Milton Williams is big enough to overpower offensive tackles, he’s quick enough to leave guards in the dust and he’s strong enough to plow through centers.
The Eagles want him to do it all.
So far he has.
A week into his first NFL training camp, the Eagles have asked Williams to line up both inside and outside on the Eagles’ defensive line in multiple spots. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon doesn’t just love Williams’ raw athleticism but he also clearly appreciates the rookie’s versatility.
“I think he can play five spots on the defensive line, so it is our job figuring out what are his strengths, what are his weaknesses, get his weaknesses a little bit better,” Gannon said. “You're going to see him move all over the place.”
The fact that the Eagles have entrusted Williams to learn multiple spots at once during his first training camp certainly speaks to Williams’ intelligence and the level of trust this coaching staff already has in him.
Just a week into training camp and just a couple days into padded practices, Williams has looked the part.
“He’s an all-around type of guy,” Javon Hargrave said. “We can put him anywhere on the field and he’s going to make plays.”
“He’s pretty versatile with what he can do,” Ryan Kerrigan said. “He’s got the body frame to be inside or outside and I think that’s going to serve him well moving forward.”
Officially, Williams is listed as a defensive tackle. That’s what the Eagles labeled him when they drafted him out of Louisiana Tech in the third round. But there was a thought during the pre-draft process that Williams could play both spots in the NFL and the Eagles have been testing that theory.
And it’s not some new idea either.
“In college, that’s basically what I was doing too,” Williams said. “Inside and outside. I just wanted to come here and show that I can do those things still at the NFL level.”
According to Williams, during his last year at Louisiana Tech it was pretty much up to him where he played on the line. He liked to play inside on early downs and then work the edge on third downs.
It’s not hard to see why Williams has the ability to play multiple positions on the line. At 6-3, 284 pounds, he’s actually undersized compared to most defensive tackles, but his athleticism is off the charts. He’s in the 90th percentiles for most major athletic categories.
But the crazy thing about Williams isn’t just that he’s more athletic than most defensive tackles. It’s that he’s more athletic than most edge players. If we look at Williams compared to other edge players in the draft, he’s in the 88th percentile in weight but still insanely more athletic than those most of those other players.
That next-level athleticism is what really allows him to be such a versatile chip for Gannon.
You can see why the possibilities with Williams must have Gannon, the Eagles’ first-year defensive coordinator, salivating.
“The advantages are we get it accentuate his skillset a little bit, and it's a little bit matchup driven,” Gannon said. “So, we want to see him play on the center, play on guards, play on tackles, and we are still kind of figuring out – all of our guys, but especially Milton, we're figuring out what best suits him so he can be successful.”
Sometimes teams, even if they have they plan on cross-training a rookie, will wait a while before they teach him a second position. They sometimes want that rookie to focus on one. But the Eagles feel confident enough in Williams’ football IQ to give him more than one at at time. And he’s fine with it too.
“Just throw it all at me and let me soak it all in,” he said.
During the first week of practice, Williams has been showing flashes of his raw talent in both team drills and in offensive line-defensive line 1-on-1s. His most impressive rep came a couple days ago when he beat Andre Dillard across his face with a quick inside move during 1-on-1s.
Williams has also had some matchups against Jordan Mailata, who is battling Dillard for the Eagles’ left tackle competition.
How does Williams think he’s performed so far?
“I think I’m my own biggest critic, so I think I did OK but it’s not up to my standard,” he said. “But that comes with it. It’s a grind every day and it’s a jump from college to the NFL. It ain’t going to happen overnight.”
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