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P.J. Williams plays nickel, corner and safety to help shore up depleted New Orleans Saints secondary against Titans

"You're not really locked in on, 'I'm going to have to play safety,' until it happens"

Another game action gallery from the New Orleans Saints win over the Tennessee Titans in week 16 of the 2019 NFL season.

In case you didn't know, P.J. Williams actually has had some experience playing safety.

He just hadn't done it in a while – and, definitely, not at the highest level of professional football, tossed into the crucible of the action with a couple days' warning.

"That's my first time playing safety in an NFL game," Williams said Monday, after having to play the position in Sunday's 38-28 victory Tennessee at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. "That was the first time. The last time I played safety was high school. It was definitely crazy."

It definitely was outside the box.

In Williams' fifth season as a New Orleans Saints cornerback, and his 46th regular-season NFL game (plus four playoff games), and after 40 games over three seasons at Florida State, he said he did what he hadn't done since his senior season at Vanguard High in Ocala, Fla.

Turns out, he did it pretty well.

"I thought he did a good job," Coach Sean Payton said. "We kind of knew going in if something were to happen, you kind of go through these scenarios. First, we had the corner (Eli Apple) injury and then with the safety (Marcus Williams) injury, we had a few moving parts. But overall, I thought we handled it well."

In truth, the Saints' secondary was a patchwork quilt by the time the clock expired against the Titans.

P.J. Williams was playing nickel when Apple left in the first quarter. He moved to left cornerback, with Patrick Robinson sliding in at nickel. Then, when Marcus Williams left with a groin injury, P.J. Williams moved to free safety, Robinson went to cornerback and Janoris Jenkins, whom the Saints claimed off waivers last week, filled in at nickel.

Robinson and Jenkins each has played that position in the NFL. Williams said he'd played his in practice.

Last week.


"I felt pretty comfortable," he said. "I think I had one day of practice; really, about two or three plays, to be exact. But I felt pretty comfortable, just knowing the defense and knowing where I had to be. And the coaches did a pretty good job explaining things to me, situations that I'd be in and stuff like that. So I was pretty comfortable.

"Coach came up to me (during the game) and was like, 'You're probably going to have to play safety.' My eyes kind of opened a little wide, and I was like, 'Oh, OK.' During the week, you never really think that you're going to really end up playing it. Like, during the week, it's, 'OK, I'm going to have play safety if things happen.' But you don't expect those things to happen. You're not really locked in on, 'I'm going to have to play safety,' until it happens."

It happened. Williams finished the game with one tackle and a fairly smooth ride.

New Orleans trailed 14-0 at the time of Apple's injury. The Saints scored 24 straight points, then traded two touchdowns with the Titans to account for the final score.

"I feel like we held up pretty good," Williams said. "We had a few mishaps but I feel like we held up good. Coaches did a great job of putting us in the right position and changing us around. We had a lot of guys at a lot of positions, and I feel like we held up pretty good."

Williams said he had to adjust to the view at safety, which obviously differs from the view in the slot.

"Your eyes are in, like, one or two places when you're up closer," he said. "When you're back there you've got to see the whole field.

"Yeah, it felt a little different. But as the game went on I started to feel a little better, just knowing what I had to do. Literally, you're the last line of defense sometimes so you've got to play it a little different. But I didn't feel that off. As the game went on I felt a lot better."


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