Physically Keron Williams knew he could adjust to his new role in the B.C. Lions' defensive scheme. The challenge was making the switch mentally.
This season, when the Lions use a three-man defensive front, Williams remains in the end spot where he's been named a West Division all-star the last two years. But when the Lions shift to a four-man front, Williams slides inside to become a defensive tackle.
Moving one spot over has resulted in a major shift in how Williams plays the game.
"The hardest thing was, going back to the first game of the season, I don't think mentally I was ready to really accept the role," Williams said this week as the Lions practised under a blistering sun at their facility in Surrey.
"That was just a mindset thing. Pride has a lot to do with that. Once I came to terms and really accepted my position, I think my play picked up."
The Lions host the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday at BC Place Stadium. B.C. won the first game in the back-to-back series 17-3 last week at a rain-soaked Commonwealth Stadium.
It's not like Williams hasn't played the inside spot before. He was a defensive tackle in Montreal and was twice named an East Division all-star before joining B.C. as a free agent in 2010. What it meant was trying to play two different positions in the same game, sometimes on consecutive downs.
The basic premise of the job -- stop the run, tackle the quarterback -- remains the same. How Williams goes about doing that changes dramatically depending on whether he's on the inside or the outside.
"You really have to trust what you are hearing from the linebackers and the defensive end. You can't see the backfield or anything like that...You have to trust they are making the right calls and you react accordingly."
- BC Lions DL Keron Williams on the style of play at the interior d-lineman spot.
"It's a huge adjustment," said the six-foot-one, 260-pound native of Augusta, Ga. "When you play outside you get into the rhythm of seeing how much field you have to work with, see how a guy sets up on you so you can set up on him.
"When you are in the inside, your lanes are pretty much contained. You pick your battles the way you see fit."
As a defensive end, Williams usually attacks from a standing position. He can watch how the running backs line up, check to see if an outside receiver is getting ready to come back down the line to block him from the side. These are hints on how the play will unfold.
"It's just those little clues you can pick up and put yourself in a better position to make the play," he said.
As a tackle, Williams lines up over the guard. His head is down so his vision is limited. He has to react to what his opponent does and digest information fed him from his teammates.
"You really have to trust what you are hearing from the linebackers and the defensive end," said Williams. "You can't see the backfield or anything like that.
"You have to trust they are making the right calls and you react accordingly."
Williams admits he's still on a learning curve.
"If I had my preference I would play outside," he said. "I'm not saying playing inside is a bad thing for me. I feel more comfortable out there just because I have been away from playing inside for so long.
"It's just going to take me a couple more games to get fully adjusted to what I have to do. Knowing your plays is one thing. Knowing how to execute them is something else. It's just getting your footing down and your timing down."
Williams' versatility and ability to adapt to either role is the very reason the Lions decided to alternate him.
"The game of football is about matchups," said head coach Mike Benevides. "If you know where a player is all the time, there are ways to defend him.
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"In order for us to become more dynamic, there was a decision made to put him (inside) over the guard. For him, and us, it creates a player on a guard they do want to see because of his quickness and his ability to pass rush."
So far, what the Lions are doing is working.
B.C. has allowed just 19 points, and one touchdown, in their two wins over Toronto and Edmonton. The Lions also lead the league in least points allowed (63), fewest net yards given up (823) and net passing (549).
If there is one concern it's the number of sacks the Lions have managed this year. B.C. is last in the league with four. Williams, who led the CFL last season with 12, registered his first of the season last week against Edmonton.
Williams doesn't blame his alternating role on defence for his lack of sacks.
"It's not affecting me from getting to the quarterback," he said. "I have been having a problem losing focus and where my target is. I've just missed him a lot.
"Hopefully we can fix that this week."
Benevides said sacks are "sexy stats" but they are often overrated.
"If you have sacks and you are losing games, that's not what you want," he said. "If you have sacks and are giving up yardage on other plays, that's not what you want."
For the second consecutive week the Lions will face Mike Reilly, the former B.C. backup quarterback who joined the Eskimos in the offseason. The Lions sacked Reilly three times last week but Williams said his respect for Reilly grew.
"He's fast," said Williams, who recorded his first sack of the season in Edmonton. "He knows how to bait you in to get close and he knows how to avoid the sack.
"He has a quick release. A couple of times I was in his face. Any other quarterback I think I would of had him down, but he just knows how to get rid of the ball. He's smart and has true grit."