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Steve Nicholas (Falcons) Update


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Platoon surprises linebacker Williams

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Platoon surprises linebacker Williams

By STEVE WYCHE

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 09/14/07

Flowery Branch  Falcons weakside linebacker Demorrio Williams was ready to take the field against Minnesota last Sunday and make amends for a poor first-half performance when, "Steve [Nicholas] told me that he had me, so I stayed out of the game."

The change was unexpected and a crushing blow to Williams, who spent the previous five months rehabilitating torn pectoral muscles that required surgery. He stood on the sideline, waiting to be re-inserted. However, Nicholas, whom the Falcons drafted out of South Florida in the fourth round this year because of Williams' injury, made the plays (five tackles, four solo) that Williams (four tackles, one solo) didn't.

Coach Bobby Petrino said after the game that the first-half/second-half platoon was a predetermined strategy because both players had to see action. Neither player said he was privy to the ploy.

That uncertainty continues as Williams and Nicholas head into Sunday's game at Jacksonville not sure about how they'll be used.

"I don't know," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "We'll see who's doing good and go with him."

Said Petrino: "We're going to watch them in practice. They're going to both get reps in practice with the [first team]. I keep talking with the defensive coaches. We're going to need them both, so we've got to get them both prepared and ready to play."

"So far, I've practiced with the [first team]," Williams said. "So I guess I'll be with the [first team] until otherwise told."

"Special teams," Nicholas said. "That's all I know. From there, whatever happens, happens."

Not long after Petrino's new staff started to break down game film, Williams, who has started most of the past two seasons, was pegged as a potential playmaker for Zimmer's 4-3 scheme.

Williams was a restricted free agent the Falcons did not want to let get away, so they placed a tender on him that would require any team that wanted to sign him to part with a second-round draft pick. There were no takers, and Williams, who has totaled 266 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in three years with the team, signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract. Williams will be an unrestricted free agent after this season  a team can sign him without parting with compensation  unless the Falcons sign him to an extension.

Shortly before the draft, expectations of Williams' impact were tempered when he tore the muscles in his left chest while lifting weights. Unsure of his return or his effectiveness, the Falcons selected Nicholas, a player that terrorized Petrino's teams at Louisville for four seasons.

Therein lies the irony of the current situation. Had Williams not gotten hurt, Nicholas might not be on the roster to threaten his playing status.

"They tendered me high for me to come in and be a force for this team," Williams said. "I wasn't expecting [to be held out of the second half against Minnesota]. I've got to be on the field to make plays, and that's what I want to do. I feel like I'm a playmaker when I'm out there."

Williams said he didn't expect playing time based on his past or his contract. He blamed his removal from the Vikings game on not producing enough.

"I didn't really get started," he said. "I didn't get my hands on anybody, and whenever you play a game like that, when you feel you haven't hit anybody, you ain't tackled nobody, you feel like you ain't done nothing right. Hopefully this game, I can get an early start, get myself going early."

Working for Nicholas and against Williams was their work in preseason. Williams totaled roughly 30 plays in the final two exhibition games. Nicholas played a large portion of all four preseason games."The preseason definitely helped," Nicholas said. "Every time you get experience it's going to help. Whether it helps now or helps later, getting that experience helps."

Said Williams: "Whenever you miss mini-camps and [offseason training workouts], that hurts. My goal was to get back for the Minnesota game and to be a force for this team and this defense.

"This game coming up, I need to settle down a little bit and get myself ready do go because we've got to win this game."

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Petrino knows what he has in Nicholas but Steve is going to have to battle for the spot.  And he is a fighter and will keep doing his best and that will make his way, if not this year, then next year.  With Williams becoming a free agent, Nicholas has the inside track if Williams leaves.  Good luck Steve.

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