It wasn’t a ton of work. It rarely is in a preseason game, since a coaching staff has evaluations to make on tens of players, and often there aren’t enough snaps in a given preseason game for long, extended looks to be taken.
But New Orleans Saints running back Jonathan Williams didn’t need all that many.
He got four touches in the preseason opener against Jacksonville, on the Saints’ next-to-last offensive possession, and generated 26 yards on those carries, including the game-winning, 4-yard touchdown run with 2:58 left.
“It was only four carries, nothing to get too excited about,” Williams said. “Just a couple of carries. I’m looking forward to more opportunities and (to) keep this thing going.”
If Williams continues running with the force he displayed against the Jaguars in a 24-20 victory, the chances very well might increase.
To his credit, his showing against Jacksonville in his cameo should not have come as a surprise – not if you’ve listened to Williams.
Namely, he was eager for full-pads, live-tackle work, whether in training camp practice or in games. He hadn’t had a chance to show much as a Saint after being signed to the active roster from Denver’s practice squad last November; he was inactive the final regular-season and both playoff games.
“If you go back and watch me play in years past, that’s what I’m best at, breaking tackles and being able to keep my feet running after contact,” said Williams, a former fifth-round pick (No. 156 overall) by Buffalo in 2016. “So I was excited to put the pads on.”
He ran for 94 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in 11 games as a rookie. Before that, at Arkansas, he totaled 2,321 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, from 2012-15.
Williams was looking forward to showing his progress in the preseason.
True, it appeared that his window of opportunity might narrow before it truly opened after the announcement that Mark Ingram would be serving a league-imposed suspension the first four regular-season games. New Orleans signed Shane Vereen and Terrence West to possibly help fill the void.
But Williams said he remained unfazed.
“Just put my head down and keep working,” he said. “I’m real confident in my abilities. Those guys come in and work every day, (and) help me continue to work.
“That’s what it is in the NFL. It’s always a competition, every day. You come out here and you’re competing so when they brought those guys in, it’s not that it hurt my feelings or anything. I was already going to be working as hard as I could anyway. That’s the type of person that I am. I went into the OTAs and the offseason working as hard as I could every day, and I think it’s been paying off.”
Teammates see the dividends.
“I think once the pads come on, he’s an impressive guy,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He’s run the ball extremely well but I think more so than that, he’s stuck his nose in there in pass protection better than anybody I’ve seen in a while.
“He really takes pride in that and obviously, that’s a role amongst our running backs that they take really great pride in, Alvin (Kamara) and Mark both. And typically, that takes an evolution.
“A lot of guys come in and they’re good runners but once you kind of get them into the system they realize, ‘OK, I’ve got to be able to pass protect, too. Because if I can do that, that means I’m going to be on the field more, which means I’m going to get other opportunities to both run and catch balls out of the backfield. So that just makes me a more versatile player, a more productive player.’ I think that’s something that Jonathan Williams has done very well so far.”
Williams said he’s in better shape than last season, has better body composition while maintaining the same weight, and is prepared to continue to plow through camp the same way he’s prepared to plow through would-be tacklers.
“I just go out there whenever they tell me to go out there and do my best every day,” he said. “I just put my head down and keep working every day, try to stay consistent. Mark and A.K. lead the group and I’m right on their hip, asking them questions and stuff like that. (Running backs) Coach (Joel) Thomas is a great coach, a guy that I’ve been with in college as well. So I’m just trying to put my head down and keep working.”