Williams doesn't take long to establish himself

LOS ANGELES -- Leonard Williams didn't know too many of USC's defensive players when the Trojans were recruiting him around this time last season.

He knew Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, the two young linebackers, and defensive backs Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald. That's about it.

So suffice it to say that Williams, a freshman starring at defensive tackle for the Trojans this season, didn't think he'd playing on an at-times-dominant defense right away at USC.

"I was really surprised, because when I was coming here, I was always hearing about the offense and stuff like that," Williams said Wednesday. "I think the defense is really performing right now."

A significant part of that performing can be traced back to him.

Williams was widely expected to be USC's biggest impact defensive recruit, but few expected the impact would be at this level.

Through six games, Williams has registered 5.5 sacks, 18 tackles and two fumble recoveries. He already has progressed from a rotation player at end to a a key reserve tackle to, now, USC's starting defensive tackle, pushing third-year man George Uko to the nose tackle spot and second-year player Antwaun Woods to the bench.

He and defensive end Morgan Breslin might be USC's two biggest surprises this season, and they've been lining up next to each other for the majority of snaps in recent weeks.

USC coach Lane Kiffin and defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron try to only recruit out-of-state players whom they believe have first-round NFL potential. Williams, from Florida, certainly fits that bill as a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder with plenty of room to add weight.

He's not even 18 1/2 yet, either. But he plays a lot older, Kiffin said.

"He doesn't get rattled," Kiffin said of Williams. "He's just one of those rare guys who can come in as a true freshman and not just play but make an impact."

Williams played his best game last week against Washington, according to Kiffin, at times dominating the Huskies' offensive line. And he had a lot of fun doing it, memorably jumping into Pullard after the final whistle with an impressive amount of excitement.

Orgeron smiled at the memory of that moment.

"He's enjoying himself," said Orgeron, who credited Monte Kiffin with Williams' recruitment. "He's got a pleasant attitude and the game comes easy to him. He's working hard, but it's not like it's a chore everyday.

"He loves it, he's got the skills to be able to handle the workload."

Orgeron said in August that he needed Williams to be ready to play this season for his defensive line to meet expectations. And he certainly knew his prized recruit had long-term star potential.

Did he think he'd be averaging almost a sack a game midway through his freshman season, nearing sensation status? That's another story.

"He's been more productive than most freshmen we've had, but in the recruiting process we knew that he would have to become that type of player," Orgeron said. "Now, as fast as he did, I don't know."