Nov. 4, 2009
BY BETH RUCKER
The Associated Press
Still, Tennessee coaches and players say Williams is the key to the Volunteers' defensive success.
"It all starts with Dan," coach Lane Kiffin said. "He is playing so much better up there. He's a dominant force right now."
At 6-foot-3 and about 320 pounds, Williams is overshadowed by the larger interior linemen in the Southeastern Conference.
His stats aren't bad - 39 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack and a fumble recovery - but they're eclipsed by McCoy's 75 tackles, Berry's five tackles for a loss and Walker's four sacks.
Off the field he's soft-spoken and always smiling. On the field he's aggressive, and it's his speed and ability to disrupt opposing offenses that allow his fellow Vols to excel, McCoy said.
"He's playing some of the best ball in the country, I think," McCoy said. "I wouldn't have as many tackles without playing behind Dan. Dan's taking up a block or two every play, because he demands that attention." Kiffin thinks Williams is increasing his status for the 2010 NFL draft with every game he plays.
"His numbers don't necessarily show it as far as sacks, but he's been a force in the middle," he said. "He's making himself a lot of money."
Williams hasn't always been so agile. When he reported at Tennessee in the summer of 2005, he weighed about 360 pounds. The coaches were always after him to lose weight, and he eventually got down to about 340 before the new coaching staff came in.
After a few months of intense practices with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, Williams is down to about 320 pounds - but even that changes on a weekly basis.
"Sometimes, announcers say I'm 327, and I'm like, 'No, man, I'm 316 this week.' But it's fine. I know I definitely won't ever get that heavy again," he said. "Right now, I feel great and I'm in shape ... I'm glad it's gone and I definitely don't want it back."
On Saturday, the Memphis native could line up across from one of his best friends, Memphis offensive guard Malcolm Rawls. The pair were teammates at Memphis' East High School and signed together at Tennessee in 2005 before Rawls transferred to Memphis.
"Every week I talk to him. We try to see how football's going and just every day life," Williams said. "It's kind of like this game will be something for years later. We can always talk about this to our kids and family members, and I just want to win so I can always tell him I beat him at something."
Some hometown fans have given him grief for not making the same decision Rawls made. The two enjoy a pretty intense rivalry despite being located at opposite ends of the state and nearly 400 miles apart.
He gets teased for wearing orange clothing when he's at home. Shortly after signing with Tennessee, another driver took notice of the Vols license plate on the front of his truck one time and blocked him at a green light.
"I (eventually) pulled up beside her, and she was like, 'You just made the dumbest decision of your life.' I thought it was funny," he said. "Sometimes it's a little adventure to go home with your Tennessee stuff on."