Jacquain Williams wasn’t supposed to have all of this responsibility this soon.
But the rookie sixth-round pick out of South Florida, who was thrust into a nickel and dime linebacker role for the Giants due to all their injuries, has exceeded expectations -- especially down the stretch.
In Big Blue’s last two games of the regular season -- both must-wins -- Williams combined for 13 tackles and his only sack of the year. He finished 2011 with 78 tackles -- 58 of them solo -- and that sack, which came against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo in New York’s playoff-clinching 31-14 demolition of the Cowboys last Sunday.
“We started out with him being a man-cover guy for us and then we asked him during mid-season to do a lot more than that,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “That was a lot for him as a rookie.
“We had some breakdowns. We had some not-so-good plays. And the game was a little fast for him. So we scaled him back a little bit and then we’ve given him some roles to play in right now. I think he accepted those roles and he’s getting better each week.
“We can see that he’s starting to retain the defense, he’s starting to learn the defense and instead of being a robot, now he’s become a player. I think he’s progressed as the season has progressed.”
It’s true. And to think, just a month ago, Williams was taking heavy criticism for failing to tackle JerMichael Finley on Green Bay’s game-winning drive.
“For me, it’s been all about just practicing and getting better,” Williams said. “I’ve just learned from my mistakes and really started understanding the scheme of our defense.”
Williams said it’s like night and day from where he was on day one of his career.
“I can’t explain it,” the 23-year-old said. “There was a lot of things going on in my head in the beginning. Things are slower now. I’ve picked everything up drastically.”
Williams called the team’s Nov. 28 loss in New Orleans his turning point, when he really started to figure things out on the field.
“He’s obviously come a long way,” linebacker Michael Boley said. “He started off the year and didn’t really have much of a role. And then obviously some guys went down, and he’s been getting better every week.”
Ex-Giant great Antonio Pierce couldn’t help but gush about Williams on ESPN New York 1050’s “The Michael Kay Show” on Friday.
“He’s very instinctive, makes plays and bring energy,” Pierce said. “He’s fast and can flat-out cover. He adds to their nickel and dime coverages. He’s gonna be the future for the Giants at linebacker.”