One benefit the New England Patriots had last season was being able to slowly develop their young, defensive talent. Because their defense had many great, veteran players, that allowed players like 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams to learn and grow without having to be thrown into the fire as a starter right away.
Williams - a cornerback out of Vanderbilt - continues to have the opportunity to learn from and watch some of the best defensive backs in the NFL, such as Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty. And he refers to that as a "blessing."
"I want to be in the league for the long haul. Learning from those guys has been great. Those guys have been my big brothers," Williams told Paul Perillo of Patriots.com. "Of course you want to challenge and compete for time. Steph and the McCourtys … learning from those guys standing side by side has been a blessing. As a competitor you want to get out there and play but also you want to sit back and put your team in the best position. If my role is to learn then that is my role.
"It will only make me more valuable and a better player overall for my team if I'm lined up at cornerback and I know what the safety's assignment is. Knowing the whole defense conceptually makes everything better. You know what other teammates are supposed to be doing. That helps you play quicker and make more plays because you know where your help is supposed to be."
Williams didn't take his minimal production in his rookie year as a knock on his own talents, but rather an opportunity to grow so he would be prepared when his number was called.
"Overall my rookie year was a big learning year for me," he said. "I didn't play much at the beginning of the season and I started getting into the rotation on defense and special teams the last few games. That's when I got most of my snaps.
"But it also gave me a chance to look up to the guys in front of me, watching them and following them was very helpful. Slowly but surely each week you try to build, and you keep doing that and building on top of that and I would try to get one percent better. It was a big learning curve and I'm still learning now."
Williams is reportedly also learning how to play safety this offseason, which speaks to why he emphasized the importance of him knowing what each position around him on the field has for duties on any given play.
Because of his size, Williams can be a unique asset to New England's defense moving forward. If he is able to be effective as a safety as well as a cornerback, the Patriots will have yet another player that can play up near the line of scrimmage against bigger-bodied pass catchers, or can drop back and play deep.
Belichick's defense is quickly becoming one of the most versatile units in the entire NFL, which will allow his coaching staff to be very creative in 2020.