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Transitions nothing new to Packers rookie safety Evan Williams

Changing defensive coordinators was regular part of fourth-round pick’s college career

S Evan Williams
S Evan Williams

GREEN BAY – Learning a new defense won't be new to Packers rookie safety Evan Williams as he makes his transition to the NFL.

It's practically old hat to him.

Williams, whom the Packers traded up to draft in the fourth round, had four different defensive coordinators during his college football career – three in his four years at Fresno State, and then a fourth after he transferred to Oregon for his final collegiate season.

So there's not much schematically that new Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley – Williams' fifth DC in six years of football – can throw at him he hasn't already seen and learned at some point.

The trick, according to Williams, is to focus on learning the language. Because while he has plenty of familiarity with different concepts and schemes, they're called different names by different people in different places.

"I'm already familiar with what's going on, it's just changing the terminology," Williams said during the Packers' rookie minicamp earlier this month. "So it's not like too much mental strain on me. I'm just going over the new communication as much as I can.

"Like yesterday, I spent an hour or two in the hotel room just reviewing that type of stuff so when I come out for practice I'm knowing what I'm supposed to say, making sure we're all on the same page. It's a little difficult picking up all the little details, but nothing I'm not ready for."

He showed his aptitude and command on the field during the two minicamp practices, acting as one of the more vocal communicators on defense, so it doesn't appear to take him long to absorb new information.

"Yeah, I like to think so," he said. "That's definitely something I've taken pride in over the years. I mean, that's a whole safety's job, right? Being able to analyze and use your instincts to make plays."

The 5-11, 200-pound Williams made various types of plays at his two different schools. His best season at Fresno State came in 2021, when he started all 13 games and posted a career-high 92 tackles and three of his four career interceptions, earning first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors.

Two years later at Oregon, he was asked to attack more at the line of scrimmage and racked up 4½ sacks, which tied for second among all defensive backs in the FBS. He was named second-team All-Pac-12.

How Hafley and the Packers feel he'll be best utilized remains to be seen. The situation in Green Bay is almost unprecedented in that the safety position is being almost entirely revamped, with free agent Xavier McKinney leading the group and three draft picks – second-rounder Javon Bullard and fifth-rounder Kitan Oladapo along with Williams – joining just one holdover who played any significant amount on defense last year, 2023 seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson Jr. (300 snaps).

In other words, it's as wide open as it gets to find a starter alongside McKinney. Bullard and Williams will be at the forefront of the competition this spring with Oladapo recovering from toe surgery and likely unavailable until training camp.

The Packers have been willing to let similar competitions play out in the past. The last time they drafted three players at one position with so much playing time available was 2018, when General Manager Brian Gutekunst chose three receivers, one each in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.

The second of those three selections, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, proceeded to have the best rookie season and by far the longest Packers tenure, so there's no telling how it'll play out.

The difference here is Bullard was a Day 2 draft pick, which comes with higher expectations and a bigger investment, but all three rookies will be given a shot to prove themselves. That much is guaranteed.

"All coming in at the same time, it's a pretty unique opportunity," Williams said. "We're all fresh bodies here, we're all just learning for the first time and it's who can pick it up fastest and who can implement themselves and just show what they've got.

"It's honestly a healthy source of competition, making all of us better. You see a guy doing extra in your room, it's naturally going to make you want to do a little extra. I'm all for it and definitely looking forward to what we can get out of each other."