Proving Ground: Brandon Williams

Second in a 10-part series focusing on young non-starters who have a lot to prove during training camp (series):

Brandon Williams’ burst is back.

That was the encouraging word coming from Valley Ranch in the spring after the ex-Texas Tech pass rusher missed all of his rookie season due to a knee injury.

The Cowboys’ coaching staff saw enough from Williams during training camp last season to believe that he had potential to contribute as a situational pass rusher. They were intrigued by the way Williams, who led the Big 12 in sacks as a junior before declaring for the draft, exploded off the ball and had a knack for getting to the quarterback.

Then Williams, a defensive end in college who is making the transition to outside linebacker, spent the season on injured reserve after he tore up his knee while covering a punt during a preseason game.

It’s unlikely that Williams will ever emerge as a starter for the Cowboys. The Cowboys got a long-term deal done with perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware last season, and they envision Anthony Spencer wreaking havoc on the other side for the foreseeable future.

But depth behind the dominant duo is a concern. The ideal situation would be for Williams or fellow 2009 fourth-rounder Victor Butler to give the coaches enough confidence to use them in pass-rushing situations for about 10 plays per game, helping keep Ware and Spencer fresh late in games and down the stretch of the season. Butler didn’t seize the opportunity as a rookie.

Wade Phillips has proven that he’ll come up with creative substitution packages to occasionally put another edge rusher on the field if he has three good ones. It’s up to Williams to prove that he warrants playing time.