Williams gets chance to pick off his glory

Ravens cornerback and pending free agent gets to go for big money if Reed is out awhile


The hypothetical is posed to Chad Williams, and the thick Alabama drawl that generally accompanies his words of humility takes a hiatus. So does the humility.

Williams vs. Ed Reed - who wins that footrace?

"I don't know," Williams said, voice perking up. "You might want to check the [NFL] combine stats [in 2002] because I was the fastest strong safety."

Williams cracks a smile, then admits the obvious. "No, but Ed has speed you can't judge," he said. "Where I can make it up is by reading keys [on the field]. Reading linemen, reading receivers, that will put you a step ahead. Coaches say always read your keys and play with your eyes."

Chances are, Williams will get the opportunity to put his coaches' advice to use for an entire game in place of Reed, who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns and might miss Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

It would be the first start at safety for Williams, who has made his niche with the Ravens as the dime (sixth) defensive back since the team selected him in the sixth round in 2002. Playing around 15-20 snaps a game, Williams has earned the nickname "pound-for-pound," a takeoff from the boxing world that signifies the best regardless of weight division.

Williams has seven interceptions, three sacks, a blocked punt and a fumble recovery in his career. Three of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, including one last season against the Dallas Cowboys' Vinny Testaverde that put the Ravens up 21 points in the fourth quarter.

It was vintage Williams, who much like Reed, possesses a flair for the dramatic. In the Ravens' win against the Buffalo Bills last season, Williams deflected a pass to Deion Sanders, who returned it 48 yards for a touchdown, then intercepted another pass and returned it 93 yards to set up a field goal.

"Chad is very solid for us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Since the day he's been here, he does what he's supposed to be doing, when he's supposed to be doing it, how he's supposed to be doing it."

But never have the Ravens asked so much of Williams as they will if Reed is out for an extended period. Williams acknowledges these next few games make shape the course of his career.

He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Reed and Will Demps have been the primary starters since 2002, and though Demps will be a free agent as well, the Ravens are expected to try to keep that tandem together.

If Williams is to get a decent contract offer on the free-agent market, he will have to prove he can handle being a full-time player. It is the only real blip on his resume.

"To get an opportunity to play as an every down safety, it will be big," Williams said. "It will show people out there what I can do and prove to myself my worth. It will be big for me and my future, whatever it may be."

While his future looks a little unstable, Williams' past was certainly not. He grew up in a typical middle-class home where his father worked for the housing authority in Birmingham and his mother worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation. "I grew up normal," Williams said. "It was nothing too tragic about my upbringing."

His role model was former NFL player and fellow Wenonah High School graduate Sam Shade, a fitting choice since Williams' game mirrors the former Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins safety. Like Shade, Williams does not have great top-end speed, but thrives on instincts and physical play.

Unlike Shade, Williams has exceptional quickness within a confined space. It is the reason why he has succeeded at a position a number of defensive coordinators dread having to go to in a game.

Ravens coordinators through the years have had no such worries. Now Williams must prove he can handle an even greater role of filling in for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

"I'm a playmaker, but Ed is on a whole different level," Williams said. "You've got to take plays when they come. Ed does a great job of making plays, and hopefully I can make some plays if I'm in there."


Ravens@Bears Sunday, 4:15 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bears by 1

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