AUBURN, Ala. — Last season, Auburn football listed Darrell Williams as a 6-foot-2, 231-pound linebacker. When preseason practices opened in late February, the junior looked bigger and stronger — and he had 247 next to his name on the official spring roster.
Williams turned that progress in the weight room into progress on the field. Although he had the fewest snaps in a starting linebacker rotation in 2016 that included Tre’ Williams and Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams finished spring ball as one of the first two linebackers on the field in the annual A-Day game.
“He’s taking his game to another notch,” Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams said last month. “He’s having a great spring. We just challenged him to take it to another level. For him now, it’s just outside of football, spend a lot of time on ball on your own.”
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Darrell Williams’ defining characteristic in 2016 was his versatility. He could play all three natural linebacker positions — Mike, Sam and Will — for Auburn, and he was also the Tigers’ top pass rusher at the position.
“I feel like when we do a lot of 1-on-1s with backs and tight ends he gets to the quarterback a lot,” Davis said. “I feel like if the opportunity was placed before him to play Buck, then he would really be a success there.”
In the first extended playing time of his career, Williams’ ability to play multiple roles made him a valuable weapon for Kevin Steele’s resurgent Auburn defense.
During a win over Vanderbilt, Tre’ Williams sat out with an ankle injury. Officials ejected Davis in the first half for targeting. That put a lot of pressure on Darrell Williams, a sophomore who didn’t record a single stat as a freshman in 2015.
“Adjusting to that, it really helped me,” Williams said. “I guess I had a lot of learning experiences from my freshman year, and I feel like I put a lot of things that I worked on into action. Now that I have that under my belt, I feel like I can just keep working on a lot of other things and I can just become better. Anything to do to help my team, you know?”
This offseason, that included getting bigger in the weight room. Williams’ added bulk was apparent early in camp, especially for offensive players on the other side of his hits.
“Darrell Williams, he brings the thump when he comes,” sophomore running back Kam Martin said.
Williams returns as a starter at Sam, or strongside, linebacker in 2017. He also repped extensively at Mike, or middle, linebacker in spring camp and “Money” linebacker — a do-it-all hybrid position when the Tigers are in their nickel or dime defensive packages.
In a first-team rotation that now includes 4 linebackers with the emergence of Montavious Atkinson, the bigger Williams sees everyone raising their game this fall.
“We’re just building on the great things that we accomplished last year and just want to take that next step,” Williams said. “Take everything to another level, you know what I’m saying? That was just one year under Coach T-Will. You can see his enthusiasm on being an even better coach than what he was. So we’re all just trying to take the next step. What can we do to get to the next level of our full potential?”