TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tim Williams’ ascension from role player to pass-rush superstar came as quick as his first step advancing toward an overmatched blocker.
Williams, a University High graduate, didn’t do much his first two seasons at Alabama, reduced to backup roles on teams that went a combined 23-4. Truth be told, Williams spent a lot of those seasons in and out of coach Nick Saban’s doghouse — never for anything particularly untoward, but he remained there all the same.
Then, entering his junior season, he announced his presence in preseason camp when he finally added weight to his frame, climbing from 230 pounds to 250. Then he turned heads with his performance on the field, finishing a Southeastern Conference and College Football Playoff championship season with 10.5 sacks in a specialized third-down role for a loaded defense.
“Mainly it was just getting in the weight room for real,” Williams said in December, shortly after Alabama won the SEC title. “Coming in my freshman year, I was a little undersized. It was about getting my weight up, getting my strength game up, because I already had the speed and quickness. I just had to focus on getting more powerful and stronger.”
Now up to 252 pounds, Williams remains one of the Crimson Tide’s elite pass rushers even while asked to be more of an every-down linebacker.
As Alabama prepares to face LSU on Saturday night, his 6.5 sacks lead the way for the team with the nation's most sacks — all the more impressive when you consider Alabama plays on average just 65 defensive snaps per game.
It has been a work in progress for Williams, going from a specialized pass-rush role to playing run-pass downs.
“We're just trying to get Tim to be able to play outside linebacker effectively, which he did at Arkansas when we had to play against regular people, so he can be an every-down player and do a good job of that,” Saban said. “He's made significant progress at that, and hopefully he'll be able to do it well in this game, because that will be what we have to play against quite a bit of the time.”
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Williams this year. He was arrested Sept. 29 on charges of carrying a pistol without a permit. Sources said Williams, who told the arresting officer he purchased the firearm in Louisiana, was unaware he needed a permit in Alabama because of differing state laws.
The case has yet to be adjudicated. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Dec. 7 in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has not made Williams available to media since his arrest.
Williams sat out the first half of the next game against Kentucky, but he made the most of his limited playing time. In the second half, he had four tackles, three tackless for loss, two quarterback hurries, a sack and a forced fumble.
His level of play hasn't dropped since.
“He’s just been hungry,” senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “Just hungry. He just wants to be the best player he can be. Just so focused right now would be the best word I could use to describe him: focused.”
Pro Football Focus, a metrics-based website, found that Williams’ production per snap is off the charts.
“He has so much juice off the edge. His speed off the edge is about as good as I’ve seen,” Pro Football Focus analyst Michael Renner said. “Compared to the other edge rushers across the country, he’s about as good as it gets.”
Saturday night is Williams’ second trip to Tiger Stadium with the Crimson Tide, but the first in which he’ll have a substantial role. Williams knows what he brings to the defense and also how it affects opposing offenses.
“I feel like the quarterback is the head of the snake,” he said last year. “I feel like, once I hit him, it’s got to strike a blow to the their team. They wonder if he’s going to get up or not. I love hitting that quarterback.
“It just feels like birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas all in one day.”