On Wednesday in the Cleveland Browns' locker room, reporters swarmed rookie cornerback K'Waun Williams. If the undrafted rookie from Pittsburgh keeps this up, meeting with the media mid-week will become a customary routine.
When the NFL Draft came and went last May, Williams received only two phone calls from NFL teams -- the Steelers and the Browns. Neither team was offering Williams a contract, either.
Roughly 35 additional rookies and journey-man veterans are invited to a three-day rookie minicamp around the league one week after the Draft. Pittsburgh and Cleveland both invited him on a tryout basis, essentially meaning Williams would be a body to fill space while the "real rookies" -- those drafted and signed as undrafted free agents -- were acclimated to professional football.
Williams wasn't even fully aware that the Browns had selected two cornerbacks in the first four rounds – Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir. It didn't matter. Williams decided to step out of his comfort zone in Pittsburgh and chose the Browns.
"I just wanted to try something new," said Williams, who is a native of New Jersey, from the same area New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz hails from.
Digging back into our notes from May, Williams flashed from the get-go. He picked off a Duke Johnson Jr. pass and sprinted down the sidelines for a touchdown. For his size, (5-foot-9, 183 pounds), Williams showed unique giveback in his strength when playing press-man coverage – which is what coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil's defense would be built upon.
Shortly after the rookie minicamp, the Browns' coaching staff and front office had no choice: Williams outperformed nearly every player on the field and he was offered a contract. They had to see how he would stack up against true pro competition.
Team scouts were originally introduced to Williams by Jeff Hafley, the Browns' secondary coach. Hafley, who held the same title at the University of Pittsburgh, was originally part of Williams' recruiting process and helped nudge his superior coaches into letting the true freshman onto the field. Hafley left a year later for Rutgers and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he always kept close tabs on Williams.
The progression only continued. Williams looked sharp in the preseason, almost always locking down his opposition at wide receiver. It may have been against guys who are now on practice squads out of the NFL, but the budding skill set was there.
"He was a player who just wasn't making mistakes," said Buster Skrine.
In an array of surprising August cuts (Nate Burleson, MarQueis Gray, Dion Lewis), the Browns opted for depth on defense instead. Fellow undrafted cornerback Robert Nelson joined Williams and 10 other defensive backs, making the unit one of the largest in the league.
The Browns evaluated Williams as a player who would eventually help this team win games. That prophecy came to fruition sooner than expected.
The Dawg Pound was formally introduced to Williams in a big way last Sunday in Nashville. Playing nickel cornerback, Williams made a critical tackle in the fourth quarter on a third-down stop. He also received 36 snaps. He was on the field a majority of the game.
With 20 seconds left in the game and one timeout, the Titans only had 35 yards to go to get into field goal range. It wasn't impractical they could pull it off. When Karlos Dansby barked out the play call in the huddle, the pressure would be mounted on Williams. O'Neil wanted his rookie cornerback to blitz the Titans off the edge.
"When I heard the call, I told myself, 'Lets run it!" said Williams. "I pride myself on hitting. I love tackling."
Moments later, Williams clobbered quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for a sack, sealing the win.
"You have to find a way to disguise yourself, almost hide behind other linebackers and lineman. Coach dialed up a blitz. I was just patient and executed," Williams said, still wide-eyed from the play.
Williams may have been disguised for his few months in Cleveland – to fans and opposing teams. That won't be the case anymore. Expect his role and versatility as a sneaky pass rusher to only increase.
More getting to know K'Waun Williams
Favorite color: Green. "My high school team was green and gold. I've always loved green."
Favorite type of music/musical group: Hip-Hop, Old School Rap. "The Lox, they were a big group in the 90s."
Other sports in high school: Track
How would your friends describe you:Laidback
Most impressive thing about Cleveland:"I've never seen NFL fans travel like this. We will give them something to cheer for."