OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cary Williams was a little-known cornerback fighting for a roster spot when training camp started.
But as the preseason wraps up, Williams has emerged as a starter in Baltimore’s defensive backfield. Needless to say, Williams‘ rise up the depth chart wasn’t expected, especially with Domonique Foxworth back from ACL surgery and the Ravens re-signing Chris Carr.
“It’s been a lot of work obtaining the dream,” Williams said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid.”
Compared to some of his starting mates, his dream has been quite different. The other 10 defensive starters all attended BCS colleges. These schools didn’t recruit Williams, whose only major visit was to Auburn. A native of Hollywood, Fla., Williams originally landed at Fordham in New York City. After minimal playing time and butting heads with a position coach his freshman season, he transferred to Division II Washburn in Topeka, Kan.
He excelled at Washburn as he was named an All-American in 2007. He also is the only player in school history to score a touchdown on an interception, kickoff return and reception in the same season. But it wasn’t until he secured a spot at the University of Kansas pro day - where he ran a faster 40 time than former Jayhawks corner Aqib Talib — that he caught the attention of NFL scouts.
“People have always doubted me,” Williams said. “I’ve always been the small fry or the guy that didn’t get as much attention. But I never wavered on anything. I’ve always had my goals. My mindset was to be in the NFL and I wouldn’t let any negativity affect me getting to my goal and being where I’m at right now.”
The Ravens had a draftable grade on Williams but were wary since he played at a small school. Others were interested, though, as the Titans took him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
Williams said he had plenty of ups and downs in Tennessee, being injured and spending the majority of his time on the practice squad. In November 2009, the Ravens were scouring practice squad talent in search of a special teams player with upside to contribute at any position. With previous scouting work, Williams was on the top of that list.
“The thing that was interesting about him when he came out was he had the measurables that intrigued you,” said Vincent Newsome, the Ravens director of pro personnel. “Essentially, what we ended up doing is saying let’s watch another team develop him and see how he does.”
Williams has seen time in 18 games and started one over the past two seasons with Baltimore. Heading into camp this year, he was seen as a special teams asset. Now he’s looking at locking down the opposition’s top receiver. This preseason, he’s gone toe-to-toe against Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe and Washington Redskins wideout Santana Moss.
Against Bowe, he displayed solid technique in his drop before breaking on a pass and ripping the ball out of the tall receiver’s hands. Against Moss, Williams was beat for what could have been a touchdown. But Williams used his length to catch up and do just enough to swipe the ball out of the veteran’s hands.
Williams looked like the best corner on Baltimore’s roster this preseason. He also saw extra time because of a hamstring injury to Carr and a slow rehab process for Foxworth. But doing it the old-fashioned way, Williams outworked his competition to earn the inside track to a starting spot.
“We always tell them don’t count numbers,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You never know what’s going to happen. What it’s based on is how you play. If you play well and do the things you need to do to be successful, then things will work out well for you.”
Williams has turned into an ideal corner in first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defensive scheme. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Williams has the size and strength to jam bigger receivers. Combine Williams with rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and you have a tandem that can aid the pass rush by being physical at the line of scrimmage.
Baltimore’s opening game will be a huge test to see if Williams is ready for the NFL. The Ravens open with Pittsburgh, which has won seven of the past 10 meetings. Through his journey, Williams said he’s thankful Baltimore took a chance on him when his time in Tennessee wasn’t working out.