Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13488840av) Dallas Cowboys defensive end Sam Williams (54) is chased by the Detroit Lions defense after recovering a fumble by Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff during the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas Lions Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Cowboys defensive end Sam Williams had the best game of his rookie campaign on Sunday, helping the Cowboys to a 24-6 win over the Detroit Lions.
Williams, who struggled early in the season with penalties and playing time, finished last week’s game with a pair of sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery while playing nearly 25 percent of the defensive snaps and 54 percent of the snaps on special teams. Altogether he played 27 snaps against the Lions, which was not the most he has played this season; it was his most productive day as a Cowboy.
“I am very proud of Sam,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He had some learning experiences early in the year, but I think the last two weeks he has flashed big time with his opportunities.”
Williams recorded three tackles in just 14 snaps at defensive end. Four of those plays went down as splash plays – 2 sacks, his first two of the season, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
With the help of his teammates, he is certainly making the most of his opportunities.
“He really leans on the veteran players and asks them questions and wants to know,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said of Williams’ development. “When you think he’s not paying attention, he’s paying attention.”
Williams, a second-round pick out of Ole Miss, had a rough go of it early on in his time with the team, getting off to a slow start in training camp.
But the rookie made the team something that was probably never in jeopardy, and he has spent the first seven games of his career making the Cowboys happy they drafted him.
Williams, a linebacker when he arrived in Oxford, Miss., after two years at Northeast Mississippi Community College, came into his senior season with the Rebels having never played a game on the defensive line.
But he made the move and ended up having a banner year, racking up 57 tackles, 31 of them solo, and 12.5 sacks in the 2021 season.
Despite his success in just the one year at DE, Williams was thought by draft experts to be a third-day pick, going somewhere between the fourth and seventh rounds.
The Cowboys thought otherwise and grabbed Williams with the 24th pick in the second round, 56th overall, of this past season’s draft.
Now playing defensive end in the NFL after just one year of college experience, Williams started slowly. It didn’t help that he was a bit too aggressive early in the season for the ref’s liking, being flagged for Illegal Use of Hands – Hands to the Face in Week 2 and an Unnecessary Roughness call in Week 3.
But despite his early season struggles, Williams continued to work hard, garner playing time, and produce on the field.
After playing just six of 62 defensive and 11 special teams snaps in Week 1, Williams has added to those numbers every week.
“The nature and style that he plays, I just see it’s going to increase the more experience that he gets,” Quinn said. “You probably heard me say in the beginning of the year that there is some on-the-job training that goes along with playing in September and October that produce better Novembers, Decembers, and Januarys because you took the chance to work through some tough problems. But, if you think they’re not ready, don’t put them in … they never quite develop. So, you have to put them in, and you have to live with some problems early on, but my experience has been – do it, and by the time you get to the later part of the season, they’re not having those growing pains anymore. I knew that there would be some with (Williams), just like there was last year with Micah (Parsons) and Osa (Odighizuwa) and some of the other guys as they were coming up through. But he will get better for it.”
Seven games later, Williams has been on the field for 101 plays on defense, making nine tackles, five of which were designated as splash plays – two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble, and 115 special teams snaps.
“Sam has been playing on special teams. … But it is great to see (that) when he is getting in there (on defense), he is making plays,” McCarthy said.
His only indiscretion since Week 3 was an offsides call on a kickoff that cost the Cowboys five yards against Philadelphia.
On a defensive front littered with playmakers like Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Odighizuwa, Williams is starting to fit right in.
“He has a lot of Demarcus’ traits as a ball player in him,” Quinn said. “He has strength, he can play violently, so when I see them together, Sam reminds me of that kind of style. They are different in terms of how they pass rush, but both of them have real strength and are really willing to throw it in there. So, in the run game, that is the type of player that you want. To say not only can they set the edge, but they can go be a factor in the run. I think you have seen that with Sam. The (tackle for loss) at the Rams’ game and some (of the plays on Sunday).”