Friday, November 21, 2014

Rookie linebacker Avery Williamson playing well, looking like 5th-round steal for Titans

Tennessee linebacker and ex-Cat Avery Williamson, center, celebrated after sacking Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for an 8-yard loss Monday night.

By Teresa Walker

November 20, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans linebacker Avery Williamson had a big game against a quarterback he's been watching for years, sacking Ben Roethlisberger not once, but twice.

Now the rookie is working to make sure ego doesn't take his attention off the job at hand.

"I'm happy with the way I've been playing," Williamson said. "Some plays I left on the field, but it's never going to be a perfect game. Just got to continue forward and progress each week. I'm definitely excited about my future, and I feel like it's going to keep getting better."

So do the Titans with Williamson looking to be a steal as a fifth-round draft pick out of Kentucky. His success has been a bit overshadowed with three other rookies starting on offense.

The linebacker from Milan, Tennessee, grew up a fan of the Titans, and he has played in every game this season. Williamson now has started the last six games, and he already ranks third on the team with 70 tackles. He easily is in position to top Alterraun Verner's 103 tackles in 2010 for most tackles by a rookie since 1999.

Williamson also is tied for second with three sacks, and he has six quarterback pressures along with seven tackles for loss.

"He's getting better and better every week," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I think his recognition of what he's seen on the other side of the ball, he's got a lot confidence in how he's playing. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, which is unusual for a young player like that. He's grown up quickly. It's been a great asset to have him, especially after Zach got hurt earlier this year."

The Titans lost Zach Brown a few plays into the season and tried to replace him with Zaviar Gooden. Despite not starting until the fifth game, Williamson currently is tied for third among NFL rookies in sacks and is second recovering two fumbles.

Speed and hard work are Williamson's biggest strengths. Film study is one of the habits that helped the 6-foot-1, 236-pound linebacker as a team captain at Kentucky last season. Whisenhunt said the Titans really liked Williamson's maturity after four years in college and were impressed with him during pre-draft interviews.

"Obviously, he loves football," Whisenhunt said. "I don't think you can ever anticipate that he would progress the way he did. You hope so, but it's been a real pleasant surprise."

The Titans now trust the rookie enough that Williamson wears the helmet with the communication device hearing from coaches to get his defensive teammates lined up each play.

But the Titans visit Philadelphia (7-3) on Sunday, and the Eagles' high-paced offense means defenses have to line up much more quickly than usual. So the Titans plan to help the rookie out by signaling in schemes from the sideline.

"We're not putting it all on him," Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "We'll make a couple adjustments how we call the game so everybody will be responsible, not just him."

That's fine with Williamson who just wants to help the team he grew up rooting for win. Taking time to savor everything he's doing will just have to wait until the offseason when he's back in Milan.

"There's a lot of people really supporting me back home," Williamson said.

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