New Orleans Saints defensive back P.J. Williams hadn't lined up at safety since high school, but with injuries stacking up late in the 2019 season, the Saints turned to the smart, physical veteran to step into that role.
Initially lined up outside as a cornerback, Williams settled into a role with the Saints as their go-to defender in the nickel package. But following an injury to Marcus Williams, he was moved to free safety for the final two games last season, and New Orleans is making a point to get him more experience there. It's a move Saints Coach Sean Payton was pleased to see Williams handle throughout training camp.
"Well, I like the fact that he's smart, he's got good ball skills," Payton said during his training camp conference call on Aug. 17. "He had a caused fumble today and an interception today, so he's one of those players that has good football I.Q., so it's good to give him some additional work. He's also taken snaps at playing in the nickel, he's got some versatility."
Williams is utilizing a plethora of his characteristics to make the transition to safety.
"I feel like I can process things pretty fast," Williams said. "Like, just being smart, knowing the game, and also just my body type being physical, being a bigger corner — like, it's an easy transition to be able to play safety, being able to tackle, play physical. Just being able to process things is definitely a big thing."
Another big thing for Williams is the addition of veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, who joined the Saints for his second stint in New Orleans this offseason.
"It's big for us, man, just the leadership he brings and also just the knowledge," Williams said. "I've been learning a lot from him just in these few weeks we've been together. So, just picking his brain with him playing as long as he's played. I feel like all of us are learning a little bit from him."
Along with his versatile skillset, Williams gained confidence throughout training camp playing in the free safety position.
"Yeah, it's totally different. Just being able to go out there and be a lot more confident, knowing what to do, knowing what the offense is going to give us and knowing what my job is completely. It's a big difference just going out there and just playing."
At 6 feet and nearly 200 pounds, Williams' physical attributes and playing style have aided his transition.
"Yeah, I think it's definitely an easier transition, me being able to tackle," Williams said. "I know Coach (secondary coach Aaron Glenn), I'm sure they wouldn't put anybody back there that couldn't tackle because you're the last man of defense most of the time, so that definitely makes it an easy transition for me."
Glenn said Williams' confidence is the key driving his versatility.
"P.J. has no choice but to have confidence especially if he's going to play as many positions as he's going to play," Glenn said. "He's like Malcolm (Jenkins), one of those position-less players. They have the talent to play a number of positions, but they also have the body type and the ability to do it.
"... P.J. is one of my favorite players because of all that he can do and he doesn't have an ego. He's willing to do whatever we ask him to do to help us win and as a coach you like players like that."