Seattle Seahawks DT Leonard Williams Details Playing Multiple Positions in New Scheme

Even with nine years of NFL experience under his belt, Leonard Williams faces a somewhat steep learning curve adjusting to the multiplicity of the Seahawks new defense.
Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Leonard Williams participates in a tackling drill during mandatory minicamp.
Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Leonard Williams participates in a tackling drill during mandatory minicamp. /
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RENTON, Wash. - One of the most tenured players on the Seattle Seahawks roster with nine years of NFL experience, Leonard Williams has been around the block a few times being exposed to different schemes, techniques, and positions.

With 142 games and 133 starts on his resume, Williams has played extensive snaps up and down the line over the course of his career, including 4,236 snaps as a 3-tech, the position that he says has become second nature to him. Additionally, per Pro Football Focus, he has logged more than 1,000 snaps covering the tackle as a 5-tech defensive end and outside of the tackle in 6-tech or even wide-9 in certain personnel groupings.

But while Williams has enjoyed his experience so far playing in a new defense orchestrated by coach Mike Macdonald, the adjustment period hasn't exactly been a walk in the park so far either. Aside from schematic complexities, the immense versatility of Seattle's talented defensive line has been both a blessing and a curse early in the acclimation process with so many players tasked with learning multiple positions and alignments.

"We have a lot of guys up front, which I really love," Williams told reporters before Wednesday's second mandatory minicamp practice. "We have a lot of dogs up front on the d-line, outside linebacker, so that's even harder in a way because we're all being able to play multiple positions. At the same time we're learning a new defense, we're not just learning one position, we have to learn multiple positions at the same time, so it's kind of a lot of load on us right now, but I think it will pay off in the long run."

In Tuesday's practice, Williams could be seen lining up during 11-on-11 team drills everywhere from nose tackle in 0 or 1-technique alignment to 3-tech defensive end to a two-point outside linebacker off tackle with the Seahawks moving him around like a chess piece in the trenches.

The same could be said for several of Williams' teammates, including fellow veteran Dre'Mont Jones, who spent most of his time during scrimmage play as a standup outside linebacker while occasionally reducing inside. According to Macdonald, Seattle's coaching staff is in the experimentation stage trying to figure out where everyone fits in the defensive line rotation with the goal of expanding the playbook with more players capable of handling multiple roles.

"It does open things up," Macdonald said on Tuesday. "When you have guys who can do multiple things, play different gaps in the run game, rush at different levels in the pass game, it opens up more personnel groups, more looks you can generate. Overall, it's good for us."

Given his background, Williams isn't fazed by the task of playing multiple positions in different formations such as bear, over, and under fronts. But even for a seasoned veteran of his caliber, considering he missed part of voluntary OTAs, being tasked to learn as many as six different positions while trying to master all of thew concepts and terminologies in Macdonald's defense has put a lot on his shoulders at this stage.

At the same time, however, piggy-packing on Macdonald's comments from a day earlier, Williams has been in the league long enough to be able to see things from a big picture standpoint. Though the learning curve may be fairly steep right now with a ton being tossed on his plate as well as many of Seattle's other defensive linemen, being able to mix and match fronts with a multitude of players who can line up all over the formation up front should pay major dividends down the road wreaking havoc against opposing offenses.

“I think it benefits us in creating matchups where you're putting the defensive player in the best position and then you're also confusing the offense. It makes it harder for the offense to study us knowing that they may see Dre’Mont [Jones] at a five technique on film, and then when we line up and play against them, he's probably going to be playing zero or three-technique. It is harder for an offense to scheme against one specific player because we move around so much. And then it's also giving us freedom as players to use our best skill sets in the best situations and the coaches are doing a good job of knowing that we're all different."

At 6-5, 302 pounds, Williams still prefers to have his hand in the dirt, saying it helps him maintain a lower pad level and "better trajectory" as a pass rusher. Whether playing inside as a 3-tech defensive tackle or as a 5-tech defensive end shading the tackle, those would seem to be the best alignment fits for maximizing his talents and strengths as a player.

But Williams possesses enough athleticism, power, and length to be effective in other roles while moving other pieces such as Jones and Jarran Reed around the line as well. As Macdonald has indicated several times, this multiplicity prevents the front line from becoming stagnant and it gives opponents more to think about from a game-planning perspective against the Seahawks with so many players able to make an impact up and down the line of scrimmage, particularly in the pass rushing aspect of the game.

Understanding the advantages of such positional flexibility, Williams is prioritizing enhancing his comfort level at spots away from his "bread and butter" at 3-tech. Once camp arrives in six weeks, he's eager to see how everything comes together playing off of Jones, Reed, and rookie Byron Murphy II with the entire group capable of playing every position along the defensive front and how the unit can make life rough for opponents in the fall.


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Corbin K. Smith

CORBIN K. SMITH

Graduating from Manchester College in 2012, Smith began his professional career as a high school Economics teacher in Indianapolis and launched his own NFL website covering the Seahawks as a hobby. After teaching and coaching high school football for five years, he transitioned to a full-time sports reporter in 2017, writing for USA Today's Seahawks Wire while continuing to produce the Legion of 12 podcast. He joined the Arena Group in August 2018 and also currently hosts the daily Locked On Seahawks podcast with Rob Rang and Nick Lee. Away from his coverage of the Seahawks and the NFL, Smith dabbles in standup comedy, is a heavy metal enthusiast and previously performed as lead vocalist for a metal band, and enjoys distance running and weight lifting. A habitual commuter, he resides with his wife Natalia in Colorado and spends extensive time reporting from his second residence in the Pacific Northwest.