The 2012 season is dead and gone in Aaron Williams’ mind.
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive back shoveled the last bit of dirt on any unwanted memories of a year ago Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, turning in the best performance of his three-year professional career in a 23-20 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Forced to start at cornerback in place of the injured Leodis McKelvin, Williams intercepted a pair of passes – two of the five interceptions the Bills recorded off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Williams, of course, spent the first two years of his career at cornerback for the Bills. He had just one interception coming into the season, and played in only 20 of a possible 32 games.
The consensus was he was destined to be a draft bust. But the 34th overall pick in the 2011 draft has undergone a career transformation in the first quarter of 2013.
When new coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine took over, one of the first things they did was move Williams to safety. He played all but one snap there during the team’s first two games, then slid over to cornerback in Week Three when McKelvin was hurt against the New York Jets.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can on that field, no matter what position I’m going to be in,” Williams said. “If the coaches need me to be somewhere, I’m going to give them 110 percent of what I got. As far as whether there were questions about me, how I’m going to play at cornerback, well, last year’s over with. We’re not going to bring up last year. It’s a new team, it’s a new attitude.”
With that has come a new player, one who’s grasped the opportunity in front of him with both hands.
“I think he played very well. I don’t think people have an appreciation, even though he’s played the position, he hasn’t played the position a lot in what we’re doing, in our scheme,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said of Williams bouncing between safety and cornerback. “They have some very difficult route combinations that you have to cover. I thought he did a very, very good job. We’re proud of that.”
The Bills want to move Williams back to safety, but in the mean time they can feel good about having a player with his flexibility at cornerback.
“As an organization we thought he’d be better suited inside and we felt that was a great move for him. He’s been very successful communicating and tackling in open space and covering the third receiver, which we thought he’d be able to do,” defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson said. “Now we felt we’d have three corners on the field all the time. So that was the basis for it. What he’s given us is position flexibility. Last week when Leodis went down, I told him, ‘Here’s my plan. You have to go play, man.’ He said ‘yeah,’ with a smile on his face.”
Confidence just seems to be spilling out of Williams these days. After his second interception Sunday – in which he made an athletic catch going backward in front of Ravens receiver Torrey Smith in the end zone – he had one thought: Take it to the house.
“Last year, I didn’t really go and be aggressive toward the ball and Donnie really put pressure on me to go up there and pretend like that ball is the last thing I have on earth,” said Williams, who looked to run after the interception before taking a knee for a touchback. “If you really want to be great, go get that ball.”
Williams, who finished the game with two tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed, said he thought he heard a whistle on the play – joking “maybe they were just scared of me going 108” yards.
Williams’ good day was cut short by injury. He left the game briefly in the second quarter after landing hard on his right shoulder while breaking up a pass, then was lost for the game for good in the fourth quarter because of a lower-back contusion.
He told The News after the game that he expects to play Thursday against Cleveland.