Nebraska’s ‘soft-spoken, grown man’ in the secondary is back, and that’s good news for the Huskers
Nebraska defensive backs coach Travis Fisher put it about as well as one can when talking about the return of a healthy Deontai Williams to the secondary.
“He’s a soft-spoken, grown man,” Fisher told the media.
Even though Williams, a 6-1, 205-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, was primarily a backup in his first year as a Husker in 2018, he showed flashes of being one of Nebraska’s top safeties. He finished the season with 23 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.
It was clear that Williams, who came to Nebraska from Jones County Junior College in Mississippi, had a nose for the ball and knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was a big hitter that flew around looking to be a playmaker.
Williams’ best games came against the best competition he played. Against Wisconsin, he totaled 5 tackles. Then against Ohio State, a game where the Huskers nearly knocked off the Buckeyes but lost 36-31, he racked up 4 stops and forced a fumble.
A big 2019 season seemed likely, but Williams’ breakout year was put on hold when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first quarter of the season-opener against South Alabama.
After all the drama that went down with the B1G, this season is going to mean more to Nebraska’s players, coaches and fans who knew just how close they were to not being able to play at all. But Williams, whose 2019 season taken from him too, has had to wait longer than anyone to get back on the field.
“Now that the season is back on, I’m fired up,” Williams said. “I’m ready to hit and fly around and show what I’ve got.”
What Williams possesses is exactly what NFL teams want in a safety: the ability to cover in space, run with receivers down the field and be a solid tackler. Williams can do all three, but he understands he needs to show it.
“I still have a lot to prove — to the defense, to the coaches and to anyone else if I want to go to the next level. Scouts and all,” he said. “This year has just been to improve and to show what I’ve got.”
Williams returns to a seasoned secondary that is considered to be the strength of defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s defense. He’ll join seniors Dicaprio Bootle, Marquel Dismuke and junior Cam Taylor-Britt as returning starters in the back end.
With sophomore Braxton Clark — the likely replacement for last year’s top corner and current New York Jet Lamar Jackson — going down with a season-ending injury in preseason camp, Bootle will likely slide back to corner to start the season.
He has plenty of starting experience there and, along with Williams, will be a leader of the group.
Without Williams, Nebraska’s pass defense was middle of the pack in the B1G, finishing 7th while allowing 200.8 yards per game and 7th with 11 interceptions.
A soft-spoken, grown man. Nebraska’s secondary is getting a good one back in Williams.
Deontai Williams cover photo via Twitter @IWILLSTILLRISE.