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Husky Hard Knocks: Trevardo Williams

Here is part four of our new series that will highlight the seven former Huskies about to enter their first NFL training camps this summer. Each day we’ll evaluate a single player’s individual prospects, likely fit with their new team and position competition. Today, we continue with Trevardo Williams, who was selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft by the Houston Texans.

It happens every snap.

The race.

The most re-run, unusual sprint you’ll ever see.

Starting not with a resounding gunshot, it begins rather with an abrupt bark. The bark signals not only for participants to fire off the line, but for the ball to simultaneously be fired backwards. The runners competing aren’t lean, speed-machines rushing along parallel lines. Instead, they’re snarling, mountainous men up to 350 pounds facing one another head on.

And the race begins with these behemoths taking a single step straight into their opposition.

Then, the race is won.

Not by a first place finish, but by a third step landing. On nearly every play, whichever offensive or defensive lineman can gain the third overall step between he and the man across from him essentially wins. He claims ground, leverage opportunity and an initial edge on his opponent. Whether rushing quarterbacks, stepping back to anchor in pass protection or clearing space somewhere in the running game, the third step is critical.

Of course, this isn’t all that winning a battle in the trenches entails (and truly its not even close). Otherwise, the best sprinters would make the best lineman.

However, in the case of Trevardo Williams, he was the best sprinter of any defensive lineman in the 2013 NFL Draft with a 4.59 second 40-yard dash. He was also the best sack-artist ever to don a UConn uniform, and now will put on pro pads for week one of the NFL season. And this is in small part, no coincidence.

The speedy Williams whipped Big East offensive tackles into human turnstiles the last two seasons, racking up 24 sacks and All-Big East team selections. A former high school state champion sprinter, Williams chose to play defensive end full-time upon arriving in Storrs in 2009. Now, four years later, Williams will have to make another transition from end to outside linebacker for the Houston Texans.

The 6’ 1.5" 241 lbs. rookie has great foot quickness, which leads to his exceptional long speed and short-term acceleration. Pass rushing is far and away Williams’ greatest strength, and his favorite move is to simply get up and around opposing tackles, utilizing his swiftness and flexibility. He also employs a good counter move to blow past blockers that slide too far upfield when anticipating his rush.

Unlike some athletic ends, Williams is also a very proficient tackler. He provides a certain "pop" at immediate contact that almost always ends in his target being brought down. When coming around the corner for unsuspecting quarterbacks, he is very adept at swiping for the football to try and cause a fumble. Furthermore, Williams has the versatility to create this kind of pressure from both ends of the line. Finally, the three-year UConn starter plays with a consistently high level of energy, which can, and did, wear down opponents over the course of a game.

As with most things in Texas, Williams’ responsibility to his new team will be much bigger. As an outside linebacker, he’ll have to play man and zone coverage, rush from a two and three-point stance and finally, learn an NFL-sized playbook. Fortunately for the Bridgeport, C.T. native, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips draws his Xs and Os with outside ‘backers rushing on nearly every snap, so he’ll be permitted to chase quarterbacks quite often.

But, Williams will have to shore up some of the question marks existent in his scouting report. Due to his smaller stature, he’s a liability in the run game, where his new duty to steer large lineman and tight ends in order to set the edge is paramount. This means adding strength in his lower body. Furthermore, he’ll have to become more apt at covering receivers in short space, something he hardly did during his time at UConn.

Blowing coverage on a 3rd and medium or 3rd and short play as a rookie will be about as enjoyable as an afternoon spent bra-shopping with Mom.

In addition, as much as his speed and athleticism did the trick in college, Williams will have to grow a full arsenal of pass rush moves to get by NFL-quality offensive tackles. But, his athletic ability will serve him immediately on special teams, where he’ll likely be delegated to cover kicks and punts.

At this stage, reports of the Houston Husky’s attempts at trying out his new responsibilities are favorable. In fact, head coach Gary Kubiak believes that Williams is ahead of fellow rookie Sam Montgomery after mini-camp. The duo is amongst a handful of linebackers looking to help replace Connor Barwin, who left in free agency for the Philadelphia Eagles. The starters currently entrenched outside are Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus, recent draft picks who have developed well in Phillips’ scheme.

Montgomery, selected one round ahead of Williams, is a two inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than his Connecticut counterpart. According to his scouting profile, Montogomery is a high-motor player with great aggression and good quickness. The LSU product tallied 17 sacks his last two years playing in the SEC, which he parlayed into a third-team All-American selection. He’s almost guaranteed to make the team.

Further down the food chain is fan favorite Bryan Braman. Braman enters his third year in the league after leaving West Texas A&M University as an undrafted free agent. Aside from his underdog story, Braman has earned fans’ affinity by blocking multiple punts as a star special teams performer. Back in 2011, he also smashed Tennessee Titans returner Marc Mariani head-on— after his helmet had fallen off. He should carve out a role for the team’s 2013 campaign.

At the bottom of the barrel are undrafted rookies Willie Jefferson and Justin Tuggle. Both are athletic, physical specimens who switched positions and sides of the football less than three years ago. Jefferson posted eight sacks last season for FCS school Stephen F. Austin, while Tuggle picked up three quarterback drops for Kansas State when the Wildcats took on Miami, Oklahoma and Texas.

Only one of Jefferson and Tuggle should make the roster.

Should Williams or any members of his competition produce enough in camp, one could actually earn a starting spot. Rumors currently have it that Reed may get kicked inside to pair with Brian Cushing, which would leave an opening opposite Mercilus.

Yet, no matter how fast Trevardo is, there is still a long way to go as training camp has yet to even begin.

He’ll get his first crack at taking that third step in practice this Friday when the Texans kick off camp. They open the pre-season with Minnesota on August 9th at 8 p.m. in Minneapolis.