FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Avery Williams was fully engaged in conversation after a recent Falcons OTA session, locked in even with teammates streaming past him toward the locker room.
There was one anonymous comment made in passing that caught his ear.
"Somehow, Avery looks way faster on offense."
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The Boise State product acknowledged the compliment with a glance in its direction and a quick smirk.
Is Williams even faster on offense? Can he be a real weapon on that side of the ball?
We're going to find out.
The Falcons moved the defensive back across the line of scrimmage this spring, when he spent the offseason program as a running back.
Williams isn't making this move begrudgingly. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
"I was all for it," Williams said. "The staff understands and I understand that my gift to the team starts on special teams. That will always be a priority. That's how I'm going to make an impact and help us win games. However I can maximize my skill set and help the team even more, that's a bonus. Making the switch to offense, I took no issue with that. I love it. I embrace it. I'm pretty excited about it."
Williams is right about one key point made above. He's a dynamic return man – have you seen his college punt and kick return stats?!? -- and special teams will remain his primary and most significant contribution to the 2022 Falcons.
Head coach Arthur Smith believes he can extract even more from a dynamic talent willing to make this switch at the pro level. Williams is a versatile playmaker. Smith wants to put him in position to make even more plays.
Raw talent is a plus -- Williams has plenty of it -- but it doesn't guarantee effectiveness at this level. Williams understands that and is driven to master the offensive system and his role within it.
"He's an extremely hard worker," Falcons running backs coach Michael Pitre said. "I don't know you'll find anyone who puts more into the scheme and knowing what all 11 guys are doing. He's coachable, wanting to know how to do it better instead of asking if it was good enough. His transition has been going pretty well."
It has been eased by Williams' experience at the position. He was that high school kid who literally never came off the field, starring as a running back, cornerback and returner during his senior year at JSerra High School (Calif.).
He was recruited to Boise State as a returner and running back, switching to defense shortly after he arrived on campus.
Having previously played offense will help. So will the traits that make him a quality returner.
"Vision, ball security, elusiveness, all those things will help him on the offensive side," Falcons special teams coach Marquice Williams said. "He also has an edge to him from being a defender. He also knows how defenders want to attack ball carriers and he can use that against the opposition.
"I think he'll continue to grow and get better at that position. We're all excited to see how he does playing there."
The veterans and rookies were out on the field during Minicamps this week putting in some extra work and interacting with fans before the summer break.
While this isn't a totally new thing for Williams, don't think for a second that he's in cruise control. He's constantly in the offensive playbook, mastering new terminology and his role within the scheme. The offseason program's an ideal time to make this switch, with installs and regular meetings and non-padded practices focused on executing the play just right.
Training camp will add physicality and speed to proceedings. It also makes pass protection responsibilities real, and that's often the most difficult aspect for talented players new to the position.
"When you get pads on, the physicality enters in and makes your technique and fundamentals even more important," Williams said. "When you're doing jog-throughs with no pads, there are certain things you can get away with. When you get pads on and go full speed, that's when you're truly tested."
Williams is doing everything possible to prep for those summer exams. That includes study and intensive, detailed work with Pitre. And Williams has another great resource in his meeting room he isn't afraid to lean on.
Cordarrelle Patterson recently made the switch to running back, moving in from the receiver spot. The move has given Patterson's career a spark, adding additional value to a skill set that, like Williams, was accentuated primarily in the return game.
Patterson is an all-time great kickoff returner, meaning Williams has had an eye on his career going way back.
"I grew up a Vikings fan, so I grew up watching him," Williams said. "That was a guy who, even before I got to college and was big in the return game, I studied, watched and admired even seeing highlights on YouTube.
"Just asking him what he sees, how he handles certain things, and then just watching him play – seeing his instincts and how he makes cuts, sets up defenders and creates space for himself. He also breaks tackles. He's one of the best to ever do it, especially returning kicks. It's important that I learn from a guy like that."
It's important Williams keeps learning and developing at this position. Mastering its details will allow him to play fast, maximize this opportunity and provide an offensive spark within a scheme that helps skill players shine. He's ready for a chance to apply his talents in a different way at the NFL level and return to a position he always enjoyed.
"I played both ways my whole life," Williams said. "I'm comfortable on both sides of the ball. We had package of offensive pays for me as Boise State, just never got to them. It's still football. It's fundamentals that everyone trains. It's all about how well you can utilize those skills."
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