The big guy is back in the middle of the Ravens* *defensive line, and it’s a big help to the Ravens’ recently leaky run defense.
“I’m just a guy,” Williams said Wednesday, speaking with reporters for the first time since he injured his foot in the Ravens’ Week 2 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Told about Williams’ understatement of the year, fellow starting defensive tackle Michael Pierce scoffed and laughed.
“I would not buy that, not at all,” he said. “That’s one of our key defensive pieces.”
It’s unknown whether Williams will be able to play this week against the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens will evaluate where he’s at after two more practices. Williams said he had the same foot injury during his rookie year in 2013 and missed three games. He’s missed four games so far this time.
“Just taking it day by day, taking it a little slower obviously because now I have a bigger role, so I can’t just throw myself back out there,” Williams said. “But at the same time, I am working to get back out there as soon as possible.”
If nothing else, Williams’ full Wednesday practice session gives the defense a welcomed shot of optimism after the Chicago Bears ran for a record 231 yards against a prideful Ravens run defense.
“When you have a guy like that, a leader, it’s a big confidence booster for everyone,” Pierce said.
“It’s huge,” cornerback Jimmy Smith added. “We have our $50-million man coming back. He causes a lot of damage up there in the front, so it is going to be great to get him back.”
The Ravens have relied on second-year defensive tackle Willie Henry and third-year defensive tackle Carl Davis, though Davis also missed last week’s game (thigh), leaving Baltimore particularly thin. Davis also returned to practice Wednesday.
While they’ve done a solid job, they aren’t Williams.
“I mean, we always believe in the next man up, but this machine has working parts to it and you need all of your parts,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s always great to have one of the best interior linemen back on the team.”
The Ravens currently rank 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (141.3). Baltimore has finished in the top 10 of the NFL in 13 of the past 17 seasons. It’s never ranked lower than 23rd, which it did in the inaugrial 1996 season (120 per game).
The question is not whether Williams will help, but how much.
Pierce talked about the ripple effect his return will have. It means Williams will gobble up more double teams, freeing up Pierce and the defensive ends to make more plays. It should also help keep the linebackers cleaner.
With Williams on the field in Weeks 1 and half of Week 2, the Cincinnati Bengals ran for 77 yards and the Browns ran for 93. Without Williams, it’s not that the Ravens have given up a ton of yards per run, but they haven’t done enough to dissuade opponents to stop running.
The Jacksonville Jaguars ran 35 times, the Pittsburgh Steelers ran 42 times and the Bears ran it a whopping 54 times, and eventually broke a 53-yard gain in overtime to win the game.
Baltimore won’t get back starting defensive end Brent Urban, who suffered a season-ending foot injury. The Ravens will still rely on rookie third-round pick Chris Wormley, second-year defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and undrafted rookie Patrick Ricard beside Williams.
“I think he’s a part of the answer,” Pierce said. “Everybody has to be accountable for their gap integrity on each and every play. You just see leaks here and there from myself and everybody on defense. We have to clean that up, and he’s going to be a big help.”
Williams was asked whether he feels the weight of the run defense on his shoulders.
“I am just prepared to get out there and do what I do best, which is stop the run, get after the passer and push the pocket,” he said. “I don’t feel any weight on my shoulders, but I am urging myself to get out there.”