With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.
We'll start near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and work our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.
Due to injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals won't be discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.
First up on the Bengals rookie review:
2013 stats: 2 defensive tackles, 10 special-teams tackles.
How acquired: Third-round 2013 draft pick.
The good: Williams didn't play much defensively, but was an active participant in every game. He earned significant playing time on special teams, appearing on both the kick return and kick coverage teams. He also played on the punt return team. It was on the kick coverage team where he saw the bulk of his tackles. On the kick return team, he was tasked with being one of the blockers closest to kick returner Brandon Tate. Set up on the edge of Tate's protection, it would typically be a Williams block that might help spring a longer return from Tate on the right side of the field. Williams' special-teams highlight came in Cincinnati's Week 11 win over the Browns when his tipped punt helped contribute to a comeback that ended in Cincinnati's 41-20 win. Williams' tip led to a 9-yard Cleveland punt. On the ensuing drive, the Bengals took a 14-13 lead they wouldn't give up. The tip also preceded a Jayson DiManche punt block that resulted in Tony Dye's scoop-and-score touchdown return.
The bad: The only real difficulties Williams had was getting on the field as a defender. With George Iloka and Reggie Nelson playing ahead of him, he didn't have many opportunities to see game action. His most significant playing time on defense came in the Week 9 49-9 blowout of the Jets. He played 10 snaps. Before he was lost to a season-ending injury in that same game, fourth-year player Taylor Mays also was seeing more action at safety over Williams, even starting in place of Nelson at Cleveland in Week 4 because of an injury.
Looking ahead: It will still be tough for Williams to get on the field as a defensive back this season with Nelson and Iloka playing well ahead of him. Expect this training camp to go much like the last one. Williams should compete for Iloka's spot again with Iloka and Mays, if Mays is brought back in free agency. While it's possible the competition could yield a rotation that gets Williams on the field more, it's most likely that he will continue primarily playing special teams. That's not bad, either. As we've seen with other recent young Bengals like linebacker Vincent Rey, coaches like to reward those who shine on special teams. He'll be a defensive contributor in time, but for now it appears Williams' main job is still getting after punters and clearing holes for Tate.