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O'HARA: Willams has inside track on the strong side

INDIANAPOLIS –The graph on linebacker Antwione Williams' rookie season with the Detroit Lions touched just about every level. There were peaks, valleys and everything in between.

If he needed a learning experience in the transition from college, it taught him not to take anything for granted or put too much stock in things outside his control.

That might be a reason why Williams wasn't overly excited when the Lions posted the first unnofficial depth chart of the year Wednesday morning. Rookie Jarrad Davis was listed as the starter in the middle, with Tahir Whitehead and Williams on the outside.

It really was no surprise – and not a big deal for Williams after the Lions finished practice and headed to Indianapolis for two days of practice against the Colts in advance of their preseason game Sunday afternoon.

"I'm just still working every day," Williams said. "I'm not putting any credence in that until we get to our first game and line everything up. I'm just working hard and trying to improve my game."

Williams' status changed in a hurry last year after making the 53-player roster as a fifth-round draft pick out of Georgia Southern.

With three veterans starting in the opening-game win over the Indianapolis Colts – Whitehead in the middle and DeAndre Levy and Kyle Van Noy outside – Williams was a backup on defense and a regular on special teams.

He played one snap on defense in a sub package and 22 on special teams.

Williams remembers his one snap.

"It was 'heavy,'" he said, referring to an offensive scheme that uses extra tight ends or linemen as blockers.

"They did a pass the other way. Levy got a penalty on the sideline. We almost got in a scrap."

What happened after that game was a microcosm for what can happen in pro football. Two careers changed drastically.

Levy played every snap against the Colts but played only four more games the rest of the season because of an injury, with two more starts. He currently is not with a team.

Williams was promoted to the starting lineup as the strong-side, or SAM, linebacker the next week for the Lions' home opener against the Titans. He played well, recording three tackles, one of them for a loss.

Typical of the SAM linebacker, he got the third most defensive snaps (22) behind Whitehead and Van Noy and showed quickness, power and aggressiveness.

His performance represented an upward trend on his rookie chart and showed that he was a legitimate prospect with starting potential. But a downward trend followed soon. Williams sustained an injury in the game and missed the next week's road game against the Packers.

Williams missed one other game the rest of the year, but overall he had an encouraging rookie season. He played 14 games, with three starts, and some big moments in key games.

In back-to-back games in a five-day span he had a fumble recovery and three solo tackles in a win over the Jaguars, then backed that up on Thanksgiving Day with four total tackles in a crucial 16-13 win over the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings.

As the early depth chart indicates, Williams has a key role in what the front office and coaching staff have done to overhaul the linebackers.

Davis was drafted in the first round to start in the middle. Whitehead was moved from the middle to the weak side. And Williams has the inside track on the strong side.

One thing the unit has is players with the ability to run. That includes veteran free agents Paul Worrilow and Nick Bellore, who were signed in the offseason.

"I think I'm a big guy (6-3, 240) who can run pretty well," Williams said. "I'm kind of bigger than everybody else -- a big guy who can run pretty well. I can set the edge and be physical."

Like most players, Williams watched video of his rookie year in the offseason to see where he needed to improve.

"I've definitely worked on my hands more, and definitely worked on being more consistent," Williams said. "I'm just trying to keep everything at a high tempo. I got in my playbook and looked at my assignments – every linebacker position. What they do ... how stuff fits."

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