No one can break down the game of Jonah Williams better than the Bengals left tackle himself. At one time or another since they took him in the first round two years ago, the cerebral, diligent Williams has been, among other things, an Opening Day starter, an advance scout and a sideline confidant at practice for his offensive line mates.
So take note of his observations from last season's NFL debut because he has already taken them to heart.
"I did a decent job of playing defensively, playing to not get beat and not to get beat very often," Williams says. "But I don't think I did a very good job of being more aggressive and bringing the fight to the defense. I was playing more reactionary. That's the thing I'm working on this year. Being more aggressive. Bringing the fight to them."
Limited to just 10 starts by injuries since they took him with the 11th pick, Williams and the Bengals are hoping his job specs stay on the field because his film is not just encouraging, but downright good. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is in agreement with the observation that the injuries have overshadowed his play.
"He's played well when he's played," Callahan says. "He's athletic. He's a great technician. He's tough. When he's had to block guys, he can block them … Especially in pass protection because he's so athletic. He's such a good technician he can recover after he gets beat. He's really good with technique."
After missing his entire rookie year with a torn labrum, Williams played 10 games last season and took 634 snaps before spraining his MCL. While the offensive line took its high-profile lumps as rookie quarterback Joe Burrow took his, Williams quietly kept things sane on his side even as the headlines swirled through the trenches.
According to Pro Football Focus, in his first NFL game he allowed just three hurries against the Chargers pass-rush tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on a defense that would finish in the top ten in quarterback knockdowns. In his first game against the Browns' Myles Garrett, he allowed no sacks and two hits on 72 Burrow dropbacks.
Although Williams allowed one of the eight sacks in Philadelphia that next week, Callahan feels like he played well that Sunday, allowing just one other pressure against a team that finished the season with the third-most sacks. He allowed no pressures on the 23 passes before he got hurt against a Miami defense that finished in the top ten in sacks. He also gave up no pressures against the Jaguars' explosive young edgers, Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson, and yielded no sacks while allowing one hit on Burrow to a Ravens defense that had the NFL's second-most quarterback knockdowns.
"Jonah is very prideful about his craft and he wants to get better," Callahan says.
It starts with getting acclimated to new offensive line coach Frank Pollack and the two seemed to have hit it off. Extolling Williams' many tools last month, Pollack observed, "Nothing but up for Jonah Williams." After his first six practices with Pollack the past two weeks, Williams' focused attention to technique seems to fit Pollack's style.
"He's really good about the minute details," Williams says. "That's what he hangs his hat on and what we need to hang our hat on. Instead of just saying, 'This is what you do, this is what it's called,' it's 'This is exactly what your right hand does, this is exactly what your left hand does, your right foot. Everything is exact. I think that's good because you can keep on drilling it and then when it comes to game time, it just happens."
Williams says Pollack 'puts a name on everything," but one label he wants no part of is the "fragile" brand. At 6-5, 305 pounds, the smallish Williams, Callahan says, doesn't have every specification for an NFL left tackle they draw up on the board. But he also says he can excel at the position because of his elite athleticism and honor student knowledge of the game. And after Williams played 44 straight games in the black-and-blue SEC at Alabama, they're convinced he can take on the rigors of the AFC North.
"I know I've missed a lot of games so far," Williams says. "But I don't like to look at myself as somebody who gets hurt. I just had some unlucky freak things. From here on out I just try to keep my body as strong as possible."
Williams attacks his body as hard as he does the video, so he keeps doing the same things in the gym. He also returned to California for another offseason working with former 49ers perennial All Pro tackle Joe Staley. The one thing he's added is doing "a lot of stabilization," for joints.
But mostly "it's stuff I've done all along. I think if you look at some of the plays I've been injured, it's kind of a freak thing," says Williams, who felt his labrum twist out of its socket in one of his first spring practices.
"There's not so much you can do for your knee when a 300-pound guy goes flying into it from the side. It was an unfortunate, unlucky event, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to do everything in the weight room to get everything strong around it."
His ceiling, they believe, is enormous because he's in the process of getting better at more things while standing on a solid floor of fundamentals.
"The games he's played," Callahan says, "he's shown our confidence in him is correctly placed."