Raiders nose tackle Dan Williams has been a frontline player throughout his NFL career. The former Arizona Cardinals first-round pick has been an anchor is base packages, and played a career-high 49.4 percent of the Raiders defensive snaps his first year in Oakland.
That’s why it was surprising to see Williams working with the second unit throughout training camp. He has been behind Justin Ellis since the offseason program after starting alongside him most of last year, with the Raiders now employing one true anchor nose tackle in the middle of their defensive line.
It’s an odd spot for Williams, one he seems to be working out of in recent days. He’s been behind for a few reasons: 1) Ellis has played well at the nose tackle spot, and 2) Williams reported to camp in less-than-optimal shape.
He has been working to refine that state throughout the preseason.
"The goal is to get your body back ready and get used to playing a certain number of snaps,” Williams said. “You have to take advantage of these weeks leading into the regular season. You have to get back going hard because, as soon as September 11 hits, it’s full go. … It’s an opportunity to get yourself back in shape and while staying as healthy as you can and get ready for the first game of the year.”
Williams is working back into shape and slimming down some, and the Raiders have noticed his progress. That’s a positive step as he continues to carve a role in the defense, one that should expand as August turns to September.
Raiders coaches have long said Williams and Ellis will contribute heavily to the defense regardless of who starts, but the veteran obviously wants a top spot he doesn’t currently possess. He isn’t one to complain about it.
“I just do whatever coach asks me to do,” Williams said. “In that type of situation, it’s something I don’t have any control over. I just put my head down and keep pushing forward.
“I do believe in my skill level and I know what I can bring to the table. Everyday, I just have to go out there and show them what I can do and go from there.”
Williams showed well in Thursday’s exhibition loss to Green Bay, defending the run well over 22 of the team’s 68 snaps. Some of them came in a first-half rotation with the starting defense.
That’s an improvement over the exhibition opener at Arizona, when he played just 10 of 81 defensive snaps mostly in the third quarter.
Williams has long been a good run defender in the middle, which helped earn a four-year $25 million deal in 2015 that provides $15.2 million in fully guaranteed money over the first two seasons. That includes a $7.35 million base salary in 2016.
Teams expect heavy production with salaries like that, and Williams believes they’ll get it. He views the preseason as a “tune-up,” to prepare for regular-season games he values above little else.
“There aren’t a lot of Sundays in the season, not a lot of opportunities to show what you’re made of,” Williams said. “You have to take advantage of the games because they’re rare. We’re all fighting for one goal at the end of the season.
"My mindset is every play I’m in there could be the one that decides a game. That’s been my mentality, and it drives me to make every play that I can. That comes from doing my job within the defense and pushing hard.”