FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick loves to take away an opposing team’s best weapon. Some of the threats the Patriots coach typically wants to eliminate are either at receiver or tight end, and stand 6-foot-2 or taller.
Enter Joejuan Williams.
In a loaded secondary, the rookie cornerback could very well be Belichick’s greatest matchup weapon.
While the second-round pick out of Vanderbilt got off to a slow start in training camp, he’s come around of late. The past two weeks in Detroit and Nashville, he’s begun to show why Belichick was so quick to pull the trigger on bringing him to Foxborough.
Saturday night against the Titans, Williams effectively handled Tennessee’s top wideout Corey Davis. On two pass attempts to the 6-foot-3, 209 pound Davis, Williams didn’t allow a catch. On one of the plays, Williams made a terrific pass-breakup, backpedaling then using his tremendous reach to get his hand out front and disrupt the play.
He looked so good, other NFL types noticed. Case in point, after watching the game, former Patriots receiver Chad Johnson sent a message via twitter. Ochocinco was clearly impressed with the rookie, tweeting: “Joejuan Williams is gonna be special!!”
Williams also had a decent week of practice going up against Davis and the Titans during the joint practices.
With a 6-foot-3, 212 pound frame, Williams is built to take on the big boys. Stephon Gilmore, who had a bit of trouble locking down Davis in his matchup against the Titans receiver last season, also likes what Williams brings to the table. Standing at his locker prior to Tuesday’s practice, the first team All-Pro corner praised the rookie.
“Since he came in, he’s been working hard,” said Gilmore. “He has good size. I feel like he’s getting better and better every day, that’s the main thing. I think he’s got a good future.”
The previous week against the Lions in the preseason opener, Williams played pretty well, but also had a mental hiccup. After chasing down Ty Johnson after a 17-yard gain in the third quarter, he threw him down after the runner was clearly out-of-bounds and the play was over. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty could be chalked up to a rookie mistake, but it still isn’t something Belichick is looking for.
Since then, Williams hasn’t been quite as overzealous or over-aggressive with his tackling, trying to make a point. Instead, he’s focused more on showing off his athleticism as a defender and his ability to take on the bigger receivers.
“He asks questions. He learns fast. He takes coaching very well,” said Gilmore. “When you can do those things, you’re going to get better every day. He works hard on the practice field. He’s going to be a good player.”
Of course, last week, Williams was playing in front of many friends and family members. He’s a Nashville native, and went to Vanderbilt. That might have provided a little added motivation for the rookie.
While he might not be at the top end of the cornerback depth chart just yet, sitting after Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson, he remains a fascinating chess piece for Belichick.
Devin McCourty, the quarterback of the defense at safety, doesn’t know what the Hoodie has in store for Williams, but likes what he’s seen thus far from the rookie.
“Obviously, he has a skillset that not all of our corners have,” said McCourty. “He’s a big, long, guy. Part of the process of a guy coming to a new team is trying to prove himself, trying to fit in. He’s just put his head down and gone to work. He’s been very impressive physically with what he’s done, and mentally making sure he’s up to speed with everything. He’s been fun to work with.”
At the very least, Williams has provided a glimpse of what his future might be with his work on Davis Saturday in Tennessee. If he continues to have that kind of success, it’s easy to see where he might fit, how Belichick might employ him going forward. Nowadays, you can never have too many matchup weapons in your secondary.