Proving Ground: Jason Williams

First in a 10-part series focusing on young non-starters who have a lot to prove during training camp:

Trading up to select linebacker Sean Lee in the second round was a value pick, not a sign that the Cowboys’ brass has lost belief in Jason Williams.

The front office and coaching staff, especially Wade Phillips, still consider their first pick in the 2009 draft an intriguing prospect. They still believe that Williams’ raw potential, highlighted by rare speed and quickness for a 246-pound linebacker, can be translated into playmaking production.

Williams, the 69th overall pick in the ’09 draft, acknowledges that he was lost while learning the Cowboys’ scheme during his rookie training camp. He had a rough transition from Western Illinois’ simplistic scheme – his role in college was basically to wreak havoc as a blitzer every down – to Phillips’ defense. That, along with a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason, prevented him from contributing as a rookie.

There shouldn’t be near as much of a mental block entering Williams’ second season.

Williams says he’s confident in his knowledge of the scheme, allowing him to react instead of think. He’s also much more fundamentally sound in coverage than he was a year ago. Jason Witten says Williams has made vast improvements in his footwork and understanding how to use his body to prevent tight ends from getting to certain spots in their routes.

Williams will compete with Lee for playing time in passing situations, but there’s a possibility that both could be used in certain substitution packages. Williams is also trying to prove that he can be prepared to be a starter in the not-too-distant future.