Giants' Williams prepared to keep his star on the rise

Safety has challenge of stopping Sharpe

January 26, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - New York Giants free safety Shaun Williams knew his time would come.

And when the Giants used their first-round pick in 1998 to select the UCLA standout, even though they had a surplus of talented safeties, they also had the same strong impression.

In his third season and first as a starter, Williams has arrived, growing with every regular-season game and then turning it up in the playoffs.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago, he put a severe first-quarter hit on Torrance Small to force a fumble, and then he sacked Daunte Culpepper to cause another turnover against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.

Nobody seems surprised, Williams in particular.

"It was something I prepared myself well for in the off-season, and I came into this season with a lot of expectations. I set a lot of goals, and I think I've done pretty well this year," Williams said.

Now, Williams is preparing for his first Super Bowl and, with it, a number of responsibilities.

He'll be down in the box when the Giants use an eight-man front against the run, and he'll also drop back in a number of deep zone coverages. But the one assignment everyone wants to talk about is when he will cover Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, who also has made several big plays in the postseason.

"I'm sure that matchup will be a big part of our game," Giants defensive coordinator John Fox said.

Williams, who had success against Sharpe (then with Denver) in his rookie year, is ready for the challenge.

"He's a new Shannon Sharpe and I'm a new Shaun Williams, and it's a new team he's playing for and it's a big game," Williams, 6 feet 2, 215 pounds said. "Just to know that I've seen him before, that I had some success against him helps, but what happens in the past doesn't really matter. He's one of the greatest receiving tight ends to play the game, and my work is cut out for me."

The biggest thing Williams has learned in his three seasons is you have to be ready for work. That, more than anything else, is what has teammates labeling him a future Pro Bowl player.

"More than anything, he studies the game," Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn said. "And he's improved not as an athlete, but as a football player because he knows where he's supposed to be. Whereas early on in all our careers, we rely too much on that athletic ability, now he knows where he's supposed to take that athletic ability and he can make plays."

Said Williams: "When you know you studied and are prepared, it's a really good feeling - like going into an exam in college and knowing you're going to ace the test."

As far as Fox is concerned, Williams has already passed the test. He, too, is not surprised.

"We knew he was going to be a great football player for us, and it just took some time for him to be able to get that starting position," he said. "He's been a real integral part for us defensively. He's got great range, he's an excellent tackler and he brings good speed to that position."

Giants strong safety Sam Garnes, in his fourth season out of Cincinnati, has seen up close the rapid development of Williams.

"Early on, in the first couple games, he had some rough spots. But after that, he just caught fire and is now playing as well as anyone on the field," Garnes said. "Watching him, it seems like he has no conscience. He's just out there playing, and it's enjoyable to play with someone like that. It makes my job a lot easier and everybody else around him easier, too."

Williams said the Giants defense must avoid allowing the big play and also win the turnover battle.

"I try to do anything that can help my team," he said. "We have a lot of big-time players on this team, and in order to win games, players have to play big. So that's what I try to do - I just try to improve every week, go out and make plays."

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