How Rookie Joejuan Williams Proved His Value To Patriots In Preseason Finale

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FOXBORO, Mass. — It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Gunner Olszewski playing cornerback or Jakob Johnson moonlighting at outside linebacker, but Joejuan Williams also tried his luck at a new position in the New England Patriots’ final preseason game.

Williams, the super-sized cornerback the Patriots drafted in the second round this year, started and played every snap of New England’s 31-29 loss to the New York Giants on Thursday — at safety.

The Vanderbilt product didn’t look out of place in his new spot — at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, he towers over most corners — but his previous experience there was minimal. Before this week, the last time he’d played safety in a game was during his junior year of high school, and even that was as an injury replacement.

?It was literally just a couple days ago,” Williams said of the switch. “Coach told me in practice he wanted me to play at safety, so I took it and smiled and ran with it. I was pretty excited about the challenge, and I was pretty excited about the opportunity.”

Reserve safeties Terrence Brooks, A.J. Howard and Obi Melifonwu did not play Thursday night, nor did starters Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and pseudo-starter Duron Harmon. That left the Patriots with minimal depth at the position, so Williams was tasked with filling in.

He jumped at the chance, viewing it as a way to showcase his versatility.

?It just shows how valuable you are to the team,” Williams said. “And that?s one thing that I wanted to show to the team: how valuable I am. I want to show this team that wherever they need me to play, I feel like I can fill that role for them, and I?ll do my best to take on that challenge.

“It?s exciting, really. It?s really exciting. And once they told me I was playing safety, I tried my best to take that to full advantage and take on that challenge. It?s just showing the team how valuable I am, basically.”

Williams finished with one tackle (a booming hit on receiver Brittan Golden) and graded out positively in pass coverage, allowing one catch for 3 yards on three targets, according to Pro Football Focus. He believes the experience will help him improve his cornerback skills, and the Patriots were able to gauge how he might fare against tight ends moving forward.

?I feel like you see a lot more — especially at safety, you see the whole defense,” Williams explained. “At corner, you?re kind of focusing on one man. We play a lot of man (coverage) in this defense, so you?re focusing on one person. But at safety, you see a lot more. You?re more like the quarterback of the defense.

“And I feel like taking on that challenge this week, it definitely helped me out playing corner, also. (Now) I?ll know where my safety help is — I know where my safety?s going — because I played the position. So I just feel like it only helps me a lot more.?

The rookie’s lone blemish was a dropped interception in the final minutes that would have halted New York’s game-winning drive.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he lamented after the game, adding he’s focused on ensuring he doesn’t make the same mistake during the regular season.

And it will be interesting to see how the Patriots use Williams once that regular season begins. They’re loaded at corner with Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones all returning, but Williams has made a strong push for playing time after taking a few days to find his footing early in training camp.

In four preseason appearances, Williams allowed three catches on 11 targets for 21 yards and no touchdowns with two pass breakups, per PFF.

“A lot of people said, ?Oh, you had a slow start? or something like that,” Williams said. “But at the end of the day, you?re just learning. I?m a rookie. I?m just trying to soak up everything, learn from the vets and once I make a mistake, make sure it doesn?t happen a second time around.

“At the end of the day, it?s all about the learning curve. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I?m just trying to be the best player that I can.”

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