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Time to Shine: A Q&A With Cowboys’ ILB Jason Williams

Second-year player Jason Williams is eager to get on the field in 2010.

As an NFL rookie and the Cowboys’ first draft pick last season, inside linebacker Jason Williams was desperate to hit the field in ’09.  After running a ridiculous 4.49 forty-yard dash and recording a 39” vertical leap at his Pro Day, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding Williams’ addition to the team.  Fans and coaches alike were eager to see how Williams would translate his incredible physical tools to the field in his rookie season, but unfortunately it did not happen after Williams got injured and was only able to rack up three tackles.

Williams was justifiably disappointed about the situation.  Every rookie wants to prove they belong in the NFL, but Williams never got that opportunity.

Perhaps, though, his injury was a blessing in disguise.  Taking practice reps and getting playing time is very important, but just as vital to a player’s growth is mastering the mental aspect of the game.

Williams was able to sit back and learn from two of the most cerebral veterans on the team, Bradie James and Keith Brooking.  The veteran linebackers not only displayed how to play the game, but also how to lead a team.  We all saw how important the addition of Keith Brooking was to the mentality of the Cowboys, and Williams was able to soak everything in and really learn what he needs to accomplish to eventually become the heart of the defense.

This season, Williams is out to silence his doubters and take a gigantic leap forward.  We recently spoke with Jason to discuss the upcoming season and learn a little more about the second-year player.

Q: How is your offseason going?  When do you plan on starting offseason workouts, and what sorts of things will you be doing?

A: My offseason has been going really well so far.  It’s my first time having time off in over a year so the first thing I did was take a mini vacation.  I plan to start my workouts March 1st and I want to focus on both getting back down to 235 pounds and improving my lateral quickness.

Q: How frustrating was it to get injured last season?  Do you think you gained a lot of experience in the mental aspect of the game while you were unable to perform physically?

A: It was really frustrating, mainly because I’ve never even missed a game due to injury, let alone four games.

Yes, I believe I grew a lot mentally.  I took more of an outside perspective of the game.  I would be in practice watching the veterans go through certain calls and not being out there actually kind of helped me see what it is that they were seeing.  That experience aided me on the field once I returned.

Q: How did being able to watch Bradie James and Keith Brooking in particular help you during your rookie season?

A: Being behind those guys taught me what being a linebacker and a real leader is all about.  I learned more just watching those guys than I did my whole college career.

Q: You were a quarterback in high school.  What do you miss most about playing the position, and what aspect of switching to linebacker are you happiest about?

A: The thing I miss the most about quarterback is the control and the pressure.  When you’re the quarterback, you are either the hero or the one that takes the blame, and I loved being in that position.  No matter what happened everything was on me.

I guess the thing I like most about being a linebacker is now I’m in a position to punish opposing quarterbacks and running backs after being on the offensive side of the ball for so long.

Q: You surprisingly didn’t get invited to the Combine.  Was this disappointing to you, and have you used the snub as motivation?

A: Yes, I was disappointed after not being invited to the Combine and it did motivate me to perform well.  I don’t use that as motivation anymore, though, because even though I didn’t get invited I still got to where I wanted to be.  Now I just have to prove I belong.

Williams believes he can translate the speed he displayed at his Pro Day to the football field.

Q: At 241 pounds, you ran a 4.49 at your Pro Day, while also recording a 39” vertical leap.  Were these personal bests for you?  How much of an advantage is it for you to have such incredible speed at linebacker?

A: Actually neither was a personal best of mine.  My best vertical was 42″ and I’m sure I could have gotten that again if I would have had another jump at my Pro Day.  Also, I was clocked at 4.42 at the Northwestern Combine, but the majority of scouts clocked me around 4.40.

I feel my speed is a great advantage because it makes me harder to block in space.  I also use my speed to make up for any false steps I may take.

Q: How happy were you to be drafted by the Cowboys and how do you like Dallas?

A: I was ecstatic when I got the call from Jerry Jones.  I don’t cry much but I definitely broke down that day.  I love the city of Dallas.  By me being from a big city like Chicago, it’s not too much of a difference.

Q: You lost your father when you were in eight grade.  Do you feel like you are playing for your dad each time you take the field?  Do you honor him in any way?

A: I do feel I’m playing in my father’s honor when I’m out there, but being the man he was, he would rather I play for myself instead of for him.  But I do say a prayer to him before every game and I believe he’s with me whenever I step on the field.

Q: What do you think of players using Twitter and do you feel it gives you a more direct way to touch base with your fans than going through the media?

A: I feel Twitter is a good way for players to interact with their fans.  The media frequently portrays players the way they want them to be seen, but Twitter gives us a chance to defend ourselves against anything that might have been taken the wrong way.

Q: Do you have any pre-game rituals?

A: The only thing I can say I do consistently is a sort of walk.  I’ll pace back from about the 40-yard line to the 20 yard-line, just thinking about everything I could see out there.  In college I had the same ritual and I’d also do a back flip before every game to get everyone going.

Q: Are you going to bring the back flip to the NFL?

A: Only when I become a starter.

Q: What sorts of things do you enjoy other than playing football?

A: Well, I’m in love with my Xbox (laughs).  I can play video games all day.  If I have to get out of the house, I’m a pretty good bowler and not bad on the pool table.  I also practice a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira.

Williams said he learned more in one year from watching Brooking and James than he did in his entire college career.

Q: Do you feel Capoeira has helped you on the field?

A: It has definitely helped my flexibility, but I cannot say for sure if it has helped me in football because I have only been doing it for a few years.

Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?

A: Well now that I have a year under my belt and I am a year wiser, I plan to be a bigger part of both our special teams and defense.  I want to see a lot more of the field.  It’s my time to step up.

Q: You will likely play special teams for the Cowboys in 2010.  Have you ever played on special teams, and how do you feel about doing so?

A: I played special teams all throughout college and have no problem doing it.  I love special teams.

Q: What is one thing you want all of your fans to know about you?

A: I want all of my fans to know that I am going to do everything I can to be the best player than I can possibly be.

Williams is doing everything possible to get on the field in 2010.  While it was disappointing to not see his talent on display last season, the knowledge Jason was able to garner from the veterans may be just the blessing in disguise needed for Dallas fans to begin seeing back flips performed on the Cowboys Stadium turf, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

You can follow Jason Williams on Twitter: @TheRealJWill58


February 25, 2010 Posted by | Interviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Overcoming Adversity: A Q&A With Cowboys’ DE Marcus Dixon

Cowboys' DE Marcus Dixon is looking to contribute in any way possible in 2010.

As fans, we often know so much about our favorite players without actually knowing them.  We can rattle off their 40-yard dash times, college stats, and on-field strengths and weaknesses, but we truly know little about the people under the pads.  This is a modest attempt to get to know one Cowboys player, defensive end Marcus Dixon, just a little better.

Cowboys’ DE Marcus Dixon spent last year on the practice squad.  With defensive ends Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen, and Jason Hatcher all restricted free agents, Dixon has a tremendous opportunity to take a huge leap forward in the coming seasons.  The Cowboys may or may not retain all three of these RFA’s, but Marcus is ready to seize any opportunities he is given, planning to join the defensive end rotation and contribute on special teams.

Intelligent and an athletic freak, Marcus has all of the tools needed to thrive in the NFL.  But it is his work ethic, his positive spirit, and his ability to respond to adversity which will be the core of Marcus’ journey to become a starting defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dixon will be the first to tell you that he is still a long way away from where he wants to be and has by no means “made it.”  But Marcus has been in this situation before.

Downtrodden.  Written off.  An underdog.

When the situation seems toughest, though, Marcus has learned to thrive.  While others sulk when times get tough, Dixon has learned to work even harder.  His past, like anyone’s, has not been all smooth sailing.  These experiences and his ability to overcome life’s obstacles, though, are the reasons why he cannot be counted out.  In a way, his past is his future.

I recently spoke with Marcus regarding his journey to the NFL, the upcoming season, and his future goals.

Q: How is your offseason going?

A: My offseason is going pretty well.   I went home for about three weeks to spend time with family friends.

Q: When do you plan on starting offseason workouts, and what sorts of things will you be doing?

A: I plan start up with a lot of cardio this week.  Last year I worked out too hard too early.  Joe (Juraszek), our strength and conditioning coach, told me not to do that this year.  I’ve been doing cardio stuff and stretching, and I plan to hit the weights next week.

Q: Do you eat healthy? How much does the team watch your nutrition?

A: I’m not the best at eating super-healthy, but I try my best to be conscious about what I eat.  The coaches let us know that what you put in your body is what you get out of it.

Dixon attended Hampton and stood out both on the field and in the classroom.

Q: What is an average day like for you during the season?  How much time is spent studying film, working out, practicing, etc.?

A: During the season, my day starts at about 7 a.m.  I usually hit the weight room, shower, eat breakfast and then head to an 8 a.m. Special Teams meeting.  We have more meetings after that, then a walk-through.  After that comes lunch and practice, followed by film study after practice.  After film study (which generally ends around 5 p.m.), I go home.

Q: How has your past influenced you as a player and person today?

A: My past has definitely taught me not to take anything for granted.  I’ve definitely matured over the years and become mentally tougher. I am still grinding and trying to get better everyday.

Q: What sorts of things do you enjoy other than playing football?

A: I personally love to watch movies, go to Chili’s, go bowling, and just kick it with friends.

Q: How disappointing was it to go undrafted?  Have you used that as motivation?

A: It was disappointing but I was still blessed to have an opportunity to play the game I love so much.  I try not think about not getting drafted, but instead think about what I’m going to do with the opportunity I have now.

Q: Six teams made offers for you, but you signed with Dallas. What made the Cowboys the best fit for you?

A: (Former Cowboys’ Defensive Line Coach) Todd Grantham played a big role in getting me to Dallas.  He told me he loved the way I play and the fact that I’m raw with a lot of potential.  He told other members of the Cowboys’ organization to not look at my numbers, but simply to give me the opportunity to play on even ground with others.

Q: What are your goals for the 2010 season?

A: My goals are to be healthy the whole season and become a rotational player at DE.  I would also like to become one of the core special teams players.  I am really looking forward to being a big contributor this year.

Q: With DE’s Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears, and Stephen Bowen all restricted free agents, do you see this season as a big opportunity for you to make the roster?  How has playing behind those guys helped you thus far?

A: There is definitely a big opportunity there for me, and I am really excited about it.  Playing behind those guys has been the best.  They all treat me like their little brother.  They are always coaching me up and encouraging me.  I really love those guys.

Q: You originally committed to Vanderbilt over Georgia. Why did you make this decision?  Are you happy you ended up at Hampton?

A: I chose Vandy because of the program’s tradition and, at the time, their 100% graduation rate.  I felt like I was about to go to Harvard but still play great football in the SEC (Laughs).

Q: You had a tremendous 3.96 high school GPA, a 3.33 GPA at Hampton, and you were a regular on the Dean’s List.   How were you able to juggle football and school so well, and how is it different now being able to concentrate solely on football?

A: My grandmother told me at a young age that I couldn’t play ball unless I took care of my school work first, so it kind of stuck with me.  It’s great to just focus on football because you can really take a deeper look into your skills and development without having to worry about writing a four-page paper for a class.

When not on the field, you can catch Marcus at Chili's, bowling, or hanging out with friends.

Q: Coming out of college, scouts questioned your speed.  Did you see this as your biggest weakness, and if so, how have you worked on your speed since entering the NFL?

A: That was definitely a weakness.  I was always quick, which they knew, but I just didn’t test good in the 40-yard dash.  They should time me now (Laughs).  But working with the strength and conditioning coaches has really taken my abilities to another level.

Q: In addition to football, you also played basketball, baseball, and did track and field in high school.  Was football always your favorite?

Basketball and baseball were actually my favorite sports growing up, all the way up to my 10th grade year.  My sophomore year is when I received my first football questionnaire.  After that I knew football was my sport and I could really be great at it.  I really like the physical part of the game and the way you and your brothers go to war as one on the field.  You gotta love the game of football.

Q: What is one thing you want all of your fans to know about you?

A: One thing they should know is that I’m a neat freak.  I always know when something has been moved.

With such great intelligence and focus, Marcus Dixon is the sort of person that will succeed in whatever field he finds himself in.  We fully expect Marcus to make the 2010 Dallas Cowboys roster and contribute at both defensive end and special teams.

You can find Marcus on Twitter: @marcusdixon92

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Interviews, Miscellaneous | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments