Connor Williams has never played a regular season game at center at the NFL level, but it's certainly looking like a possibility for his first season with the Miami Dolphins.
After serving as the Dallas Cowboys' starting left guard for four seasons, Williams has been working at center for the Dolphins this offseason and he said Thursday it's his understanding that, as of now, that's where he's going to be staying.
“Once I was on the team and once it was decided, I think just moving pieces around and deciding who fit best where I think it just came up, and then we took it head on from there,” Williams said. “And I think it's been smooth.
“I've really enjoyed (playing center). I think definitely in this offense and this scheme. I think playing center brings out my strengths, and they've been very patient with me and learning the position and learning the ins and outs with it as growing pains. I've enjoyed the transition.”
WHY WILLIAMS IS WORKING AT CENTER
New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel explained the reasoning behind Williams working at center this offseason.
“When you’re training a player, specifically one that has inside flexibility – he’s played center in preseason games – and you’re trying to train and you have a multitude of linemen that have position versatility, there’s not a greater way to learn intricacies of the offense than by starting with different alignments and assignments," McDaniel said. "Namely the center position, you have to make a bunch of calls so you have to really know what everyone is doing. You don’t ever want to put a ceiling on and decide before you see them play within your system exactly where – you want players to decide that for you. It’s something that an offensive line, you guys have been around the NFL game long enough, there’s so many things that can happen and you’re only as good as your versatility within the NFL framework of a season. It only benefits the Miami Dolphins if you’re able to play a multitude of positions. We felt one of those positions for Connor would be center.”
Williams has taken 3,312 of his career 3,509 reps at left guard. He took 180 reps at right guard during his rookie season but eventually settled into the left guard spot long term.
While we're a long way away from the start of the regular season, if Williams indeed becomes the opening-day starter at center, he would be the fourth different one in four years for Miami, following Daniel Kilgore (2019), Ted Karras (2020) and Michael Deiter (2021).
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN AT LEFT GUARD?
This also means Deiter could be on the outside the starting lineup looking in after making eight starts at center last season.
The change also leaves the left guard position open, where Liam Eichenberg, Solomon Kindley and perhaps even Deiter could challenge for the starting job if Williams indeed stays at center.
Regardless of where Williams lines up this season, he’s a player who has improved each season since entering the league.
WILLIAMS' NFL CAREER SO FAR
Last season, he finished with a career-high 76 run-blocking grade and a career-high 76.7 pass-blocking grade, according to PFF. He also allowed a career-low 11 quarterback hurries and 13 quarterback pressures.
For reference, Robert Hunt, who had the highest PFF grade of Miami’s usual starting offensive linemen last season, allowed 26 hurries and 31 pressures in 2021.
There is one area where Williams didn’t improve last season — penalties. He finished with a career-high 15 penalties, which is more than double his previous career high of six.
Scheme wise, a change to center does make some sense for Williams. New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel is bringing along a lot of outside zone concepts with him from the 49ers.
Typically, the center in that scheme needs to be explosive laterally and capable of blocking well in space. Williams also lacks ideal length — he finished in the 12th percentile for arm length at the NFL combine — meaning his athletic tools might shine more at center where length is less of a prerequisite.
Williams clearly is an explosive athlete as he finished in the 90th percentile in the broad jump, the 96th percentile in the vertical jump, and the 89th percentile in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Those numbers should translate well to his ability to move laterally and block out in space.
Although Williams is focused on learning the center position, he said he’s willing to fill in anywhere he’s needed, and he is enjoying playing under McDaniel.
“He’s definitely a player’s coach,” Williams said. “He’s a fairly young guy, and he understands the vibe around the room. What all the players want, and what all the players need. I think he really reaches us on that level. A guy like that, at the end of the day, you’re willing to go to bat for him.”