The Bengals coaches have always liked backup safety Shawn Williams and what's not to like?
As linebackers coach Matt Burke said Monday, "He's smart, he's tough, he's willing." And on Saturday night against the Bears he was a nickel linebacker for the first extended amount of time in his three seasons.
Williams made his name more as an in-the-box safety in college at Georgia, but when the Bengals took him in the third round in 2013 then defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer vowed, "I'll get him to cover."
Zimmer is now the head coach of the Vikings, but Williams is here and he covered tight ends and running backs well enough Saturday that Burke is encouraged by his 15 snaps replacing nickel linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Burke likes working with the 6-0, 215-pound Williams, a far different body type from the 6-4, 240-pound Lamur.
"I think he's a nice player and I'd like to see what he can do," Burke said. "He did a good job. He saw some things he hasn't seen because he hasn't played there. We're just trying to get him some work if we need a body like that down the road."
The Bengals are now down both nickel backers with Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict (knee) looking at the physically unable to perform list (PUP). Williams had a break-out summer from scrimmage, although he had played a bunch the previous two preseasons with a nearly a combined 300 snaps. But he's obviously more comfortable at safety, enough that he's playing some linebacker.
"We're trying to get him in position to play more and more and every opportunity he gets he takes full advantage," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "Last year he became an accountable guy on special teams and when he got the opportunity to play on defense he did a great job and he's continued to do that in this camp."
And, of course, they love his demeanor. Take all the University of Georgia players on this roster and it's hard to find a vowel among Williams, A.J. Green Geno Atkins, Clint Boling and Michael Bennett.
"He doesn't say much and does more," Lewis said. "That's the Bulldogs fight song. That's Coach (Mark) Richt's mantra. To a man, they're that way."
DALTON, STARTERS TO REST:
Andy Dalton says his neck "is a little sore," but when he surfaced in the Bengals locker room Monday there was no neck brace or anything like that and it remains nothing major.
He must be feeling pretty good because he laughed and said, "I wasn't going to come in here like (Kevin) Huber did a few years ago with a big neck brace."
All in fun since Huber's 2013 broken jaw is very much in the past.
Dalton and most of the starters aren't expected to play Thursday (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Indianapolis during head coach Marvin Lewis' 13th pre-season finale. Last year Dalton became the first starting Bengals quarterback not to take a snap in the pre-season finale during the Lewis Era and the only one of the 22 starters to play was rookie center Russell Bodine.
Lewis said Monday he hopes that two regulars can play in backup defensive tackles Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson after they missed the last two games with unknown physical ailments. Thompson has the club made and Sims looks to have a leg up on a roster spot.
JAKE TAKE: Rookie backup left tackle Jake Fisher could have played at Georgia because he doesn't say much, either. But after watching the tape following his two penalties for lining up off the line of scrimmage he did offer a reason and a remedy after watching left guard Dan France.
"I think it just started with the guard being too far back and I just pushed myself back lining up with him," Fisher said. "I've got stuff to work on. There's not much more to it than that."
DAWSON SEEKING CONSISTENCY: Rookie linebacker P.J. Dawson blew up a screen in the second half Saturday night as the third-round pick gets more and more comfortable. That wasn't the play that impressed Burke, though. Later in the game, Burke was amazed what he saw from the press box as defensive lineman De Shawn Williams covered another screen.
"(Dawson) is a back-side dropper. He sees it before anybody on the field sees it," Burke said. "He starts running across the field . .. I want to kill him. . . .but he saw it . . .He made a couple of plays other guys just can't make."
Burke is working on melding those first-class instincts with technique. Dawson led the Big 12 in tackling for Texas Christian with speed he moves can' get away with in the NFL.
"He hasn't been a take-on linebacker," Burke said. "We're working on his hands."
*DOWN TO 78: *They got the roster down to 78 Monday afternoon when they waived first-year wide receiver Tevin Reese and waived injured rookie fullback Marc Weisman. If Weisman clears waivers Tuesday he'll be put on the club's season-ending injured reserve list. They still need to cut three more by 4 p.m. Tuesday.