Jordan Williams poses during the University of Tennessee's football media day at Neyland Stadium in this file photo.Staff File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press
KNOXVILLE — Jordan Williams knew the switch would come at some point.
Though the Tennessee sophomore's move from defensive end to linebacker came a little later than he might have expected, Williams is embracing his new position in the Volunteers' new defense.
"At D-line," he said after Tuesday's practice, "you've got your schemes and your little moves, but at linebacker you've got to know when to drop, who's coming, when to rush. It's just a lot more to pay attention to, but it's been a lot of fun."
For a UT team that's looking for linebacker depth, Williams is an intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he's got the size to hold up at the Jack, one of the two outside linebacker positions in coordinator Sal Sunseri's base 3-4 defense. The Gainesville (Fla.) High School product showed in limited action last season that he's got some ability rushing the quarterback.
It's the versatility that is important with the position, one that's designed to create havoc.
"He's in that 'tweener zone for D-line [or] Jack, so his size and body type is a little better suited [for linebacker]," head coach Derek Dooley said. "He's got good twitch. He's got a very high motor. Physical, high-motor guy, toughness, twitch.
"His biggest issue now is learning what to do and doing it with consistency."
It's the same challenge Williams faced last season. He played in the last nine games in 2011, breaking onto the scene with a sack against Buffalo. He was credited with stops against South Carolina and Arkansas later in the season.
While his friend, high school teammate and defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry redshirted, Williams was getting some playing time, for which he is grateful.
"I feel like I gained knowledge," he said. "It's slowed down a lot. I remember being here as a freshman, and it was tough being the first time around trying to learn the pace. Now I feel like I understand it, and it's slowing down a lot."
Williams began the offseason preparing to stay on the defensive line. His goal was to reach 275 pounds, but he admitted he struggled to "get up there." He even began spring practice working with the defensive linemen.
After about a week, he switched to linebacker. He was running with the second-team defense at the Jack spot behind Jacques Smith during the open portion of Tuesday's workout. Williams said he still plays some end when the Vols go into packages with more defensive backs.
"I like his size," Sunseri said last week. "I think he's got great size to play linebacker. He's a good enough athlete, and he's a bigger body."
The next step to more playing time for Williams is mental.
"I think with Jordan," Dooley said, "it's everything, because he's really a freshman. And it's a freshman in a new scheme, so [it's] learning what to do and how to do it. I don't think there's a particular skill set that's harder than the other for him right now.
"It's just the overwhelming task of, 'I've got to learn what to do and how to do it' on every thought."
Williams admitted "not knowing the plays" kept him from more playing time last season. He recalled former defensive line coach Lance Thompson talking to him about not being able to trust him enough. It's Williams' biggest task now, but he's got a season on which to build.
"Now it's more of a mental game," he said. "I'm glad I got that action. I'm glad I got that little bit of experience so I know what to expect and know what I need to prepare for."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...