It was the single hardest time of his football career.
Not just professional, but little league, high school and college, as well.
Giants’ linebacker Jacquian Williams knew he could help his teammates each of the last two seasons. He knew he could make an impact on the field. The issue? Getting on it.
“Injuries, man. No one wants to be off the field,” Williams said. “I wanted to be out there to perform. I wanted to be out there with my teammates. For me to not be out there with them, it was disappointing.”
When he’s played, Williams has flashed the ability to be a difference maker in the NFL, dating all the way back to his rookie year. New York’s sixth-round pick in 2011 had the coverage skills and speed of a safety, with the size (6-3, 224 pounds) of a linebacker. In nickel packages, Williams would check in and assume a lock-down role on an opponent’s tight end.
Right off the bat, Williams experienced success. In his rookie season, the 26-year-old recorded 78 tackles, a sack and three fumble recoveries.
In New York’s Super Bowl run, Williams handled the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis in back-to-back-to-back games. In the Super Bowl, with Rob Gronkowski ailing, it was Aaron Hernandez.
Since 2011, Williams hasn’t experienced the same success. In 2012, he missed six games with a PCL injury. Last year, it was his knee that cost him playing time. Williams hasn’t reached his rookie year tackle total in each of the last two seasons. When on the field, his immense success in pass defense was overshadowed by his inability to compete against the run.
It’s why this offseason Williams expressed a renewed determination in making himself a complete linebacker.
“I wanted to prove that I belong in this league,” Williams said. “I showed glimpses, but there were injuries. I’d show some good things, then some down things. My goal right now is to show I belong here and I’m here for a reason.”
When Williams reported for the Giants’ offseason conditioning program, the changes were easily noticeable.
“I will say this,” linebackers coach Jim Hermann said, “This OTA and minicamp, he has done a great job. He’s a natural WIL (linebacker) in nickel, but he did a great job with our WIL stuff in base. To me, he made a big jump and big improvements this spring.”
Williams said the coaches had approached him with a list of things to improve on last offseason. While he still admits he’s the same player, he knows he’s taken a much-needed jump. Now in his fourth year, Williams feels more settled and comfortable in the Giants’ defense. Not only does he feel he can make an impact for New York, but also prove he’s an elite-level player in the NFL.
He’ll have his shot. For the first time in his career, Williams is the Giants’ full-time starting WIL linebacker.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Williams said. “But look, I’m a linebacker. I’ve being doing this since little league. At the end of the day, it’s nothing new to me.”