Speed guys? Easy to spot.
They wear single-digit jerseys, or maybe something in the 20s or 80s. Wide at the shoulders, narrow in the hips – they’re A-list mesomorphs. Almost regal in bearing, but with a studied nonchalance about their gift.
In other words, not a 305-pound traffic clot on the defensive line, taking on double-team blocks with feral gusto, who by his own admission spent his first college practice at Eastern Washington retching on the sidelines because he wasn’t in shape.
Not Renard Williams.
But says who?
Couldn’t the best example of speed’s ever-increasing importance in football be best represented not by a sleek wide receiver or a lockdown cornerback but a brutish wide-body who runs by blockers his own size and runs down tailbacks half as big?
“Speed,” insisted Nate Brookreson, EWU’s strength and conditioning coach, “isn’t just a skill position requisite.”
In the coaching lexicon, one man’s speed is another’s quickness or even, as Eastern’s head coach, Beau Baldwin likes to call it, “suddenness.” What we think of as speed almost doesn’t apply to a player like Williams, a defensive tackle who is rarely called upon to run straight up or downfield for more than five yards.
Yet Baldwin doesn’t know if there’s another player in his program whose game is so predicated on speed.
“And he can disrupt a game with that speed like no one I’ve ever seen defensively at this level,” Baldwin said.
It’s even been known to disrupt track practice.
Williams was a thrower of some accomplishment at South Kitsap High School – he was State 4A shot put champion as a senior in 2007 – who used to cast a longing eye at the sprinters churning out their intervals.
“The guys would do their 100s and 200s and one day I said, ‘Let me get a shot at that – I bet I could surprise some people,’ ” Williams recalled. “Well, they let me do it and I held my own – I didn’t win, but I did surprise some people, like ‘Damn, that guy’s too big to be moving like that.’ ”
So did he talk his way into a shot at racing in an actual meet?
“No, I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” he laughed. “I have speed – but not that kind of speed.”
So what kind?
Well, back when he was a 285-pound sophomore, Williams ran a 40-yard dash in under 4.8 seconds. This summer, at 305, he still managed to clock in the 4.8s (“Ridiculous,” said Brookreson). In the short shuttle – a lateral, change-of-direction drill that covers 20 yards – he’s run 4.3. For what it’s worth, none of the 17 300-pound defensive linemen at this year’s NFL Combine was as fast in either drill. He has a 32-inch vertical jump and 9-plus in the standing broad jump.
“Getting off the ball faster than the offensive lineman can, getting their hands off me – that’s what speed does,” said Williams. “Getting down the line to meet the running back as he’s making his cut, at the hole he’s trying to hit, rather than him already being there and me chasing him down the field.
“I’ve got to think every running back I’ve ever played against has probably been surprised at how well I can move.”
In fact, Baldwin equates Williams to a former Eagle noted for his speed in a more traditional sense – running back Taiwan Jones.
“Sometimes Renard will just go around a block, which sounds goofy,” Baldwin said, “and actually is quote-unquote ‘technically unsound.’ He’s so quick he can get away with it and make a play in the backfield for a 4-yard loss, where a lot of guys might try that and you’d tell them, ‘Never - your job is to fight that (block).’
“It’s similar to the way Taiwan would sometimes take a run and bounce it the other direction – a move you’d tell another back he’s not allowed to do. But with Taiwan you’d live with a few mistakes because he’s going to make some monster plays. Renard’s the same way.”
So despite the constant double-teaming, Williams still led the FCS national champions in sacks, and had just two tackles-for-loss fewer than linebackers J.C. Sherritt and Zach Johnson, whose lanes to the backfield were generally unimpeded. And though he’s often described by his teammates as a physical freak, Williams is also an advertisement for the football reality that speed counts as much for the 300-pounder as the 200-pounder.
“Defensive ends are expected to chase plays down 20 yards downfield,” Brookreson noted, “or chase a quarterback who’s 30-40 pounds lighter. Linebackers need to go sideline-to-sideline. DBs have to cover deep downfield or recover to stop the run. And kids start earlier in terms of training for that now. The expectation is, to get to this level, you have to possess the ability to move quickly.”
Whether you have the look of a speed guy or not.