Bengals say push game film aside to see why Shawn Williams got extension

Williams ready to start for Bengals, gets contract extension (1:51)

ESPN NFL Insider Josina Anderson explains why the Bengals have extended safety Shawn Williams' deal and if Cincinnati will see a drop off following the departure of Reggie Nelson. (1:51)

CINCINNATI -- Why in the world would the Cincinnati Bengals sign a player with just four games of starting NFL experience to a four-year extension that includes $19.5 million in new money?

That's a pretty good question.

Well, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, what say you?

"You don't just go off game snaps," Guenther said, after being posed a similar question Tuesday afternoon. "You go off practice, the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body. It's just another example of drafting a guy, developing a guy and you just push him forward. That's the way we have done things around here and it's worked good. Hopefully we can continue on that trend."

Indeed, two months after the Bengals re-signed George Iloka, Vincent Rey and Brandon Thompson -- three players who have spent their entire careers in Bengals stripes -- Cincinnati added one more to the mix with Shawn Williams' extension. He goes down as yet another player who has been carefully molded by a coaching staff and personnel department that favors familiarity over most anything else.

It's because of such familiarity that the Bengals are often slow-movers when free agency opens every spring. After trying to re-sign as many of the players who they want back as they can, the Bengals typically stand put until late March when they can add quality, lower-priced free agents for depth. Look no further for examples of that than with Karlos Dansby and Brandon LaFell signing this year in late March, or Taylor Mays' return to Cincinnati in April after he spent 2015 playing in Oakland.

Yes, familiarity got Williams his new deal. But so did everything he's done away from the defensive huddle the past three seasons.

"It’s the practice, meeting room, everything," Guenther said. "He sat there for a couple years and just watched. He was a special-teams guy; last year he got in there and did it. Next year we are looking for him to take the next step, be more involved as a starting player."

After the Bengals passed on re-signing Reggie Nelson this spring -- a safety who ultimately signed with Oakland -- the writing appeared on the proverbial wall. Williams' days toiling as a backup safety and occasional coverage linebacker were over. He was moving full-fledged into the starting rotation. His contract extension, which goes through the 2020 season, would pair him with Iloka for many years to come.

"We've kind of every year grown closer and closer together," Williams said. "I'm really looking forward to what we can build upon and seeing how high we can go."

As much as Williams' extension was about what he has done away from the field, the Bengals are also handsomely compensating him for what he has done on it. Despite being a rotational reserve, Williams still has been a special-teams star the past three seasons. On defense, he also had one of the most important plays of last season when he dove and picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger late in a 16-10 win at Pittsburgh. The interception helped push the Bengals to an unprecedented 7-0 record to begin a season.

He finished 2015 with a career-high 28 tackles and two interceptions.

Now that his opportunity for a brighter spotlight has come, the usually media-shy Williams isn't planning on changing.

"Just to continue to be yourself and stay true to who you are, and always work hard, and put forth the best effort that you can, and everything will take care of itself," Williams said. "No added pressure needed. Just go out and do what I love doing."