Williams adjusting to life in the middle

Jesse Williams (54) is adjusting well this spring to a position change to nose guard. AP Photo/Butch Dill

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Much has been made this spring of Jesse Williams taking a few steps to his right on defense.

Williams, who came to the Tide last year as a junior college transfer from Western Arizona CC by way of Australia, was effective at defense end in the nation’s most effective defense. Now, the hulking Aussie is attempting to use his same 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame to bully centers and guards instead of tackles. The senior is trying his hand at nose guard for UA this year, filling the void left behind by Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry.

Williams’ change of position has been cause for intrigue among fans and prognosticators wondering how his skill set projects over center. And in spring practice, he doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. Instead of struggling to learn the ins and outs of a new position, Williams has spent his free time mentoring true freshman Alphonse Taylor as he acclimates to the rigors of college football.

For his part, Williams is nonchalant about the new role on defense. Sure there are slight variations in technique and picking up blocks, but in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense, the difference is minimal.

“Once you’ve learn how to play end, you kind of learn how to play most of the defensive line,” Williams said. “It’s been easy to pick up so far.”

Saban said he’s been pleased with Williams’ progress at nose guard. The sixth-year coach of the Tide said Williams doesn’t have to deal with an altered sense of reality at nose guard, just a different patch of grass to call home.

“It's not a lot different than playing 5-technique,” Saban said. “We play 2-gap so you're only this far from the guy you're going to (hit) in the throat. The only difference is the guy's got a ball in his hand if you're playing nose. He's done a really good job in there.”

It helps that Williams came to Saban with a build capable of handling both defensive end and nose guard. At over 300 pounds, he has the mass to eat up blockers while still possessing the quickness to rush the passer.

While Chapman was more of the big-body types at nose guard -- plugging a gap and occasionally getting up field -- Williams wants to be different. He said he still wants to incorporate some pass rushing into the position.

“We have two different body types,” Williams said, comparing himself with Chapman. “I’m just going to try and do as best I can to fit my body, trying to run around and fit blocks in.

“I try to rush as much as I can from nose as I did from out. I’m still trying to work out the kinks at a different position, but as I get more comfortable playing nose full time I’ll try to get more of a pass rush.”

Williams said he hasn’t totally abandoned defensive end, though. He’s spent the majority of his time at nose guard but still rotates in and out of position while Taylor, Brandon Ivory and Wilson Love get their chance at nose guard. If one of those three step up and proves themselves capable of handling the position, don’t be surprised if Saban puts Williams right back at defensive end.

For now, Saban said he likes using the spring to see what options he has.

“I don't know which way we'll go at the end of the spring,” Saban said. “We feel like it's easier for us to move (Williams) back to 5-technique because that's where he played all last year. So we're going to try and continue to develop guys at the other positions and he'll play most of the spring at nose.”

Williams said he’s fine with either position. He said he’s “just trying to do whatever I can to help out.”

And with all the turnover on defense from a year ago, his best fit seems at nose guard. Chapman and Gentry are gone. So are Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron. But that doesn’t mean Williams doesn’t think the revamped Tide defense doesn’t have a shot to be something special with him in the middle of things.

“It’s definitely not the same team but we’ve reloaded at a lot of different positions,” Williams said. “We had a lot of good, quality guys waiting behind the guys who are leaving now. It should be good once these couple of scrimmages are over to see where everyone fits in.”