Updated: 5-8-09, 5:15 a.m.
There are the five Pro Bowls. The 19 career interceptions. The Roy Williams Rule. But when Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle leafed through the Cowboys media guide Thursday, he wasn't looking at Williams's career highlights.
His Safety Net Foundation geared to help low income single mothers. Mentor for aspiring young Christians. Refurbished youth football fields. Part of the Salvation Army Christmas drive.
"He's got five or six pages, but the most impressive thing to me is looking at the personal," Coyle said. "Looking at how he gives back to the community and not in a flashy way. He's hands on. A real pro. We've brought in a quality person that has a chance to regain his spot in the NFL if he can get his game back up to where we think he can. That would be a heck of a thing to see."
Mike Zimmer, the relentless Bengals defensive coordinator, liked what he saw when he watched Williams do things on the practice field Thursday that he did when Zimmer helped Williams get to four of those Pro Bowls.
But it was when Williams was on the podium at his introductory news conference Thursday that Zimmer saw what can pave the way to his return as one of the game elite safeties and hardest hitter:
"I saw his eyes up there; let me tell you, he was jacked up," Zimmer said. "If there was a game today, oh, he would have hit somebody."
And a Williams hit, Zimmer said with a faraway gaze, is something to behold.
"He was a big-time enforcer. When the ball was thrown over the middle of the field, a lot of people didn't come away with the ball, their ribs, or some other things," he said. "He was a big-time blitzer. The best thing is he was a playmaker."
Williams was jacked enough that he told Zimmer he didn't want to wait until Sunday to come in, sign the deal, and start working out. He wanted to do it Thursday, and an hour after the plane got in he was on the field Thursday afternoon.
After watching Williams go through a batch of individual drills, Zimmer, Coyle and assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi remain perplexed why the knock remains he can't cover the pass.
"He's special when he changes direction; he gets so low," Coyle said, and Zimmer asked, "What more do you want? He bends his knees, he's low to the ground, the shoulders are in the proper place."
Williams, 28, feels like he's in the proper place after signing what is believed to be a one-year deal. The Cowboys cut him so he wouldn't cost $6.6 million salary against the salary cap after he played all but three games with a broken forearm, and he's been on the street for two months. But to the Bengals, if he can bounce back to his '02-'06 form under Zimmer in Dallas, he can be their tone-setting, bone-crunching answer in the AFC North to Pro Bowl safeties Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh and Ed Reed of Baltimore.
Williams knows them both from Pro Bowls past and counts them as friends and is happy to be going against them. But he's not putting himself in their shoes.
"I'm just me," he said. "I'm not Troy. I'm no Ed Reed. I'm Roy. A person trying to be the complete package and just do everything that's asked of me to (play to) the best of my ability and just help this team. Just like Ed Reed and Troy make noise for their teams, I want to contribute and shine just like everybody else."
Who else is Roy?
No Hollywood, he said. No prima donna, he said. He immediately dropped his bags and dressed at Chris Perry's vacated locker so he could get on the field with the rest of the DBs. Message sent.
"I'm hands on. I'm not untouchable. I'm about the team," is how he put it at the news conference.
Head coach Marvin Lewis did compare Williams to another Ravens safety, a guy he coached in Baltimore at what everyone said was the end of a Hall of Fame road. But Rod Woodson had something left.
"I went down the hall to get that call and it was Rod and he went to two or three more Pro Bowls," Lewis said. "The great players continue to be great players. They take care of their bodies. They're smart players. They know how to play football and play their game."
Williams came in as humble as any five-time Pro Bowler you'll ever see, thanking (owner) "Mr. Brown and Coach Lewis," and vowing "we're a team to be reckoned with," and "I'm honored and blessed to be here."
After watching Williams added to his defense in the wake of re-signing safety Chris Crocker, the signing of pass-rushing tackle Tank Johnson, and the selection in the second round of USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, Zimmer saluted Lewis for beefing up the needs.
"We said at the end of the season, 'These are things we want to add ... we want to do this, we want to do this, we want to do this,' " Zimmer said. "And he's checked off about every one of them. Like I told him, he's done a great job getting the players that we want to get. Now it's up to us to do what we're supposed to do and coach these guys."
The relationship between Zimmer and Roy is a marvel. Zimmer is the crusty, profane, always-challenging Midwestern coach who can do so much with not much. Williams is the soft-spoken Christian out of Oklahoma blessed with elite talent.
"My man Zim," is why Williams is going to work out this weekend. He needs to drop a couple of pounds and he and Zimmer have entered a three-step program that neither will reveal but one that they feel is going to get Williams back to the top of the league.
"Coach knows what I can do on the football field," Williams said. "I've been criticized for a lot, but I was never criticized when he was my coach. We're going to get back to our old ways and we're going to have a great season this year.
"He's going to drop some F-bombs on you, but he's going to challenge you for the better. I know Coach Zim. He's a great guy. He's going to push to wherever we want to be. We want to be in the top 10 on defense, actually the top five. We want to have a great season here and we will."
Williams has been vilified for his lack of coverage skills and he's still sensitive about getting heat for giving up a big pass in a huge division game against the Redskins. But he sees it as just one play and he believes he's been out of position since the Cowboys moved to a 3-4 defense and that was shortly followed by Zimmer's departure. A 235-pound missile at the line of scrimmage, the powers-that-be opted to take away his power and played him deep.
"I'm going to be more involved in the defense," he said. "The last couple of years I wasn't utilized to the best of my ability. We played to everybody else's. I'm a team player. Whatever I'm told to do, I'm going to do."
Get Zimmer going and he can recite the Best of Roy. And a lot of them come in coverage. It starts with a pick of Peyton Manning in the end zone that sealed Dallas' victory over the unbeaten Colts in a memorable game fairly late in the year.
"He made a great interception against (Jacksonville Pro Bowler) Jimmy Smith on a wheel route. He was covering him man-to-man," Zimmer said. "He intercepted a ball against Philadelphia on Monday Night Football that won the game. We were losing the game and he intercepted the ball with four minutes left. The kid has the ability to do it."
If he doesn't, the one-year deal is set up so the Bengals don't get burned if they feel like Williams can't make the team before the season and he has a chance to hook on elsewhere. But neither side envisions that. On Thursday, Williams insisted he's close to his Pro Bowl form and that Zimmer's system is going to revive his career.
And if you want to hear an F-bomb, suggest to Zimmer that it was Williams that got beat by Bengals tight end Matt Schobel on a 76-yard touchdown pass here back in '04. Not so, he says. The Cowboys were double-covering Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and it was the middle backer that got baked.
"From nickel to man-to-man to in the box, I'm very versatile. I can be used in any way the team needs me," Williams said.
But there is no question. His strength is in the box. That's where he earned his reputation as the league's most feared tackler. He can't even pick out his most memorable hit because there are so many and too many to remember.
"Doggone," he mused. "There was a hit on the kickoff team against the 49ers. Jimmy Williams maybe. I like that hit. That was a flush hit. He was out. He fumbled it. It was a good hit. The crowd loved it. Teammates loved it."
They are hits that Williams says the Bengals secondary is going to make common.
"We're a team to be reckoned with," Williams said. "Our safeties are going to be a tandem. Whoever it may be. Receivers are going to have to look out for us. Hopefully we'll get some bobbled balls and we'll get some interceptions."
There is a traffic jam of safeties that like to hit back there. Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe, the starters at the end of the year, can dish it out as well as Marvin White, rehabbing from an ACL injury but expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Crocker and White are seen as free safeties that can cover. The Bengals feel Williams and Ndukwe are good in coverage, but they really excel in the box.
Zimmer insists the best guys are going to play and Coyle says that could mean various combinations at various times. Three safeties deployed wouldn't be unusual if down and distance dictated. Neither would one safety.
"I envision multiple roles in the group," Coyle said. "The challenge for us as coaches is to see their strengths and find roles in our scheme that highlights their strengths."
Williams feels like the Bengals are going to play to his strengths. In five seasons under Zimmer, Williams was able to move around and be in the right spot for 17 interceptions, nine forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries. That spot is the line of scrimmage.
"For me, it is being more involved in the defense and not being on a football field so far away from the action," he said. "I really have a good feeling ... I'll be close to the line of scrimmage and I'll be able to get those sacks, those (hits). I look forward to it. I'm really excited about the season."
Count his man Zim in there, too.