You answer a call in the offseason from the coach you work with most closely and he conveys something that feels like less than an ultimatum yet more than a suggestion. Jarren Williams recalls what he heard from Jerome Henderson felt like getting “pitched an idea.’’ It went like this:
How about making a position change to safety?
For a young player — until then always a cornerback — residing on the fringe of the roster, this can sound ominous or exciting. A fresh start or a new place to get dumped?
How Williams handled this sales pitch from the defensive back coach could be his ticket to sticking with the Giants.
“I don’t think it’s disrespect at all,’’ Williams told The Post this month. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m really excited, gonna keep learning the position, take the teaching, take the coaching and I think it’s gonna be good for me, for real.’’
Just like that, Williams, 24, reported this spring as a safety and if he can make the transition, it will be a boon to himself and the team. After starters Xavier McKinney and Julian Love, there is not a single player currently on the roster with any significant experience or pedigree at safety. Dane Belton, a rookie, was a fourth-round draft pick and the versatility he showed at Iowa should lead to a spot, somewhere. There is a spot at safety for Williams, if he can fill it to the satisfaction of new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
“He’s a physical guy at corner,’’ Henderson, retained by new head coach Brian Daboll off Joe Judge’s staff, said. “I thought as a corner he tackled like a safety and I thought him playing safety would give us some extra athleticism back there. I like his skill set back there. He’s a young developing player that I can see having a really bright future in this league so I’m just excited to see how he grows.’’
Williams has already defied the odds. He spent the first three years of his college career at St. Francis (Pa.) and really made his mark in his senior year after transferring to Albany, where he sparked the Great Danes secondary. Undrafted, he was signed and waived by the Cardinals before the Giants took a shot.
Williams spent the 2020 season on the practice squad before making his NFL debut in two December games. He got into six games in the back half of last season, starting at cornerback in losses to the Cowboys and Eagles. His overall grade of 71.1 by Pro Football Focus in 2021 was not bad at all, considering his playing time was not consistent from week-to-week.
Now Williams is a safety, has gained about five pounds and is up to 195, a bit more bulk on his 5-foot-11 frame. When he received the new defensive playbook, his assignments were for a new spot on the field, and that is a challenge, starting with his eyes.
“You got to see the whole formation,’’ Williams said. “You got to see the whole game and you got to communicate, you got to let everybody know what’s going on, what you’re seeing, what the check is, you got to get everybody on the same page and that’s going to be the most difficult thing for me than playing corner and nickel. Playing corner and nickel you’re really just a receiver of information. Now the safety, you relay the information to everybody, the rest of the guys on the field. My biggest thing for me now is having conviction in my voice that even if it might not be right I sound right so the guys have confidence in me.’’
Working closely with Henderson and especially assistant defensive backs coach Mike Treier, Williams is making a move that was hatched when Henderson observed last season that Williams was “a heavier tackler’’ and that “he just had a heaviness to him when he hits people.’’
This is not the way many cornerbacks are described, which is one reason why Williams is no longer a cornerback.
“I got a physical nastiness to me and there’s power,’’ he said. “[Henderson] has high expectations of me when I tackle now and I’m glad because I put it on tape that I’ll come down and hit a running back and I have no fear and I truly don’t. I really don’t.’’
Certainly not lacking in confidence, Williams refuses to allow his résumé — undrafted out of Albany — to define his chances to stick around.
“I don’t see it like that,’’ he said. “I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be here, in this league in this position and I’m just embracing my journey. Round 1, pick 1 ain’t for everybody, you feel me?’’