Roy in Bengaldom

Roy Williams

Updated: 7:35 p.m.

Take the most feared hitter in the NFL during his prime.

Add the NFL Draft's biggest bruiser.

Put them behind a guy named "Tank," and in the last month Mike Zimmer's defense has gone from up-and-coming to up-and-at-them in the in-your-face AFC North.

On Wednesday former Cowboys safety Roy Williams joined the fold with his five Pro Bowls and one rule change spurred by his ferocious tackles. That came 10 days after USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga arrived in the second round with his YouTube hits and All-American edge. That came three weeks after former Bear and Cowboy Tank Johnson stepped into the defensive front with his unique blend of size and speed.

Suddenly, the Bengals defense isn't such a soft sell as they look to leap from No. 12 after last year's rise from 27th in Zimmer's first season.

"We've been trying to get better in the offseason; that's what I said," Zimmer said. "We've been trying to get a lot better. We've got to add more firepower and hopefully some of the guys we've added will help give us a little more firepower."

Zimmer plans to pick up Williams at the airport Thursday morning and it's just as well because the reason Williams plans to sign with the Bengals is because of the defensive scheme flying in Cincinnati these days and because Zimmer is the pilot.

"He understands the situation," Zimmer said. "I told him I don't want him if he's not the guy I know that works and studies. I always felt like he could have been even better than what he was just because of the fact he had a lot of outside things pulling at him. I think now he's focused on football, so well see."

Both sides seem comfortable at finding out. Agent Jordan Woy confirmed a short-term deal with the Bengals that includes incentives, which could indicate they gave Williams a one-year deal and a manageable bonus if it doesn't work and enticing enough escalators for him if it does.

Zimmer believes Williams can be that guy that went to four Pro Bowls while Zimmer coordinated the Dallas defense. He thinks Williams needs to lose some more weight (he's dropped some since his March workout for them), but Zimmer says he's a great locker-room guy and "I think I know how to use him a little bit."

Indeed, in his five seasons under Zimmer, Williams not only averaged 90-plus tackles, but he also had 17 interceptions.

But Zimmer wouldn't say Williams is a starter.

"I wouldn't assume anything yet," he said. "If he's the best, he'll play. He used to be the best of anybody."

Woy wouldn't comment on terms, but said, "It's a short-term deal with incentives so both sides can get their feet wet with the situation and we'll go from there.

"There were a couple of teams offering considerable more money, but Roy liked the fit in Cincinnati. It's a good fit for both sides really. Roy obviously has a great relationship with (defensive coordinator) Mike Zimmer and he's excelled in that defense and the Bengals are happy to get a guy like that for their defense."

The Bengals don't confirm deals until they're signed, but it's believed Williams is to sign the deal Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium, followed most likely by a news conference.

Williams, once the most feared hitter in the NFL after the Cowboys made him the eighth pick in the 2002 draft, got a call even from the NFL Competition Committee a few years back with the Roy Williams Rule that outlaws the horse collar tackle.

Williams, who turns 29 in August, played only three games this past year after he fractured his right forearm twice. It was the first year he's missed games because of injury. With a change to a 3-4 and Zimmer's departure after the '06 season, Williams' effectiveness appeared to wane in Dallas. But the thinking is the reunion with Zimmer will highlight the best parts of his game.

"He was (a two-way safety) for me," said Zimmer back in March about Williams' ability to cover as well as play run defense.

Asked if it looked like Williams could still do that after watching him, Zimmer said, "Yes. He's out of shape like everybody this time of year, but he looked good."

On Wednesday, Zimmer made it clear he would be using Williams how he used him in Dallas and that means all over the line of scrimmage and on blitzes in a healthy dose of his eight-man fronts with safeties like Williams, Chinedum Ndukwe and Chris Crocker roaming the box.

"When the 3-4 came, we didn't use eight-man fronts quite as much so he wasn't in the box as much, which is one of his big strengths," Zimmer said of the Dallas situation. "We have some drop-down guys (in the box) and he does it well. He's always been a good blitzer. He's been a big playmaker over the years. He's intercepted a lot of balls; he's made a lot of big hits. When we had him, he could do anything we wanted him to do. The guy was one of the best safeties of all time. But time catches up with all of us and we'll see what he can do.

"That's the guy I want. The Roy Williams I had. If we can get that back, we've got a guy."

Despite the extra weight, Williams looked quick to Zimmer's eye back in March and he's confident the guy hasn't changed his work habits and approach and he feels his dedication is going to get him back to a high level.

Bengals tight ends coach Jon Hayes checked in on his old friend at the March workout and didn't see a guy much different than the All-American he saw at Oklahoma when he was on the Sooners staff.

"I knew him for three years and he was still the same," Hayes said. "Roy is salt of the earth and a tremendous person. He's going to come to work. He's going to establish himself. He's not a vocal guy. He'll lead by example."

How good of a person? Hayes let Williams babysit his new son and he brought 8-year-old Jackson to PBS back in March so Williams could get a load of how he's grown.

"Personally I'm looking forward to having him here," Hayes said, "and I think he feels like he's got something to prove. I'm sure he wants to show people he's got something left."

Williams becomes the seventh safety on a roster that usually keeps five at the most and usually four. Williams, Crocker and Ndukwe join Corey Lynch, special-teams ace Kyries Hebert, rehabbing Marvin White, and free-agent rookie Tom Nelson. Crocker, White and Lynch are guys who have also done a great deal of coverage.

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