Aaron Williams said Tuesday he views his position switch from cornerback to safety as an opportunity, not a demotion.
“I’m a corner playing safety, that’s the way I look at it, a corner playing safety,” Williams said after the team’s minicamp practice. “They wanted me back there to have an advantage against tight ends or guys in the slot. I can still play corner if they put me back there. It has nothing to do with they think I can’t play corner. It’s a corner playing safety.”
The Bills confirmed Williams’ switch at the start of the team’s three-day voluntary minicamp for veterans at One Bills Drive.
Williams has failed to establish himself at cornerback over the past two seasons, since being selected 34th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot, 199-pounder has the body and the athleticism to make an impact at safety, and the Bills have a need at the position with the departure of George Wilson, who was released in February.
New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine effectively used a three-safety nickel package a lot the past few years with the New York Jets.
If Williams can excel at the position, the Bills could pair him with Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd in the back of the nickel defense and allow big strong safety Da’Norris Searcy to play closer to the line. Searcy still needs to prove his coverage ability in order to win the starting job at safety. Williams also could give the Bills a better coverage option against top tight ends, which have posed an increasing matchup problem for defenses in recent years.
“That’s one of the things that’s a big advantage for Aaron Williams is he’s played corner,” said Bills general manager Buddy Nix.
“So if he needs to walk up and play the slot he can do that. So that dictates it a lot. … The whole deal of the strong safety that plays down in the box is about gone. They just won’t let you do that.”
Nix said quick receivers like Denver’s Wes Welker are too tough for strong safeties to cover.
“They’ll match him up against Welker, and you can’t cover him,” Nix said.
Some draft analysts projected Williams as a potential safety when he came out of the University of Texas, in part because he didn’t run a blazing 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine. He ran it in 4.55 seconds, although he ran a bit faster at his pro-day workout.
“In run support, he has few peers at the cornerback position in terms of the players that have come out in recent years,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said at the time.
Williams had coverage trouble last year. He allowed five TD passes in the first five games. He started the first eight games, then suffered a knee injury and missed five games. He returned to start the final two games of the season.
He will need to show he can develop the anticipation to be a playmaker on the back line.
“Wherever the coaches want me to play I’m going to play it,” Williams said.
“It’s not I don’t like it. It’s not I do like it. It’s if the coaches put me in the best position for the team.”
“The coach said we’re gonna move you to safety,” Williams said. “It’s for your best benefit and for the team. After that, you know, just go with it. There’s no second-guessing it. Don’t second-guess the coach. He’s the man, the head-honcho. I ran with it and it’s working out so far.”
Williams has not played any safety since high school, and he acknowledged he will need to do plenty of studying this offseason.
“Everything changes, not just the reads,” Williams said. “You’re telling the cornerback what they’re supposed to be doing. You’re telling linebackers what they’re doing. You’re telling the other safety what you’re doing. So it’s a completely different way of playing, from corner to safety. But I’m adjusting to it and I’m having fun back there.”
The Bills have two more days of practices, which are closed to the public.
New numbers for Bills: Quarterback Kevin Kolb (4), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24), receiver Dorin Dickerson (82), defensive end Alan Branch (90) and linebacker Manny Lawson (91). Dickerson was listed as a tight end last year.
Buffalo has 11 players practicing this week on a tryout basis. Among them is Niagara-Wheatfield High product Byron Mulkey, who finished a fine basketball career at the University at Buffalo in 2011. Mulkey, an All-Western New York defensive back in high school in 2005, had a tryout with the Bills last spring as well.
The others on the tryout list: defensive ends Jamie Blatnick (Oklahoma State) and Marcus Robinson (Miami), linebacker Kourtnei Brown (Clemson), defensive tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (Baylor), cornerback Mike Holmes (Syracuse), tight end Nick Provo (Syracuse), kicker Chris Koepplin (Massachusetts), punter Brian Stahovich (San Diego State), running back Frank Summers (UNLV) and long-snapper James Winchester (Oklahoma).