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Quacking the Roster: #15 DB Bennett Williams

A film study preview of Oregon’s future starters

Illinois v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Three of the ten secondary players Oregon most recently fielded in the Rose Bowl have chosen to opt out of the 2020 season, while the other seven all return to the program. Here’s a visualization with returners in green and opt-outs in yellow:

After reviewing the available college film of every defensive back on Oregon’s updated 2020 roster, I believe one of the spots on the two-deep will go to safety transfer #15 DB B. Williams, a redshirt junior. (That’s his current jersey number at Oregon, though at both his previous college stops and in all videos in this article he wore #4.)

In a previous article in this series I reviewed #2 CB Wright and #12 CB James. Next week, I’ll look at the more limited college film we have on two of Oregon’s backup safeties, #10 DB Stephens and #19 DB Hill, plus the recent transfer from Boise St, #32 DB Happle.

As part of the 2017 recruiting class, Williams was an unheralded recruit (.8079) who signed with Illinois. He became a starter at the Big Ten team right away, and was named a freshman All-American after accumulating 64 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs, and 1 forced fumble.

Williams served a three-game suspension to start 2018, then played for a half against Penn St but left the game with a hamstring injury. Shortly afterwards he contritely announced that he’d been dismissed from the team for violation of team rules. I’m unable to find any reporting on what these off-field issues were, and can only speculate due to the circumstances — a new head coach taking over a poorly performing team, no legal matters, and no leaks to the media — that it was probably more about the coach wanting to show discipline. Williams transferred to the College of San Mateo, a Juco powerhouse nearby his hometown of Mountain View, CA, and redshirted the rest of the 2018 season.

In 2019, Williams was a starting safety as part of CSM’s 12-0 season which won the NorCal title, then was upset in the national championship game by #2 Riverside. (Interestingly for a player whose journey is somewhat reminiscent of a Last Chance U star himself, CSM’s season included a win over #14 Laney College in a game seen on that show’s final season.) In San Mateo, Williams added another 46 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, and 2 forced fumbles to his career stat line. As a 2020 Juco transfer prospect, he had become a borderline 4-star (.8892) in the 24/7 composite, a huge leap in the right direction.

Let’s start the film review with the fun stuff: all five of those career interceptions. I think the field awareness, preparation, and athleticism here speak for themselves:

(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any video to watch in ¼ or ½ speed)

The defensive structures that Williams played in at Illinois and CSM were somewhat different (the latter is closer to Oregon DC Avalos’ system), and Williams was asked to play safety in a number of different spots on the field over the course of both seasons. Pass coverage as a safety tends to emphasize different skills compared to a cornerback, which is best seen in the shallow field - safeties here have to first and foremost be able to diagnose the play quickly and transition between rush, screen, and downfield pass defense immediately. Williams put uniformly excellent examples of each on film:

  1. :00 - Last week when looking at OLB film I discussed the importance of playing with leverage - if you maintain outside leverage on a block, then the only way a blocker can keep you from getting to a ballcarrier bouncing to the sideline is by holding. Here Williams starts inside the tight end but plays it smart by getting outside, and is rewarded with a flag that not even Pac-12 refs could miss.
  2. :18 - Readers of my Rose Bowl preview last year will recall that Wisconsin likes to crowd the line to show run, then explode out of it with tight end passing options. Williams does a great job here in quick recognition and reaction of the crossing H-back to maintain good coverage towards the bottom of the screen, forcing the ball elsewhere.
  3. :26 - This rollout from a run look into a flood passing concept is common in the Pac-12 because it stresses the defense. Williams handles it well by transitioning from outside run defense to tight end coverage, taking away the checkdown and forcing the QB to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
  4. :35 - The offense snaps the ball quickly, before the defense is completely set. They still do a nice job of showing then backing out of the blitz and handing off assignments in zone coverage. Williams doesn’t panic and trusts the boundary corner to take the deep third while he gets to the flat. The QB has to go to his last option, which Williams shoves out for a minimal gain.

Deep safeties wind up with very different responsibilities depending on field position - between the 20s they have to cover long passes and come down on runs and short plays, while in the redzone where the field compresses they have to get through blocks to keep the offense out. Williams has some great tape at both sets:

  1. :00 - This pitch out briefly has Williams jumping on inside run, but he quickly recovers outside leverage, fights the tight end the entire way to get the sideline, and stops the future two-time Doak Walker winner cold.
  2. :20 - The receiver here (who signed with the Giants in 2020) starts on the other side of the formation and so Williams has to track him the whole way, then keep him out after the completion despite the ballcarrier’s momentum. Williams prevailed after official review.
  3. :31 - This play is what I have on my tally sheet the most often for Williams: flying out of the defensive backfield to make the tackle at a speed that makes everyone else look like they’re in molasses.
  4. :40 - This might not look like much but it is perfectly done - Williams takes exactly the right angle to intersect the receiver’s path to the ball and keeps him from making an attempt on it without contact. By maintaining downfield position, he prevents the receiver from crashing into him and drawing a pass interference flag.

Other than reading the play and getting into the right position to make or help with the tackle (at which Williams is superb, I’ve never seen him fooled), the most important skill for a safety in run support is actually bringing down the back. Since running backs tend to be the most compact and pound-for-pound powerful players on the field, that requires proper technique and a lot of force and leg drive from a longer and leaner safety. Williams certainly shows all those things; however, my biggest criticism from the two years of tape I have is that he doesn’t always wrap up well and can let the back get through him on occasion.

Early in his true freshman season that was mostly in the form of flying in at the back’s ankles and getting stepped over - the USF game week 3 has a number of these; I think he got an earful about it and they dropped off dramatically afterwards, so I haven’t included clips of any because they’re not representative. In the rest of his film I tallied wrapping up on about 80% of his tackles of running backs. What replaced the low tackles on the remaining 20% was the “big hit” style I see from a lot of DBs, where he puts his shoulder into the back at full speed to completely arrest his progress. This mostly works, since Williams brings a lot of momentum into those hits, but it backfired a few times and once resulted in a targeting ejection.

Here’s a representative sample of Williams’ tackling in run support:

  1. :00 - Give the credit to the DT for blowing up the guard and disrupting the H-back coming from the backside, but Williams (lined up at the bottom of the screen on the playside) has to get through the fullback, stay outside and keep his balance, and wrap up.
  2. :07 - The pulling guard has a cleaner shot at Williams as the contain player here, but he dodges the block and wraps up the stumbling back nicely, then lets him go to avoid the unnecessary roughness flag.
  3. :15 - The offensive line has opened a nice hole and cleared out the second level so this has to be stopped by Williams or it’ll go big. This is textbook technique on the tackle: gets low, wraps up at the waist, drives with his legs to stop him completely. Watch this on ¼ speed - the acceleration to close the final 4 yards is astonishing.
  4. :22 - It’s an impressive hit - all that momentum stops the ballcarrier instantly. But without wrapping up, this is one that gets away by keeping his balance and bouncing off.

I saw Williams play in the box quite a bit in different defensive structures, as part of the pass rush, in unusual blitz packages, or as run support. This is where Williams grades out the highest on my tally sheet, when he can lock onto the ball and put his full speed and power into the hit:

  1. :00 - Williams is slow-walking at the snap, then explodes as part of this overload blitz through the A-gap. The QB panics under the swift pressure. Check out Williams throwing a block on the QB again at the end of the return.
  2. :11 - After correctly identifying the blocking scheme pre-snap (he’s pointing to the H-back who’s going to come inside the stunt), Williams speeds through this blitz to help force a bad throw.
  3. :40 - Williams is lined up like a blitzer then backs out. He’s clearly eyeing the QB the whole way though, because as soon as he starts to run Williams comes down hard for the sack.
  4. :49 - At linebacker depth here in the redzone on this 4th-down wildcat play in a do-or-die situation for the opponent, Williams tracks the ballcarrier the whole way, cuts through traffic and makes a jarring stop.

Williams’ versatility on the field isn’t just valuable as a safety, but I believe it means he could effectively play any of the three safety roles in DC Avalos’ scheme - nickel, field, or boundary. I feel confident that he’ll win a starting job or at least a heavily rotated one (possibly like McKinley and Breeze being “-OR-” boundary safeties on last year’s organizational chart). I suspect that it’s not a matter of whether he’ll be in the lineup, but rather where - the decision of which spot he’ll fill will probably depend more on how the rest of the room shakes out.

Previous entries in this series: