The Houston Cougars completed their season with a win in the Birmingham Bowl against the Auburn Tigers finishing with a 12-2 record. It was an impressive win to come into the heart of Alabama to win a game against the Auburn Tigers of the SEC. You knew with Dana Holgorsen as the coach the team would be an offensive titan. The surprising factor of this team was their defense which a year ago gave up 32 points a game. This year the team dropped that total dramatically allowing a mere 20.4 points a game with just 13 allowed to the team from Auburn.
The reason for the defensive turnaround can be attributed to the secondary which gave up a completion % of 58.8 allowing 231 yards passing and 2 TDs passing a game in 2020 compared to a completion % of 55.2 allowing 194 yards passing and 1.3 TDs a game in 2021.
The best, most versatile and complete player in that secondary is a tough kid named Damarion Williams. While Williams played the majority of his snaps as an outside corner, he still garnered snap as a safety and a slot corner. Williams has excellent footwork which is enhanced by his very quick feet. He is not a big kid at 5’ 10 180 lbs but hits like a player much larger and is a sure tackler. He led the team in solo tackles and was 2nd in the team in total tackles as a cornerback.
Williams is a smart kid who is football savvy in terms of route formations and blocking schemes. He played in a wide variety of coverages (press man, off man and zone) while also seeing time at deep safety. Williams has near elite agility plus has the ability to stay glued to any receiver when in press coverage. He breaks on the ball well in off coverage. He can click and close on the receiver better than many pro players.
Williams is tough but still a very athletic player with oily hips, great leaping ability and plus speed. He enhances these traits with some very nice coverage techniques. He uses his hands very well and keeps his head in the game at all times. In a game recently he was in his position when the opposing team played in a hurry up mode while a big defensive tackle was slow getting off the field. This was a third and 8 play so instead of allowing the offense to get a free 5 yards on a too many men on the field penalty, Williams just fell over feigning injury to stop the play. He has an uncanny ability to decipher what is going on and quickly devise a plan on stopping that action.
In the Jets cover 3 system the they need corners who can play a wide variety of techniques and be able to tackle. So let’s see some video of Williams tackling.
In this first clip Williams is playing as a safety in a cover 2 type scheme. The player with the ball for the Naval Academy is a 6’ 1 220 lbs fullback who circles around the defensive line clean so Williams (giving away at least 40 lbs) has to put him down.
Even though Williams loves to take out the feet of opposing players, here he does not have that option. He needs to grab hold and bulldog that player to the ground like a rodeo cowboy looking to rope a calf. You can see he is not afraid to grapple with the big back and pulls him down with authority.
This next play is from the same game. Williams is the left outside corner playing the widest receiver to that side. The ball is on the 7 yard line on a 3rd and goal play which allows Williams to use a shallow off coverage technique that gives him the opportunity to play on top of the receiver. Since there is limited space left on the field for the receiver to travel, Williams is not afraid of his man just running by him downfield.
By being over top of the receiver, this gives Williams the ability to see the receiver and the QB during the play. By doing so Williams sees the quick throw to the tight end who has beaten his man into the flat all alone for an easy score. When the ball first goes into the air Williams breaks off his man coverage and is in position to make a play on the big tight end.
This tackle is a thing of beauty as again Williams is tackling a much bigger man who should be able to easily overpower him into the end zone. If Williams had tried to tackle him high that is exactly what would have happened, but Williams gets low (winning the leverage battle) sticking his shoulder pad right on the big tight ends belt buckle. This stops the tight end cold. Then Williams finishes the play by keeping his legs moving and driving the player backwards away from the end zone. This is a near textbook play near the goal line and superb tackling technique by the player. This is a super smart play, but you can’t forget about the desire it took to take on a big man and finish the play. This a single play, but it is how you play winning football, making smart plays all game.
This next clip Williams is the last man on the line in a short yardage situation at 2nd and 2 against the Naval Academy. The offense is in a power running formation with a slot receiver motioning back towards Williams. Since he has no receiver to cover, Williams’ responsibility is as the contain man on the end of the line for the defense. What he needs to protect is the short side of the field between himself and the sideline. Once he does that anything else he does is a bonus.
With the ends pinching and the linebackers guarding the “A” gaps Williams is responsible for the QB if he keeps the ball. The safety to that side of the field has the motion man if Williams gets caught too far inside. At the snap Williams comes straight upfield as to lessen the space the QB has to operate if he keeps the ball but also leaves the option of possibly deflecting the pitch to the RB if it is made.
Once Williams sees the ball is handed off he then darts in behind the ball carrier to aid in the tackle. The first down is made, but Williams did his job as best as possible. It seems like an innocuous play, but it shows that Williams understands schemes and does his job. Many players will “glory seek” flattening out on the rush looking for the big hit. It would lead to a big play if the QB had held onto the ball. You need skilled players who will work in the confines of the defensive schemes and not leave holes for the offense to take advantage of.
This next play Williams is in zone coverage on a 3rd and 6 play. He has the intermediate zone on the right plus the flat behind the line of scrimmage. He also has to carry any receiver from his zone to the next if has one running through his area.
To combat this defense Tulane runs a play that has 3 stacked receivers to the left of the offense. One heads right to the middle of the field at the sticks to hold the linebackers there in coverage. The second runs through Williams’ area up the seam to the third level of the defense while the third player cuts right short to the hash. They then run a back out of the backfield up the sideline running a wheel route.
Williams drifts over to the sideline to cover the wheel route but he keeps his eyes looking inside and puts his feet on the first down line to keep himself oriented on the field, he knows where the area he needs to protect is. The short receiver at the hash doubles back using a whip route; he is the primary receiver on the play. The offense thinks that Williams will carry either the seam route or the wheel route up the field. Williams protects the defense from those to route but stays in his zone. He sees the pass the comes up and makes a hard, sure tackle 3 yards short of the line to make.
This is another instance where Williams understands his role in the defense and does his job as best as possible. Notice how quickly he “clicks and closes” on the receiver once the ball is in the air. The receiver is well in front of Williams, but as soon as the receiver turns around after catching the ball Williams in right there to make the tackle. This brings up 4th down with Tulane a good 15 yards from field goal range.
This next play Williams is in zone coverage on the left side of the defense. As he observes the play, he sees the outside receivers all running out breaking routes which leaves the middle of the field wide open. The back circles out of the backfield and runs right by the 230 lbs middle linebacker straight down the seam. With the ball fluttering in the air and drifting towards the right side of the defense it allows Williams to get into the play.
Williams cannot get there quick enough to make a play on the ball, but he does the next best thing, and that is to crush the receiver just after he makes the catch which jars the ball loose; along with the RBs helmet.
This is the type of play that fires an entire team up, but it is done from the constricts of the defensive scheme. With 7 men in on the pass rush it leaves only 4 players in coverage, and 2 are in coverage to the left. The lone other coverage man was the LB who got beaten badly. Williams had his man covered but broke off to offset the mismatch that existed between the RB and the LB to save what would have been a 30 yard gain.
The tackling ability of Williams is a huge benefit to the defense, but even though he has played some safety Williams will be mostly graded on his coverage skills as a corner. Here Williams is in man coverage against the slot receiver. He follows him as he yo-yo’s back and forth in motion behind the line. Williams is in great shape at the snap as he wants to stay inside the right shoulder of the receiver which doesn’t allow him to cross his face and push the receiver towards the boundary. The best chance for a completion would be long outside to the sideline which is a tough throw for anybody, certainly for the Tulsa QB.
That throw was not in the cards for the Tulsa QB so he forces a throw to the outside hoping the receiver can keep Williams on his back as he flattens out the route and looks to make the catch at the numbers. That was not to be as Williams is far more physical in this battle than the receiver and is able to fight over the top to make the interception. Here is another look at the melee at the top of the route.
This is an excellent play by Williams as he can feel the receiver try to box him out instead of coming back to the ball. Williams artfully goes around the right side of the receiver, then jumps in front of the pass for the catch. The receiver is able to grab a leg to keep Williams from taking the pick to the house, but Williams does a good job of first making sure he has the ball before he tries to run. He gives the ball back to the offense already in field goal range.
This next play Williams is unable to secure the pick, but I want you to watch the quick feet and the nice technique as he transitions from the pedal to the click and close.
This is Pro Bowl type transition by Williams. He is lighting quick on the close. This is near perfect coverage from an off man approach. He can see both the QB and the receiver in his view. Williams is on the balls of his feet with his nose directly over his toes which gives him great balance and the ability to transition quicker than a heartbeat. He can see the receiver make his break on the skinny post then beats the receiver to the catch point although he neglects to make the catch which infuriates himself to no end.
The reason he is able to make such a quick transition is Williams is using the bicycle step technique on the close. This is beautiful to see. This is the Deion Sanders method of coming out of your pedal. It is rare to see from a college player. The preferred method on the close from almost all college defensive back coaches is the T-step approach. That approach gives a player more stability coming out of the pedal but is slower than the bicycle step.
Also look how fast Williams is able to accelerate towards the ball from a point where his momentum is taking him backwards. This is elite level footwork from a college player and this translates perfectly into the pro game. The only downside is that you are more liable to slip on a wet field coming out of your pedal, but that is not to say you would do the same if you used the T-Step.
This next play Williams doesn’t drop the interceptions then takes it to the house. Tulsa has double stacked receivers to each side of the field, but Williams is the lone coverage man to his side. Williams must have seen film on this as he is falling back into coverage but quickly reverses course when he see the back receiver stop and move back from the line of scrimmage looking towards the QB.
Williams surprises the first receiver as he is able to get to the outside, getting past the first receivers attempt at a block. Williams then steps inside of the second receiver and is able to intercept the pass on the run and easily sails into the end zone on a pick six.
Williams was able to do this because he recognized the formation, made the right read on the play then took swift, confident action without hesitation to make the game changing play. This was also done in only 11 game as a major college player.
Just so you know this play was no fluke Williams again reads the play super quick and gets by his blocker easily to make the tackle. The only difference is that this throw was much shorter coming from the play side hash so the throw was only about 5 yards.
Also you will see that Williams hesitates ever so slightly until the ball is actually thrown so as to not take himself out of position in case this was a fake. As soon as the ball was in the air Williams was still quick enough to get around the blocker without being touched and make the tackle before the receiver could even make a move. This shows high intensity focus on Williams behalf to always make the quick appropriate reads, then take swift action to make a big play.
Some may worry about Williams smallish stature against larger receivers. Here is a play where Williams is up against larger, stronger receiver he is guarding from press coverage as an outside corner.
Williams tries to combat such situations by using the field to his advantage and quality technique. You can see as they come off the line Williams is squeezing the receiver towards the sideline to reduce the amount of room the QB has to fit the pass in. As they get near the end zone he can see the receiver start to look up so Williams gets his head around to find the ball so he can make a play on it. You can’t catch something you don’t see.
The big receiver then pushes Williams in the back to gain space for the catch. Williams responds not by grabbing or holding but by turning back towards the receiver and getting himself back into the play. Then when he sees the big receiver reach his arms up he sticks his hand right between the receivers hands dislodging the ball and knocking it away. This is textbook type coverage techniques and Williams did it without any interference.
On this last play Williams is playing as a safety covering the slot receiver. The receiver is running a shallow drag route where he pushes up the field 8 yards, turns then drags across the field slowly working back to the QB.
The receiver does this in hopes of clearing himself enough to get a pass fitted in. This was not to be as Williams makes up ground in a hurry then is able to reach across the receiver (without grabbing or interfering) then knocking the ball away. This game is a blowout but Williams plays this like it is a tied game in the 4th quarter.
Williams played his first two years at Highland college in JUCO ball where he was an All American. He led the nation in 2018 with 7 INTs (10 game season) and with 17 PBU. Despite playing only 3 seasons at Houston (he earned another year because of the shortened COVID-19 year) he was named a team captain. Nicknamed Pepe, Williams soon took on leadership roles on the team.
Williams is currently not mentioned in the same breath as Ahmad Gardner, Derek Stingley or Andrew Booth, but the Draft process is just begging. Yet he can play anywhere in the defensive backfield plus he is said to have high character and leadership qualities.
Some concerns you might have are his smaller than desired stature. We don’t truly know about his long speed, and doesn’t appear to have great length. He is definitely a prospect to keep on the Jets radar and we will know more after the combine and interviews.
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