ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Kyle Williams wears a smile on his face as big as the chip on his shoulder for every time someone has told the defensive tackle he’s too small to play in the NFL.
Not that he listens to his critics, of course.
“If I heard it, I didn’t care. And other than that, I didn’t pay attention to it,” Williams said Wednesday. “But according to everybody, I should probably be home doing something else.”
He’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Comparatively undersized at 6-foot-1 and 306 pounds, and largely underappreciated, Williams has been the defense’s most consistent player as the Bills (3-10) prepare to close out the season with three straight games against AFC East rivals, starting at Miami (7-6) on Sunday.
Williams leads Buffalo with five sacks to rank in a tie for sixth among NFL players at his position. He’s also been credited with a league-leading 65 tackles among defensive linemen.
The production is not new for Williams, who’s been a starter ever since the Bills selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of LSU. What’s different, is how well he’s performed for someone regarded as being too small to play the position and the additional physical demands that came with Buffalo switching to a 3-4 scheme this offseason.
It wasn’t the first time Williams has been discounted.
“When I got here, I wasn’t supposed to be able to do this or do that,” Williams said. “And yet nobody ever sent me the memo that I couldn’t do it.”
Williams’ five sacks are a career high — one more than he had last year — to give him 13 for his career. His best game came in a 19-16 overtime loss against Pittsburgh three weeks ago, when he was credited with 10 tackles and two sacks.
He then played an effective role in a 13-6 win over Cleveland last weekend. Williams recovered a fumble and helped Buffalo limit the Browns to 187 yards offense.
Center Geoff Hangartner never doubted Williams’ ability, especially after having to go up against him in practice for the past two seasons.
“All I know is he makes training camp really difficult,” Hangartner said, noting Williams makes up for his lack of size by understanding how to leverage himself against heftier opponents. “Some guys, you can get away with leaning on them or being in a bad position. But if you’re in a bad position with him, he’s going to toss you. I’ve never played against a guy who’s got as good an instinct.”
The Bills defense remains a work in progress. It’s banged up and still inconsistent against the run in having allowed 200 yards rushing six times. Despite its deficiencies, the unit is showing signs of jelling. After allowing 198 points in its first six games, all losses, Buffalo’s allowed just 141 in going 3-4 in its last seven.
Takeaways are also on the rise, as the Bills have forced 13 turnovers (five fumbles and eight interceptions) in their past six games, after managing just six (five fumbles, one interception) in their first seven.
“It takes time to understand exactly how everybody fits in the scheme and what everybody does best,” coach Chan Gailey said, referring to the unit’s marked improvement. “I think everybody has a much better understanding of what we’re trying to do on Sundays now.”
Williams has been a good fit all season.
“There’s no way to put in words what a guy like that means to your team,” Gailey said. “There’s no way to put a value on it.”
Though unhappy with the team’s record, Williams is pleased with his performance.
“I think there’s a satisfaction in knowing that you’re doing your job,” he said, “and you know that your teammates can count on you.”
As for his critics, well, that’s another story. He’s paid no heed to the so-called experts ever since college, when LSU was dismissed from having a chance beat Oklahoma in the national championship game in 2004.
“Oklahoma was supposed to be the greatest football team ever in college, and we played them and dominated that game,” Williams said, recalling the Tigers’ 21-14 win. “Everything on paper isn’t always fact. I can promise you that.”