“Well, I had a four-eye, and I jab-stepped him to loop him, but he didn’t fall for the jab-step, so he came outside because he was a two-gapper, but I got my hands inside, and I pressed on the sternum and I created leverage.”
This is the sort of text former Alabama offensive line coach and current Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, Jonah Williams’s primary recruiter, would receive after his high school games. They were a glimpse into the player that Williams would become. The self-proclaimed “film junkie” fell in love with the game within the game early on in his career, and it’s shown in his game. His mental aptitude and drive were on a different level than most high school kids. For a high school player to have an understanding of a defender’s alignment and that player’s assignment within the defensive structure, Williams having a plan to “jab-step” to sucker the defender into doing what he wanted him to, but then to have it ultimately fail and have to adjust on the fly, would impress any coach. And that’s exactly what Williams did well before he ever stepped foot in Tuscaloosa.
“Jonah is a special young man. He’s a guy that came in as an early enrollee and (is) really just committed, very driven. He has exceeded expectations — maybe not his own. So we expect him to be a tremendous, tremendous contributor for our football team.”- Mario Cristobal
Like all successful people, Williams set personal goals for himself before arriving at Alabama. He had three goals in mind: to start, to be an All-American, and to graduate in three years, all of which he accomplished. Over the last three years, Williams has played against some of the best talent in college football every day at Alabama and the stiff competition in the SEC. He started every game of his career: 44 straight games, including three National Championship games. So we are going to take a look at some of his plays from those games to show that Williams is indeed the “sharpest” of the tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
In his freshman season, Williams checked off his first goal by starting 15 games at right tackle, including the National Championship game against Clemson. In that game, a game the Tide lost 35-31, Williams showed he belonged. For most of the game, he was matched up against Christian Wilkins, a talented player in his own right. While Wilkins isn’t a speed player, he is smart and very powerful. This is where Williams’s football intelligence and ability to anchor shined. On this play, Williams understands that because of Wilkins’s alignment and skill set, the chances of Wilkins winning outside with a speed move is unlikely. On the snap, as is often the case, Williams is balanced and maintains the half-man relationship by leveraging the inner half of the rusher. He even creates a little more separation with his initial punch. As he engages Wilkins, he fits his hands on the inner half and works the imaginary line perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. Wilkins then transitions to an inside power move, but Williams is able to distort the line to the QB because of his hand placement, power centralized through his hands, and core strength to anchor.
Williams was “still popping pimples” at this time of his career, yet the stage wasn’t too big. Here Williams recognizes the drive inside by Wilkins and the looper coming over the top. But as he passes Wilkins to the guard, he gets stepped on, which leaves a soft edge for the looper. Williams jumps out of it, fires his hands to the inner half of the rusher, and then double hops to anchor, as he is taught. The rusher then drives inside, so Williams just keeps him covered and rides him wide of the QB’s spot. This allows QB Jalen Hurts to leave the pocket, and now that he has no containment he can make a play.
According to Cristobal, Williams didn’t make a mental mistake all season, and a lot of that success for this true freshman had to do with his technique, football intelligence, and film study. Unfortunately, the Tide lost this game. Deshaun Watson famously led a game-winning drive to end the game.
Alabama met Georgia the following season in the big game, this time with Williams manning the left side of the line. In his first season at left tackle, Williams only surrendered one sack, one QB hit, and 13 pressures, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). It was another game in which, if you look closely, you will see his football acumen shining through. Current Bills offensive coordinator and former Tide OC Brian Daboll dials up a run-pass option, and Williams works smarter, not harder. Williams kick slides wide to meet the rusher, but because of the defense’s reaction, QB Jalen Hurts runs the draw. Williams invites the rusher upfield by slightly opening his shoulders and hips, signaling to the rusher that he has a soft edge, so continue with his wide line to the QB. The rusher commits, which gives Hurts options.
One of Williams’s biggest issues is allowing defenders to get into his chest. It’s something that occurs partly because he does lack prototypical arm length. His arms measured in at 33 5/8 inches at the combine, and defenders understand that they can sometimes win against him by striking first from a distance. Williams understands that better than anyone, so he must have counters, much like this chop move he uses against Jonathan Ledbetter.
Edge defender and likely 2019 day two pick Deandre Walker tries using his 34 3/8-inch arms to bull rush and drive Williams back to create a soft edge for the blitzing linebacker, but Williams again reaches into the toolbox to counter. He starts off with his hand placement; he gets the right hand inside to soften the power move and the left hand on the shoulder pad to control the rusher. With his hands in place, Williams can flex one of his strongest assets: his ability to anchor. He holds the line, which prevents the linebacker from getting a free edge to the QB.
But as is often the case, defensive coordinators sent the kitchen sink at Williams in an attempt to find a mismatch, so he saw all sorts of rushers and all sorts of pass rush plans. The best one from this game was by likely day three pick Jonathan Ledbetter. Ledbetter doesn’t just use his 34 1/2-inch arms to try to get Williams on his heels; he uses it in conjunction with power to beat down the edge, and it works. Ledbetter stabs with a long arm and then quickly transitions to a club to obtain the corner.
Unfortunately, Williams ended the game on the bench due to an ankle injury. Freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa went on to lead a walk-off touchdown drive en route to a 26-23 win.
The Tide met the Tigers again in the National Championship in what turned out to be Williams’s final collegiate game. In his final season, Williams surrendered zero sacks, two QB hits, and 10 QB hurries, but he seemed to struggle in this game. I don’t believe it was as lopsided as the average fan believes, though. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables definitely tested Williams. Here, likely first-round pick Clelin Ferrell is in a four-point ball-read stance. He is showing all of the signs of a speed rush up the field, but on the snap he becomes the looper inside. Williams and his teammates sort the four-man game beautifully. Williams immediately power-steps inside and absolutely stones Wilkins, who is threatening the inside gap. This is another rep with top-notch reactive quickness, flawless hand placement, and elite ability to anchor.
The battle between Williams and Ferrell was fun to watch. Each of the likely day-one talents had their wins and losses. On this rep, Williams jump sets Ferrell, wins the hand placement, then shows off his ability to mirror the rusher.
Ferrell scouted his opponent well, and that’s why you saw him go to the long arm move so often. It was working early on in this heavyweight battle, but Williams was ready.
As Williams said before the game, “as an [offensive] lineman or a [defensive back], you give up one big play, you suck.” It was a play by Ferrell that got a lot of burn on national television, but no one bothered to talk about how Williams was the aggressor on this play. For most of this game, he was his normal patient self, but because of the play action pass, two tight end alignment, and with Ferrell sitting in the C-gap, he jumped him. On the snap, Williams quickly smacks Ferrell’s hand down, but that put the big defender into his chest. The turf monster bites Williams, and Ferrell is able to toss him.
But as the game wore on, Williams came out on top more often. Here, Ferrell tries baiting Williams into making the first move by showing his hands, but the Folsom, California native doesn’t bite. He takes a slightly deeper drop, remains patient, and waits for Ferrell to lose this game of chicken. As Ferrell raises his left hand to go for the long arm, Williams quickly smacks it down and rides him wide.
There were several times in this game that Ferrell used his 34 1/8-inch arms to stun Williams, but his ability to recover was special. Williams told our friend Justin Melo that “the most important thing with bull rush guys for me is to get my hands inside.” His ability to counter with spot-on technique in moments in which most linemen would panic is a sight to see, and it can be easily missed when you are watching it live.
Ferrell had some very good reps against Williams, but you could tell who had more tools in the toolbox. Ferrell went back to the well a few too many times throughout this game, relying too much on power moves. Williams, on the other hand, changed up his sets and was aggressive in some spots but patient in others. When his plan didn’t work, his next move was put into motion, and he simply had more counters to Ferrell. Sure, his arm length or tendency to allow defenders to get into his chest will come under fire, but Williams has the tools needed to combat his shortcomings. His technique and understanding propel him to win the rep more often than not. Take this play as an example; Ferrell didn’t stray too far from his power moves that day, and he uses his long arms to quickly get into Jonah’s chest. Even though Jonah’s hands are late and he lacks the arm length to get his hands latched onto the shoulder area of Ferrell, he does the next best thing. Williams manages to land his hand on the upper arm area so that once Ferrell transitions to the secondary move, Williams’s hands will slide right up onto the shoulders. Ferrell drops his hands and looks to go to an arm lift, and that’s when Williams’s counter is put into action, and now he has perfect hand placement for the double under. This is problem-solving at its finest. Williams may have lost the initial battle, but he had a solution to win the war. So he pinches his elbows, and from there all Williams has to do is mirror Ferrell’s movement. Game over.
Jonah Williams may have less-than-ideal size and length to play offensive tackle, but he has shown that it doesn’t matter. He has proven he already has the tools to defeat those perceived shortcomings, and he did so against some of the best players in all of college football. He’s played against NFL talent in practice and in college football’s toughest conference and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches as one of the best tackles in football because of his dedication to his craft.
– He is working with Joe Staley to improve technique, prepare mentally for the NFL.
– To prepare for games, he charts moves & pass-rush wins in his own Excel for all of his opponents.
– And he watches more film of himself than his opponents…
He has my heart.
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) April 10, 2019
Given his skill set, technique, attention to detail, and film study, he projects to be an early first-round pick who should enjoy an enormous amount of success at the next level. Williams’s play and career indeed prove that “iron sharpens iron.”