April 6, 2012

Williamson making strong bid for safety spot

EAST LANSING - R.J. Williamson isn't really concerned with trying make people forget about Trenton Robinson because he's concentrating more on making Michigan State's coaches and his teammates remember him.

Despite being a redshirt freshman the former Dunbar (Ohio) High School standout seems to already be on the right track as he battles to fill the role vacated by Robinson's graduation.

Williamson, along with sophomore Kurtis Drummond face a daunting task as they battle to fill Robinson's open spot at free safety.

Not only did Robinson depart with some nice statistics but he became a strong leader and a strong communicator, while serving as one of the Spartans' captains in his final season.

So while Williamson's pursuit of the opening during spring football has gotten off to a strong start, as he shares time at the No. 1 spot on the depth chart with Drummond, he knows that winning the spot and keeping it is going to require a lot more than just his athleticism.

Moreover, he and Drummond are under the pressure of filling the only open spot in MSU's defensive backfield.

The other three spots expect to be occupied by fifth-year senior and All-Big Ten performer Johnny Adams at boundary corner, junior Isaiah Lewis at strong safety and junior Darqueze Dennard at field corner.

Drummond, a fellow Ohioan, is the incumbent to the position, after backing up Robinson last season and playing in 12 games. During MSU's second-straight 11-win season, he recorded 17 tackles, while finishing fifth on the team with two interceptions.

While Williamson acknowledged he's playing catch-up, he understands what's at stake and what's required to win the job.

"You just have to go out there and compete. That's my No. 1 thing, that's what the coaches say, 'the best guy's going to play,' said Williamson, whose final three choices to continue playing football came down to Wisconsin, Duke and MSU. "That's my teammate. We're always going to have love for each other, we're constantly helping each other out if we make mistakes but I'm trying to get the spot and he's trying to get the spot. The better man is going to win. If he's out there doing the right things, he's going to play.''

Despite being behind in experience, Williamson helped himself with a dedicated offseason.

He took the steps physically needed to ascend to the starting spot by bulking up his 6-foot frame up to a noticeably cut 200 pounds, after coming in and redshirting last season at 182 pounds. It's muscle mass he's going to need at a safety spot that requires strength in stopping the run.

And to Williamson's credit, he took it upon himself, making it a priority to add considerably more hours of film study to his offseason regimen. A practice he feels may give him an added edge in the long run.

"I think I'm a lot more experienced. I've got plays down . . . most of the plays down. I've still got some learning to do, obviously,'' said Williamson, who earned Scout Team Defensive Player of the Week honors versus. Florida Atlantic and shared Scout Team Defensive Player of the Week honors against Wisconsin. "I'm way stronger because I've been in the weight room and I've been studying film so I'll have a better chance of competing when I'm on the field and helping my team to win. If you don't know what to do you can't play. You can be as good as you want to be but if you don't know what play they run, or if you don't know what they call in certain situations, you're hurting your team.''

Williamson understands his battle to gain the starting spot will be an ongoing process but he's also confident about his abilities and what may give him the edge when the final decision is made before the Spartans open against Boise State on Aug. 31st.

"I bring speed, I bring good ball skills and I'm physical. I bring a physical-ness to the down and just helping out on the run. The separation is going to be making open field tackles and helping to stop the run. You stop the run and everything else takes care of itself. If they can't run the ball then they can't win the game.''

Because of that, defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett says the competition between Williamson and Drummond definitely won't be decided until fall camp.

"It is going to come down to who can do everything best, communicate, tackle, make plays on the ball, the whole deal," Barnett said. "The guy who will be able to do that the most consistently is going to be the guy that is going to play."

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