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Brandon Williams Needs to Be One of NFL's Best Defensive Tackles


Brandon Williams is already one of the NFL's best dancers. No more evidence is needed than this dance-off with a young fanat Sunday's open M&T Bank Stadium practice.

Now the Ravens' lovable big man needs to become one of the league's best defensive tackles.

Williams has been one of the NFL's premier run stoppers the past three years. After signing a five-year contract, that's reportedly worth $52 million and made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league, Williams must take the next step.

"Now, I have to prove my worth," Williams said.

"[There's] more on Brandon's plate, getting that extension and knowing what to expect out of him," added safety Eric Weddle. "He's got to be the best in the league, and he knows that."

The Ravens could have gone in a different direction this offseason and relied on second-year defensive tackle Michael Pierce to take over the reins in the middle of Baltimore's line. But the Ravens, who saw other big-name free agents depart, invested in Williams.

Defensive leader Terrell Suggs said keeping Williams was essential, especially when the Ravens face Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell (at least) twice a year.

"Brandon Williams has proven himself," Suggs said. "It's good to have a Raven stay a Raven."

Williams had a lot happen this summer. After re-signing in early March, he got married, went on his honeymoon, then went to England to represent the team before its Week 3 trip to London. More and more, he's becoming the face of this defense and team.

"It was a very momentous year, but now it's time for football, time to grind," Williams said. "The honeymoon season is over, and now it's time for football season. It's time to kick butt and take names."

Williams was a third-round pick out of unheard of Missouri Southern State. After a quiet rookie season, he became a 14-game starter in his second year and has started every game the past two years.

Last year, Williams had the NFL's seventh-best run stopping percentage among defensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus. As a team, the Ravens had the league's fifth-best run defense, allowing just 89.4 yards per game. They were atop the NFL for much of the year but faltered down the stretch.

The Ravens knew that if they were going to stop the run – which is their first priority – re-signing Williams for the long-term would ensure that. Baltimore hasn't ranked in the NFL's top 10 run defenses just three times since 2008, when Head Coach John Harbaugh arrived.

"We expect to be one of the top run defenses in the league and top defenses," Weddle said. "Anything short of that is unsuccessful and won't be tolerated as a group."

The next step in Williams' maturation, and what will help him become one of the league's best interior defensive linemen, is adding more pass rush to his game. He has 4.5 sacks in four seasons.

To be fair, Williams hasn't been on the field much in pass-rush situations. He often came off on third down. After the Ravens traded Timmy Jernigan (13 sacks in three seasons) to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, Williams should get more opportunities to get after the quarterback.

"If all of a sudden they try to go one-on-one with him, thinking that, 'This guy can't pass rush,' he has some power. He'll push the pocket back there on the quarterback," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "I think we have to use those guys a little more than we did in the past."

Williams hasn't changed since signing his contract. He's still the fun-loving guy fans have come to adore. He's still a jokester looking to dance at any moment. While he understands the expectations for him to be a dominant player, he's trying not to create too much pressure.

"I don't want to make it too big for myself, because that's when you start overthinking and trying to do too much, instead of just playing your game," Williams said. "Football is football. I just want the best football player for my team, however I can, wherever they need me."

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