Karlos Williams' move a worthy experiment

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
12:30
PM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- On the first carry of his first practice as a running back, Karlos Williams burst through the whole with the same ferocity he'd displayed as a hard-hitting safety. He charged upfield, found linebacker Telvin Smith waiting, and delivered a massive blow.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreAs a kick returner, Karlos Williams proved to have some skills with the ball in his hands.
This is why Jimbo Fisher is so intrigued by the possibilities of Williams, a former five-star recruit with a unique combination of size and speed, as an offensive threat. It also underscored some of the subtleties of the job Williams still needs time to figure out.

Williams smacked into Smith's shoulder, a potentially devastating blow to one of FSU's key defenders during an otherwise low-key drill during a bye-week practice session. Smith was livid. The two players -- colleagues on defense just days before -- tussled, with Smith emphatically reminding Williams that a reasonable level of caution is required on the practice field.

"We like to go hard," Smith said, "but at the same time, you've got to be smart."

The two quickly ironed out their differences, and Smith said he's eager to see Williams pulverize a few linebackers Saturday against Nevada. That might happen, too. Fisher insists Williams, who has practiced at tailback for just a week, will be a regular part of FSU's backfield rotation.

Fisher said he's optimistic this will be a smooth transition for Williams, and the Seminoles' coach has a track record to support his hunch. He's turned back-up defenders into all-conference stars on offense and converted underutilized backs and receivers into first-round NFL draft picks on defense. But change isn't always easy, which makes the Williams experiment all the more interesting.

"There's going to be a learning curve," Fisher said. "I don't mean he's going to run out there, look like Jim Brown. I don't mean that. There'll be a learning curve, but it's not as drastic as you'd think."

Williams played tailback in high school, too, so he's familiar with the basic concepts. His work on defense also gave him some behind-the-scenes insight into how to attack the opposition. With the ball in his hands, Fisher said Williams is a natural, making cuts and finding running lanes on instinct.

If it were up to Fisher entirely, Williams might have made this move a year ago, but he had to wait until Williams was ready.

"It's what I think you can be, where I think your best future is, and where you can help this football team," Fisher said. "But if you force somebody to do something they don't want to do, they're not going to be good at it."

Fisher's history suggests his instincts are rarely wrong. At LSU, he pushed for position changes for Devery Henderson and Corey Webster. Both went on to successful NFL careers at their new positions. At Florida State, Fisher pushed Xavier Rhodes to move from receiver to corner -- a move, Fisher joked, that resulted in Rhodes giving his coach the silent treatment for months. Rhodes was drafted in the first round of this year's NFL draft. The same might happen for left tackle Cameron Erving. He began as a defensive tackle, but Fisher prodded him to make a switch, and his cache with NFL scouts skyrocketed virtually overnight.

Even for Erving, a two-star recruit with a limited track record on either side of the ball, it wasn't an easy sales pitch. When Fisher first approached him about a move, Erving was reluctant. Like Williams, it took him a year to concede.

"It was hard to swallow at first," Erving said. "But I wanted this team to do well, and anything I can do for this team, it's over. It's done."

The moves made of necessity tend to be the tougher adjustments. Fisher tabbed redshirt sophomore Giorgio Newberry to move from defensive end to tight end before the start of fall camp, a decision driven by a massive run of attrition on the offensive side.

Newberry had shown plenty of promise as a pass rusher, but he'd yet to secure a starting job. The move to tight end didn't offer an obvious upgrade, but he understood the reason behind the request.

"I looked at it as helping the team out first," Newberry said. "When it comes to the team, I'll do anything, sacrifice anything. But it's a big sacrifice."

Newberry said it took him the entirety of fall camp to begin feeling comfortable in his new role, and he's still not sold on the change as permanent. When the season ends, he hopes to reevaluate his status. That's part of Fisher's pitch, too.

"Sometimes you make a mistake," Fisher said. "You move a guy, then you move him back."

Fisher insists Williams wasn't a bust at safety, though it's clear the one-time top recruit wasn’t living up to expectations. Instead, Fisher said, the move represents a chance to blossom into something special.

"He's 6-1, 232 pounds, runs a 10.5 100-meters -- can catch, can run, is very natural with the ball in his hand," Fisher said. "He can change numbers on a scoreboard."

While Fisher says the learning curve at running back might not be as steep as other positions, Williams' timetable to master the particulars is limited. He'll be learning on the fly, left with immense physical skills to cover up a limited foundation at the position.

Still, Fisher sees promise. So, too, do Williams' teammates. Smith has the sore shoulder to prove it.

"He's got that energy, got that motor, and his legs don't stop moving," Smith said.

It's an experiment, but it's not an arbitrary one. Fisher's history suggests he's a man who understands where talent is best utilized, and in Williams' case, standing on the sideline as a backup safety wasn't ideal.

Whether the experiment pays off isn't really the point, Fisher said. It's whether the risk was worth taking.

"Sometimes you can be really good at one thing and great at another," Fisher said. "We'll see."

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