Cal's Worrell Williams talks Pac-10 linebackers

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

California senior Worrell Williams is the man in the center of the Bears defense, a 250-pound three-year starter who forced three fumbles in 2007 while recording 105 tackles.

While he's in position to play his way into the first day of the NFL draft, and he and Zach Follett and Anthony Felder are as good as any threesome of linebackers in the country, few folks outside of the Bay Area have even heard of him.

Maybe that's because of the way Cal finished its 2007 season: six losses over the final seven regular-season games after being unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Or maybe it was because the Bears defense hung up decidedly mediocre numbers last year, including a piddling, conference-worst 22 quarterback sacks.

So, with head coach Jeff Tedford giving up play-calling duties so he can pay more attention to his team, and the defense adopting a 3-4 look, it made sense to check in with the younger brother of Denver Broncos LB D.J. Williams.

Who's the best linebacker in the Pac-10?

Worrell Williams: [Laughs] That's a trick question, right? I honestly think, with my abilities, I bring a lot to the table. So you can put that I think I'm one of the best linebackers.

Do you think USC's linebackers get too much hype and too much credit?

WW: They are always in the top patch of linebackers each year. If the scouts are looking at them as the top guys, I ask myself what am I not doing that they are doing. Sometimes, it comes with the school. But those guys can play. They're always big and athletic and fast. They can punch a runner. So I don't knock them at all. They can't help it that they went to a school that gets a lot of publicity.

As a group, where do you think Cal's linebackers rate in the conference?

WW: I think we rate No. 1. I think we've got a lot more depth than the other schools.

Who's the best of you Cal linebackers?

WW: Of me [Zach Follett and Anthony Felder]? You're killing me here! We all bring something to the table. Zach is versatile off the edge and me and Tony are both stout in the middle. Tony's a big, rangy guy who can do a lot of things. So I really don't know who's better.

Tell me more about Zach.

WW: Zach shows it all the time, coming off the edge with his blitz presence. He's got a lot of moves, a lot of ability out there. He's extremely fast.

And Felder?

WW: Tony is physical and strong next to me. He can get to the ball.

And you?

WW: I think I have a lot of athleticism for my size -- you know, speed. I'm just trying to get my knowledge of the game up now so I can be prepared before the ball's even snapped.

Word is you guys are going to use a 3-4 look this season. So who's the fourth guy?

WW: It will probably be Eddie Young. He's a young guy who's explosive and strong. He's similar to Zach in that he's coming off the edge, but he's playing the SAM, so he's a little more roughneck in there. I wouldn't say he's tougher than Zach, but he's more built for the contact.

How do you feel about switching from a 4-3 look to primarily a 3-4?

WW: I feel good about it. At first, I was kind of skeptical because as a linebacker you want defensive linemen in front of you -- [In a 3-4] you go, 'Oh, there are offensive linemen who are going to be free to get you.' But you've got to trust and believe that the coaches are going to put you in the right place to make plays and make the team successful. When we put it in during the spring, it worked pretty well when everybody handles their job. I actually kind of like it. We've been watching other teams run it [on film] and be successful with it. For the most part, it causes an offense fits.

I'm going to take you back to last season, but I want to ask you about the positive side first. Before you guys played Oregon State last year, were you aware that if you won that you'd become the No. 1 team in the nation?

WW: It showed up on the big screen that whoever was in front of us lost, so we were kind of aware, but we weren't focused on it. We were just trying to win that ballgame.

Now the Cal team that beat Tennessee and Oregon didn't seem like the same team over the second half of the season, losing to teams like Washington and Stanford. I know you've been asked this a bunch, but tell me what you think went wrong?

WW: It was a matter of two things. First, was execution. Early in the season, we were hungry and we were executing our plays. Being rated that high early in the season, I think some guys got kind of lackadaisical. I won't say we weren't hungry to win any more, but the little things you've got to focus on got away from us. And those little things take care of the big things. So we got away from executing. If you look back at the film, it was execution mistakes. Little things here and there that turn into big things.

Then, there was a lack of leadership. We had leaders on the team, but they hadn't been in that position before. It was adversity that no one on the team had ever faced. I think leadership could have helped us. Zach and I and Tony and other guys on the team who are leaders, got together this offseason and said, 'Hey, we can't let something like that happen. At some point last year, one of us should have stepped in and tried to spark this thing.' But it never happened. So you learn from it and make it a positive coming into this season.

Jeff Tedford has been pretty open talking about chemistry problems. Can you give me an example of what a chemistry problem meant to you last year?

WW: Chemistry problems ... That's something like: I have the C-gap and the ball goes out on a stretch play and you run out there fast [out of the C-gap] because you don't think the safety is going to be there, and then the running back cuts back into the C-gap and gashes you for a big play. You know what I mean? Do your responsibility. That's a trust issue. A major trust issue. I can't speak for offense, but on defense it's stuff like that. You're trying to do too much. It's not about guys not liking each other. It's guys trying to do too much and not trusting guys. You need to do your own job first, then rally to the ball.

Coach Tedford gave up play-calling duties in large part because he wanted
to pay more attention to the team as a whole -- namely, the defense. Did you see a difference during spring practices?

WW: Yeah. It was kind of crazy. It was the first time since I've been here -- four years almost -- that I see him on our side of the ball, over here watching us. I was like, 'What's going on? Are we in trouble?' He wants to make his presence felt everywhere. He wants to be involved in everything a little bit. He didn't put the clamps on. Spring ball was fun. It was loose. We were laughing, joking and playing hard-nosed football. I got asked the question about our laughing and having fun and how we could be doing that coming off the season we'd had. And I said, 'Coach Tedford wants us to know that was one season and it's behind us. Let's move on. We can't dwell on that.' We've got a season ahead and that's the beautiful thing.

That leads into my next question: We know about the linebackers, but who else is going to step up on defense this year?

WW: A lot of guys. [Defensive end] Rulon Davis is going to make a big impact for us. I think or D-line as a whole is going to make a tremendous impact. Our safeties are solid guys. I don't see one guy shooting out. There's plenty who can. [Cornerback] Chris Conte or [free safety] Bernard Hicks, who can get the job done -- but I don't know which individual is going to spark out to be a headliner, but I know we have a defense built for success.

Last year, you guys had some big names. This year, you guys are kind of a no-name team. What's your expectation this year?

WW: I expect to win every game. You prepare and get yourself ready and you believe in your ability. There should be no doubt in your mind that you won't win the game. I think we can win every game, and I'm serious. Our guys may be no-name, but this is an opportunity to make themselves known.

Is 6-foot-5, 316-pound All-American center Alex Mack a pain in the butt in practice?
[Laughs] Oh, my goodness. I see him the most of anybody. We're real close to each other; we're good pals. But he's whupping my butt all the time. He causes me fits, but he's making me better. He's huge.