With Syracuse’s secondary depleted due to injury, Rodney Williams steps back into his old role

first_imgRodney Williams was confident that Syracuse’s defense would transform. Back in April, during spring ball, the redshirt junior safety felt a difference in the defensive backs’ position room. The group had added two graduate transfers while its younger cornerbacks developed even more.And, it turns out, Williams was right. Last year, the defense allowed more than 500 yards per game, ranking 122nd in total defense. This year, the team ranks 37th in total defense and leads the nation in stopping third-down conversions.What Williams didn’t see, though, is that the improvements made to the unit would cost him his job. Williams played in 11 games last year and started the last 10. He, Daivon Ellison and Kielan Whitner played the majority of time across the two safety spots.To start the year, sophomore Evan Foster locked down one safety spot; at 6-foot, 211 pounds, he is the most physically imposing of the Orange defensive backs. Antwan Cordy initially held the other spot, but a season-ending injury in the season-opener removed him from consideration. Graduate transfer Jordan Martin, a converted cornerback, replaced him.But Martin injured himself midway through the Week 7 matchup against Clemson, and it was announced after the Miami game that he’d be out for the year. As a result, Williams has returned to a starting role.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I knew my opportunity would come,” Williams said, “and then, when it did, I would be ready for it.”Williams credits the improved play of the defensive backs to an increased familiarity with the system that defensive coordinator Brian Ward installed. He and his teammates don’t have to think as much about the plays, he said, and they can let their instincts take over.Sometimes, he said, it was tougher for him early in the season when he was unsure about when he’d see the field. He stressed though that he maintained the same mindset and approach to practice. He talked about how he felt lucky to just be in the spot he was — playing football and getting a “free education” — and that he attributed his approach toward practice to being able to take a step back and see the bigger picture.“Rodney’s out there battling,” head coach Dino Babers said. “There’s been some situations where I think he’s done a fantastic job. And then obviously there’s some situations where he’s been rusty.“He’s not completely healthy yet,” Babers continued. “I think he’s still working on things in the training room, but he’s out there giving us great effort.”That’s been a constant theme for Williams in his time at Syracuse. He has struggled with injuries since he first arrived. He was awarded a medical redshirt after his freshman season, which ended in the second game of the season.He’s had other injuries that have made him miss a game or two here and there in the other two years he’s played. Like most players who come back in the middle of a season, though, he’s never been fully healthy.“I feel like the potential for Rodney to play at a really, really high level has always been there, even when we were freshmen,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said.Franklin said that Williams is playing with a lot of “swag” recently. Williams seems more confident and sure of himself than he did even a year ago.With two defensive backs out for the year, the options for Syracuse in what was once a deep position are now very limited. The Orange will have to keep relying on Williams to make an impact. He’s up for the challenge.“It’s lightyears (beyond last year),” Williams said about how much more comfortable he feels this season. “I’m a way better football player than I was last year.” Comments Published on November 7, 2017 at 11:02 pm Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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