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tiggerpolice 04-19-2006 08:45 AM

For Mario Williams, 'big guy' tag a good fit
That was Mario Williams … as a senior in high school.

"I was lighting it up," he said. "Big guys always want to touch the ball and run around. I had a chance to do that, and it was a great feeling, something I really enjoyed."

Big guys savor such opportunities because they tend to be rare. Eventually, the clock strikes midnight, and they go back to doing what big guys normally do in football -- tangle with other big guys at the line of scrimmage, with little or no prospect of touching the ball unless they happen to play center.

Once Williams began his freshman year at North Carolina State, and began gaining more and more weight, his running back days were a distant memory. By the time he was a sophomore, he weighed 265 pounds. By his junior season, which would be his last before he declared his eligibility for the NFL draft, he was 295 pounds and his height increased to nearly 6-7.

But Williams is plenty satisfied with his place in the world of football's big guys. He performed well enough as a defensive end for the Wolfpack to establish himself as the best defensive player and one of the top overall prospects in the draft.

Most projections have him as the fourth pick, which belongs to the New York Jets. But there have even been rumblings about the Houston Texans selecting him first instead of USC running back Reggie Bush and the New Orleans Saints selecting him second even though defensive end isn't anywhere as crying a need as they could address by taking Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Even if such talk amounts to nothing but typical pre-draft gossip, it does provide a pretty good indication of an ever-growing consensus throughout the league that Williams has the ability to be every bit the dominant, game-changing, playmaking force in the NFL that he was in college.

Mario Williams uses his quickness off the snap to terrorize quarterbacks.
Williams enhances the impact of his tremendous size with speed that, by big-guy standards, is astounding. He has been clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, which makes him faster than some linebackers and even a few tight ends. He is a pass-rushing terror, with 14½ sacks and 24 tackles for loss last season after registering a combined 13 sacks and 28 tackles for loss in the previous two years. But Williams also has the strength and the skill to stop the run as effectively as he rushes the passer.

For a defensive end, that is almost as unlikely as, well, a 6-6, 250-pound running back.

"You've got to be able to do a little bit of it all," Williams said. "You have to rush the quarterback. You have to be able to stop the run. I think I'm pretty even on both aspects of the game."

Lofty comparisons already have been made between Williams and Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, a former North Carolina star and the second overall choice in 2002. Peppers arguably is the most complete and talented defensive end in the NFL.

"It's actually an honor," Williams said of the comparison. "He's a great player. Just to be compared to somebody like that I take very highly. I'm thankful."

Although he spent the bulk of his college career at left end, with his right hand down, and most top NFL ends rush from the right (typically attacking the quarterback's blindside), Williams has no hang-ups about which side of the line he plays. In addition to end, he has played defensive tackle and outside linebacker at North Carolina State. He has moved up and down the line, with his left hand down on many occasions.

Williams also has no preference when it comes to a base defensive scheme. He would be every bit as comfortable in a 3-4, which the Jets will play under new coach Eric Mangini, as he would be in a 4-3.

"I can do whatever," Williams said. "If you want me back at linebacker, I can do that coming off the edge. My main goal coming into this was to be versatile and let the teams put me where they want to. It's all about the team.

"Put me where I fit in."

As a former running back who has gone on to become the most coveted defensive prospect in the nation, Williams long ago learned the value of adaptability

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