Bills coach Rex Ryan says the Dolphins are giving Mario Williams “everything he wants” by allowing him to line up at defensive end in a 4-3 defense, as opposed to playing a lot of linebacker in the 3-4 utilized by Ryan in Buffalo last year.
So it’s no surprise that Williams, coming off the most disappointing season of his career, was upbeat Wednesday when he met with reporters in person for the first time since signing a two-year, $17 million deal with the Dolphins in March.
“Schematically, things you made a name on doing, and now to have an opportunity to do [that again] is very fortunate,” he said.
Williams, 31, had only five sacks and 19 tackles in 15 games last season, down from 14.5 and 42 the previous year. But Dolphins management doesn’t believe his skills have diminished --- “he’s a freak of a man,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said Wednesday --- and attributes his modest numbers last season to playing in a role he wasn’t comfortable with.
Williams believes new Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will put him in position to make plays.
“He’s really relying on the guys up front to turn it loose and get after it, which is what most of us are accustomed to doing,” he said. “It’s exciting for us knowing [we can] cut it loose. It’s almost like saying ‘Go! Everytime, just go!’ We take it on our shoulders as d-linemen – and most of us are vets --- we’re going to go as far as the d-line goes."
Joseph said recently that Williams “is motivated. When he’s motivated, he’s pretty good.”
Williams agreed with that assessment.
“The most motivation I have, that I want to show, is to this organization,” he said. “Vance believes in me. The biggest thing is showing them that you’re right and I am definitely going to do everything I can to impact [the game]. I believe in his word and what he’s putting together as a defense for us to be able to cut it loose and play to our abilities.”
He said playing opposite Cameron Wake “is going to be great, …going to make it a little bit easier for the guys across the front, the guys in the backend, the whole defense.”
Williams --- tied for seventh among active players in sacks with 96 --- won’t turn 32 until January, and most of the NFL’s great pass rushers historically thrive well into their 30s.
Cam Wake had 11.5 sacks at 32. Jason Taylor had 13 ½ sacks at 32, 11 at 33. Richard Dent had 12 ½ at 33, Julius Peppers 11 at 31 and 11 ½ at 32. Robert Mathis had 19 ½ at 32. Bruce Smith had 14 at 34, 10 at 35. Michael Strahan had 18.5 at 32, Chris Doleman 11 at 35 and Reggie White 16 at 37.
Does Williams believe he has everything left in his arsenal?
“You’ve got to believe in yourself and believe in your ability,” he said. “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you’re not going to be good at it at all.”
• With the Dolphins having cut Brice McCain earlier this offseason, Bobby McCain said he has moved into the role of first-team slot corner during offseason practices. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tyler Patmon also are expected to compete there.
“It’s a great opportunity,” McCain said, adding he’s also getting some work on the boundary. “I am a lot more comfortable. I have a year under my belt. I got some playing time last year. You live and learn. You may make mistakes, but you learn from them. You do good things and you learn from them as well.”
• As for Ikpre-Olomu, he is participating in all football drills for the first time since suffering a serious left knee injury for Oregon before the 2015 Rose Bowl.
He underwent two major reconstructive surgeries, more extensive than usual for an ACL injury, and also sustained a dislocated knee. He said Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Neal ElAttrache, who performed the operations, “said I’m perfectly fine [now]. He would have cleared me couple months back, but when I got to Miami they wanted to make sure I went through the offseason program and did all the stuff with the team before they decided to clear me. Doctor said I’m perfectly fine [but] make sure to maintain” strength and flexibility in the knee.
He said that means doing 30 minutes of work before practice, compared with 15 for most players. “You don’t want it to get stiff.”
Ekpre-Olomu, who dropped from a projected early-round pick to the seventh round because of the knee injury, didn’t play at all for Cleveland last season while recovering from the injury. The Browns cut him in March.
“It was something with new management; they wanted to go in a different direction,” Ekpre-Olomu said of the Browns. “And I guess I wasn’t in that direction. I’m happy I’m here.”
Ekpre-Olomu, who is working both in the slot and on the boundary this week, lists his strengths as “instincts for sure, playing multiple positions, I can do that. Have always been a good press corner. Short-area quickness is coming back and that can be a strength for me. I know I’m not at the point I want to be.
“I think I’m starting to develop all my skills back. I feel like I’m getting better. This is only my second day playing in almost a year and a half. Definitely have to learn the game all over again and get a feel for a new defense. I feel like I’m not too far away from where I was and I think it’s only going to get better.”
He said change of direction “is coming along great. We’ve been playing a lot of press man here. I think I’m doing really good at that. I feel I am at the lowest end right now. By the time I get to minicamp, I’m going to be where I need to be.”
His journey back from the devastating knee injury has been filled with “ups and downs. You have good days and bad days. You definitely get humbled a lot. You understand…. how much you have to improve to be a player they can trust and how much I have to work to get past the the point I was. If I am at point I was in college, it’s not good enough anymore.”
He’s more appreciative of the game now “because a lot of guys that could have been in my situation wouldn’t be able to be playing right now.”
• Phillips, who had 19 tackles and two sacks in 14 games as a rookie, said today: “I didn’t feel like I did what I needed to do last year. I need to come in the league and prove myself. There were a lot of expectations, and I didn’t feel like I reached them the way that I wanted to.”
• Wednesday's OTA was not open to reporters. Thursday's will be.
• One quick media note: 790 The Ticket is now starting many of its shows at 4 minutes before the hour, including Ethan Skolnick's at 3:56. And they're now running 3 blocks of commercials per hour instead of four.
• For a look at projected starting running back Jay Ajayi, plus news on UM transfers, Dwyane Wade and the Marlins, click here if you missed our late-night buzz post from last night.