TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For four years, Michael Williams has built his reputation laying one brick at a time. He's caught passes here and there, and established himself as one of the best blocking tight ends in the country.
The 6-foot-6, 269-pound redshirt senior has always shown remarkable athleticism for his size, but he's never been known as an impact player on offense. The stat line simply doesn't do enough to reveal all he does for the team, his 16 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns last season are just a start.
"He's probably a bit of an unsung hero for us in terms of the number of starts that he's had and the quality of his performance goes a little unnoticed because of the nature of this role," coach Nick Saban said of Williams. "It's sort of a workmanlike type role but I think it's very critical to the success of our team."
In 2012, Williams hopes to trade in his blue collar for something with a little more flair.
He spent the summer watching two of the NFL's most successful tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Both caught more than 90 balls for 1,300 yards last season. They combined for 28 touchdowns. It's a big step up from Williams' current production, but it's a goal worth aiming for nonetheless.
"You try to learn from them," Williams said. "You try to emulate their games. You take stuff from what they are doing and take it to the field and practice on it."
Entering his final season with the Crimson Tide, Williams' role is changing both by want and necessity. When former UA H-Back Brad Smelley graduated to the NFL after last season, AJ McCarron lost one of his primary targets. Smelley finished second on the team with 34 catches in 2011-12. Now, it's up to Williams to help make up for the loss in production.
Williams said the coaching staff have expanded his duties on offense, asking him to come in more on third downs and stretch the field. He's welcomed the change, and frankly, what tight end wouldn't?
"More just being an all-around tight end than just blocking," Williams said of his new responsibilities. "I like my job right now."
"I would love to catch more passes. I don’t think anyone would say they wouldn’t."
Said McCarron: "With his having some new plays we’re going to have to have him doing some certain things. You’re always going to have to expand as a player, you’re never going to be able to do just one thing and that’s it."
Saban believes Williams is able to do more in the passing game, but doesn't want to give up his blocking skills in return. In the past three seasons, he's helped block for two Heisman Trophy finalists at running back. Those stats aren't recorded, but they're value is indisputable.
"To be able to run the ball to the edges, you've got to be able to have good edge blockers. Michael does a fantastic job of that," Saban said. "I think he's very capable to add some things to the passing game as well. He's done that probably as consistently as anybody in our program."