Buffalo Bills: Rookie Jonathan Williams Learning From Bills Legend

Transitioning into the NFL can be tough, but Jonathan Williams has a great mentor in NFL Hall of Famer and former Buffalo Bills running back, Thurman Thomas, who experienced similar challenges as a rookie.

Jonathan Williams is facing an uphill battle to make the Buffalo Bills 53-man roster, let alone earn any playing time this season. A torn ligament in his foot caused the former Arkansas Razorback to miss his entire senior campaign, ultimately plummeted his draft stock down into the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, where he was selected 156th overall by Buffalo.

Players drafted as late as Williams aren’t awarded much. Joe Buscaglia of WKBW is projecting he will be competing for the fourth and final roster spot on the RB depth chart against James Wilder, Jr. and Dan “Boom” Herron when training camp starts.

It’s not an ideal slot to be in, but the rookie can take solace in knowing his mentor, Thurman Thomas, began his career in a similar fashion. Injury concerns coming out of college caused the Oklahoma State alum to begin the 1988 season behind Ronnie Harmon, Robb Riddick and Carl Byrum on the depth chart.

Thomas wasn’t behind them for very long, quickly climbing to the top of the hierarchy to become the starter in his first season and never looking back on his way to the Hall of Fame. So, how did he get to Canton?

The Houston, Texas native had talent, sure. However, in a piece by Tyler Dunne of The Buffalo News depicting the two running backs initial meeting, Thomas says his success had more to do with his approach to football.

The Bills legend says his first positional coach instructed him to be a “maniac”. In other words, he should apply a workhorse mentality to each of his duties and responsibilities as a football player, a lesson he’s now passed on to his protégé, Williams.

“I carried that throughout my entire career,” Thomas said. “Preseason? Treat it like it’s a regular game. Practice field? Same thing. You’re leading that week up to play a game. If somebody gets pissed off because you’re working hard, that’s their fault. They’re not working hard enough.

 

“You have to do it if you want to sustain a long career in this league.”

In the short-term, realistically, Williams will have to be more of a maniac on special teams if he’s going to earn the final running back spot. Either returning kicks or chasing down opposing returners is how he’ll make the squad.

Offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, loves to run the football — the Bills were first in rushing last season with 2432 yards and second in attempts with 509 carries — so the 22-year-old will have opportunities to show what he can do in the backfield. In fact, he may even get more reps than initially expected, with Karlos Williams reportedly showing up to minicamp carrying a few extra pounds.

Nov 22, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Jonathan Williams (32) is brought down by Ole Miss Rebels defensive backs Cody Prewitt (25) and Senquez Golson (21) during a game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 30-0. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 22, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Jonathan Williams (32) is brought down by Ole Miss Rebels defensive backs Cody Prewitt (25) and Senquez Golson (21) during a game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 30-0. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

What does this 5-foot-11, 220-pound back bring to the running game? Thomas says the rookie’s style isn’t much different than his own: “This is a guy who puts his foot in the ground and he goes.

“That’s what it’s all about, man. You can’t be dancing and stuff or you’ll be got. And I like the fact that he said he can do more than run the football.

“He can catch the football, and that’s what my career turned into — catching the ball out of the backfield. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a battle.”

Thomas likes his disciple’s chances of making the roster. Now it’s up to Williams go out and validate his mentor’s belief in him, once camp begins on July 30th.

How do you think Jonathan Williams will fare in training camp? Will he earn a roster spot in the Bills crowded backfield, be relegated to the practice squad or even, potentially wind up on another team? Let us know in the comments section below.