Meet Marcus Williams, the 'next man up' in Jets' depleted secondary

Marcus Williams led the Jets in K.C. with seven tackles, including this one on Anthony Fasano. Peter Aiken/Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- You'd think Marcus Williams might feel out of place with the New York Jets.

Start with the fact the undrafted rookie wasn't even with the Jets in training camp. And he wasn't even on the active roster until last week. And he'd never played an NFL game for any team until Sunday.

One more thing: Williams hadn't played in a game his team lost in more than two years.

Talk about culture shock.

Then again, maybe that history of success -- Williams' North Dakota State team won the last 24 games he played, winning back-to-back FCS championships -- is why Williams is one of the few Jets who hasn't been swallowed up into the morass the team has become during an eight-game losing skid.

In a season where Jets cornerbacks have been rightly ripped, Williams won praise for his play in his NFL debut, a 24-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. And even though coach Rex Ryan says he's once again holding an open competition for the chance to start at the corner against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Williams' work so far has to have him beginning the week with an edge.

"I liked the way he played," Ryan said. "I really did. Marcus is a kid that really jumped out on the practice field, when he was on the scout team. He did things where you said, 'This kid deserves a shot.' He earned a starting job [last week]."

In a game where Ryan benched his other starting cornerback, Antonio Allen, at halftime, Williams was on the field for 56 of the Jets' 58 defensive snaps. He led the team with seven tackles and was credited with one pass defense.

"Marcus did a good job," Jets safety Dawan Landry said. "He was real confident. He played fast. I'm just glad he's a Jet."

He wasn't a Jet, not originally. Williams was on a ton of All-America teams at North Dakota State, but he went undrafted last spring. He was happy to get a chance with the Houston Texans, made it to the final cut, and spent the first month of the season on the Texans' practice squad. Houston released him at the end of September, and the Jets signed him.

A month later, he was starting.

"I'm sure [things like that] happen a lot," Williams said last week. "Injuries can happen to any team. We've just been less fortunate at the corner spot where guys are going down. But like coach always says, 'Always the next man up.' So everybody has to prepare as if they're going to be the starter. So that's what we've been doing."

The Jets have had cornerback problems all season; the team has allowed 24 touchdown passes and nabbed just one interception, both worst in the NFL. They also had two injuries: Dee Milliner is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and Darrin Walls missed the Chiefs game because of a calf injury. Kyle Wilson typically covers slot receivers. So on the outside, that left Allen (who was moved from safety), Josh Thomas (also signed at midseason), Phillip Adams ... and Williams.

"I think when you look at it, it shows that we're trying to find guys that can help us, guys that can elevate the position," Ryan said. "You look when we brought in Marcus Williams. I don't think anybody really knew him much. All of a sudden, you see what you see on the practice field. Obviously, someone up top, in our pro personnel department, they recognized this guy might have a shot here."

Next thing they knew, the kid who grew up in Minneapolis and went off to school in Fargo, North Dakota, was starting for them.

At least with that background, the Jets won't need to worry how Williams will react to cold weather later in the season. Not that he misses the brutal winters back home.

"Nobody can ever get used to minus-10, minus-20," Williams said. "And with the wind chill, it gets even colder."

Nobody wants to get used to losing every week, either. Until he got to the Jets, Marcus Williams never had to worry about that.