When the Arizona Cardinals drafted defensive tackle Dan Williams in the 2010 NFL Draft, they were pleased that he fell as far as he did. They did not expect that he would be available. The start of his NFL career was a little disappointing, as he struggled getting into football shape. He was even put on the inactive list because of his conditioning.
As the season progressed, he started showing why the team was so happy to have drafted him. They felt that they had found that middle-clogging nose tackle to anchor the 3-4 defense Ken Whisenhunt wants his team to run.
Unfortunately, likely the result of the lockout and lack of OTAs and minicamp, Williams reported to camp out of shape. He was not real overweight, but conditioning was an issue.
Apparently, conditioning continued being a problem.
On Friday, Whisenhunt spoke about Williams and was surprisingly blunt.
"I wish that he (Williams) hadn't been in such poor shape when we started camp because that set him back. It seems like now he's just catching up to where we hoped he would be. It's obvious he's in better shape (now). His weight's down. He's making some of those plays that we got to see a little bit at the end of the year last year and got so excited about. Disappointing that it didn't start earlier for him but I'm glad that he has gotten better."
Apparently the true nature of his conditioning was understated in training camp. His playing weight from last season was 327. He reported to camp at 334 -- definitely reasonable considering Deuce Lutui has showed up more than 40 over his playing weight.
Obviously the weight wasn't the issue, but rather how he had taken care of his body.
It apparently has taken half the season to get where he needs to be. His playing time has taken a hit as a result of his poor shape.
Williams has played in less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps so far this season. In other 3-4 defenses, the nose tackle plays much more. In Dallas, Jay Ratliff plays just under 77 percent. In Green Bay, B.J. Raji plays over 87 percent. Arizona has been using a lot of schemes with only Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett on the defensive line.
Based on what Whiz said about Williams, I get the following:
1. Williams was really out of shape.
2. The team was really counting on him for their defensive success. This would be why Whiz has brought it up. It was brought up in the preseason as well. I get the impression that the coaching staff were hanging their hat on him to anchor what could (and should) be a truly dominating line.
3. Since Whiz pointed out that Williams is making plays like the ones that got the team "excited," we should be able to expect a marked improvement in the middle of the defense, which will lead to more plays made by Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon. That in turn will improve the defense overall, especially late in games when the defense has struggled to keep opponents from making plays when it was most needed.
This could really be a huge piece in the puzzle of turning the season around.
The real test will be after this season. Will he show up to camp next season out of shape gain, or will he "get it" and be able to dominate from day one? Hopefully he does, because he could be the type of player that can anchor a defense for years, a la Casey Hampton with the Steelers.
Or he could be yet another Cardinals first-round disappointment.