If Shawn Williams is to assume a bigger role in the Bengals' defense this year, it starts now in Organized Team Activities.
Williams is running with the first-team defense right now as the team continues Phase 3 of OTAs. George Iloka is dealing with what the team is calling a 'minor' injury that shouldn't hold him out for too much longer
which probably means he's out for 2-3 months.
Iloka and fellow starting safety Reggie Nelson are entering contract years and with so many other key players still unsigned through 2016, Williams has a great shot at earning a starting spot in 2016.
A good way to ensure that happens is to show he can be productive safety in 2015. He and defensive coordinator Paul Guenter know that Williams getting more reps now will help that cause.
"Shawn’s doing good – really good," said Guenther, via Bengals.com "George (Iloka) is a little dinged-up, so Shawn has the opportunity to run in there and get a lot of snaps. It’s a big time for him. It’s his time to make a move."
Head coach Marvin Lewis also likes what he's seen of Williams lately, as well as his first three years in the NFL. That may finally pay off with more playing time in 2015.
"He’s done everything we have asked of him on special teams," Lewis said. "He’s a guy who in practice does a great job. I think he does things in practice that ought to transition well onto the playing field. This season he’s got to challenge Reggie and George and give them everything he can to work to play."
Since being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft out of Georgia in 2013, Williams has played a grand total of 39 defensive snaps in 32 games. He's been relegated to special teams, but the hope is he'll finally find a role in the defense that leads to him being on the field more in his third year in the league.
It's also important for Williams to begin showing what he's capable of before entering a contract year in 2016. If he can show he has the ability to be a starting safety next year, it's possible the Bengals let Nelson and/or Iloka walk next year and then sign Williams to an extension.
Ideally, Williams is able to replace Nelson, who turns 32 in September, but will still likely be able to command a decent-size contract next year. Letting someone else pay him and using that money to re-sign players who don't have someone like Shawn Williams behind them would be ideal.
That is, if Williams can show he's worth a starting role. Hopefully, the Bengals are able to get a better feel of what Williams is capable of in 2015, which will help their planning for 2016 and beyond.