Williams eager to get on the field for Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Jonah Williams runs a drill at the team’s NFL football training facility, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Jonah Williams runs a drill at the team’s NFL football training facility, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

When offensive lineman Jonah Williams arrived in Cincinnati as a rookie last year, he carried with him a reputation for being an extremely hard worker, dedicated to improving himself in the weight room and through film study.

That was one of the reasons the Bengals were so high on the former Alabama standout, selecting Williams with the 11th pick of the 2019 draft.

Williams’ work ethic became apparent even as he was sidelined all of last season with a shoulder injury, and even more so when he returned to Paul Brown Stadium for his first training camp a few weeks ago. The new left tackle is expected to be a big part of improving the Bengals’ offensive line this season.

“Really what ended up happening with him is he got a year to reshape his body,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last week. “I think he’s changed his body. He looks a pro; he doesn’t look like a college kid anymore. His build and physique he kind of changed, not completely, but he walked up to get tested when he first got here and I was like, ‘Woah, hey, Jonah it’s good to see you man.’ He worked as hard as anybody last year. He was in every meeting. He was working on his own. He is well prepared to take that spot.”

Williams said he doesn’t feel like a rookie even though he hasn’t experienced getting on the field for an NFL game yet. He tore the labrum in his left shoulder during OTAs last June but rehabbed at the team facility and had a chance to settle in with his teammates and coaches, get some of the rookie jitters out, and really learn the Bengals’ system from a different perspective.

While he would have much preferred to learn while playing, Williams is hoping the experience pays off for an even better first season than he would have had otherwise. He has expectations for himself to be a consistent left tackle the team can count on for years to come.

“That’s my goal, and I’m really honored that the coaches are giving me that opportunity and that they believe in me to do that,” Williams said. “I don’t really see it as pressure so much as I’m just grateful. I see it as an opportunity, and that motivates me. I want to prove them right and the Bengals, the team, the family, that I can be the left tackle for years to come. That’s obviously been my goal since the day I came here. It kind of got sidelined a bit last year, but it’s still my goal now and I think I’m better prepared than ever to do it.”

The medical staff and trainers cleared Williams to practice in December and got his feet wet with the team then, but really stepped up his training this offseason, which he spent in San Diego working with Roberto Wallace at Time Performance.

Williams always has been big on weight training and kept that up but also did more yoga, as well as mobility and speed training, to help improve his quickness .

“I just kind of committed to a schedule and didn’t’ really take any time off this whole time,” Williams said. “When corona happened, I tried to adapt to that and be as consistent as possible. … Pretty much from the moment I could I was training for this season trying to get my body in the best football shape, strength and athleticism I could do.”

Williams also had a chance to work with former San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley and said he learned a lot about technique and positioning.

“I try to model my game after him a lot because we have similar bodies and athleticism, so I think that that’s been huge,” Williams said. “And something too is just his mindset, how he approaches games very calm, not a lot of anxiety, not super tense, kind of just going out there and playing and being confident in your preparation.”

After watching the Bengals struggle through a 2-14 finish in 2019, during which the offensive line received much criticism, Williams wants to play a part in providing more consistency this year. The Bengals rotated players around the offensive line and were relying on a third- and fourth-string left tackle most of the year.

The pressure is on with a rookie quarterback to protect in No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow, but Williams said he embraces that challenge.

“It motivates me, but not so much to prove people wrong,” Williams said. “I’m just looking at this team, the excitement that I and we have for this team. Getting a quarterback like Joe. You’ve seen what he can do and I have no doubt he’ll be able to do that here. Getting guys like A.J. Green back, having a running back like Joe Mixon and all the upgrades that are on defense. I just think looking at that team, it makes me excited to be a part of it and I want to contribute the same way they all are.”

“I don’t want my position group to be a hindrance for that. … I really have no doubts that the O-line is going to step up to the challenge and just be part of a better team all around.”