field at training camp that he believes he can do, there might be another Williams to add to the starting defensive secondary.