GREEN BAY – Za’Darius Smith doesn’t know everything that led into Tim Williams becoming the newest member of the Packers’ locker room. Quite honestly, he doesn’t care.
All that matters is Williams is here now.
On Wednesday, Smith was ecstatic when he discovered Green Bay had claimed his former Baltimore Ravens teammate off waivers, adding another familiar face to an outside linebackers room brimming with upside and talent.
“I can tell you this, man, it’s a fresh start for him,” Smith said. “He’s out here with me now, so he’s going to be good. I’m going to take him up under my wing, something that I’ve been trying to do, but now we’re in a new position and a new place.
“So we’re going to continue to do what we do, man. And he’s going to be OK now.”
Smith (fourth-round pick in 2015) and Williams (third in 2017) didn’t arrive in Baltimore at the same time but had a similar upbringing in the Ravens’ pass-rushing fraternity, as understudies to seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs.
A rotational rusher during much of his first three NFL seasons, Smith moved into the Ravens’ starting lineup last season and set career highs in both tackles (45) and sacks (8½).
This year, Williams seemed poised to be the latest to climb the Ravens’ hierarchy after Smith signed with the Packers and Suggs left for Arizona at the start of free agency in March.
Instead, the 6-foot-3, 252-pound linebacker saw only 79 defensive snaps through the Ravens’ first four games before being waived Tuesday. He finished his tenure in Baltimore with 18 tackles and two sacks in 19 games.
The release caught Williams off-guard, but after waiting out the 24-hour waiver period with his family, the third-year linebacker was thrilled to learn he’d landed in Green Bay with Smith, who has three sacks and five quarterback hits in four games.
“I like they’re getting a bunch of sacks up here,” Williams said. “I see how Z’s playing more freely here, they’ve got the chains off him. That’s always a plus, seeing a guy you were on another team with, seeing he’s got three sacks already. I’m licking my chops. I’m just ready to attack the playbook and see where I fit in, special teams, it doesn’t matter. I just want to play.”
Smith isn’t the only supporter Williams has in Green Bay. He played with Packers cornerback Tony Brown and punter JK Scott at Alabama, while Packers director-football operations Milt Hendrickson was a part of the Baltimore front office that drafted him in the third round (78th overall) a little more than two years ago.
Entering the 2017 draft, Williams was regarded as one of the top pure pass rushers in the entire class following a decorated career at Alabama in which he won a national title and registered 19½ sacks during his final two collegiate seasons.
While it didn’t work out for Williams in Baltimore, his explosiveness and natural bend off the edge could make him a good fit for the linebacker-heavy dime packages defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been deploying this season.
The Packers are deep at outside linebacker with rookie first-round pick Rashan Gary and veteran Kyler Fackrell spelling Za’Darius and Preston Smith, which should help Williams ease into Pettine’s program.
“He’s a pass rusher that’s got some juice to him,” Pettine said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time just to work him in and get him acclimated and kind of see where he is. I know there are some similarities with what we do because of the roots of our system, being in Baltimore.”
Williams was on the field for Thursday’s padded practice inside the Hutson Center. As he gets familiar with his new surroundings, Williams says he’s open to playing special teams or any other task that’s asked of him.
Energized by a change in scenery, Williams sees Green Bay as a “new beginning” in his football career and the perfect opportunity to prove he has what it takes to play at the game’s highest level.
“I did everything in my power this training camp with those guys to win a spot,” Williams said. “This gave me a bigger chip on my shoulder and made me put my nose down and want to work harder and work out harder and come to the Packers and just prove that I can help this team win and win more games than lose.”
Smith has no doubt Williams will do just that and fully intends on doing whatever it takes to make sure his longtime teammate is comfortable in Green Bay, especially with Pettine’s playbook.
“He’s legit,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the situation from leaving Baltimore was but I can tell you this: Now that we have him, he’s a guy that’s going to scare a lot of quarterbacks around this league.”