Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams was a freak of nature from the minute he walked into the Under Armour Performance Center as a rookie last year.
Entering his second season, Williams has become a better, well-rounded football player. And he's in line to become the starter at nose tackle.
"Brandon [Williams] has progressed quite a bit," Defensive Line Coach Clarence Brooks said. "He's got a lot of strength, he's got a lot of toughness, he understands the scheme, and he understands what's expected of him."
A third-round pick last year, Williams was active for just seven games and made six tackles and one sack (on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger). He was active for one of the Ravens' final six games.
Williams attributes his improvement this offseason primarily to changes in his body, technique and understanding of his role in the scheme.
Williams hasn't lost weight since last year, but his body fat has dramatically changed. He was at 30 percent body fat last year and is now down to 22 percent and wants to go lower. Coaches gave him a benchmark of 24 percent.
"I feel a lot better – big difference," he said. "I'm not huffing and puffing as much, even in that Dallas preseason game going back to back [drives]. I was good. I was a little winded, but I wasn't dogging it."
Williams' greatest attribute may be his brute strength. Now he knows how to use it. Brooks said his strength is "a lot more functional."
Coming from small-school Missouri Southern State, and getting a late start on football, Williams had room to grow with his technique.
"Last year, I really just had a bull-rush mentality," Williams said. "Now it's more hands, more footwork, more movement, a lot more hip movements. The technique has come along a lot more than last year."
Williams is also now in his natural position at nose tackle, where he's listed atop the Ravens' most recent depth chart ahead of DeAngelo Tyson. Terrence Cody, who is still rehabbing after offseason hip surgery, is listed at defensive tackle.
The Ravens moved defensive tackle Haloti Ngata inside last year, including playing a lot of nose tackle. Now Williams has the job of eating up blockers, which should allow Ngata – and especially the linebackers – to flow to the ball.
"That's what I'm looking for is to get other people some glorified tackles," Williams said. "If I get tackles on my own and a couple sacks, that would be great too. But that's not what I'm here for.
"Not much glory to it, but when you make a play it's known. If you push the pocket back and the quarterback throws a high ball and we get an interception, it's known. You're really not the one getting praised outside and in the media, but you're getting praised in the film room."
Williams has done well in the Ravens' first two preseason games. He received positive 1.3 and 0.9 grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF), and was especially effective in run defense.
When the 49ers' first-team offense got to the goal line on the game's opening drive, Williams burst through the line to smack running back Jewel Hampton for a 1-yard loss and force a field goal. That play was noticed.
"I had to beast mode up," Williams said with a laugh. "I had to Hulk out on them."