FOXBORO, Mass. — Joining a new team midway through training camp isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult with a nonexistent preseason.
Just ask Xavier Williams.
A member of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs last season, Williams signed with the New England Patriots on Aug. 22 after languishing in free agency for more than five months.
With just two weeks separating his arrival from the Sept. 5 cutdown deadline, the veteran defensive tackle is learning the Patriots’ system on the fly while simultaneously trying to prove he deserves a spot on the 53-man roster.
“It’s a different experience,” Williams said after Monday’s practice. “You do feel a little behind the 8-ball. Football is football. You either play, or you can’t. The hard parts are understanding and learning the plays, learning the adjustments, being out there and actually being able to understand everything in real time — when they make calls and make adjustments in real time.
“I don’t think it’s hard to pick up on paper, but as you come in and you’re on the field, bullets are flying, they’re making empty checks to back-jump checks for when a back jumps, or changing the front — stuff like that. Trying to get all that stuff to slow down for you, that’s a bit rough.”
Williams does have one advantage in that regard. In Kansas City last season, he played under defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who previously held that same job in New England. The Chiefs’ 4-3 defense was schematically different from what the Patriots run, but thanks to Daly’s influence, much of the verbiage was the same.
“There’s a lot of crossover, especially with terminology,” Williams said. “The terminology (Daly) brought in, even though they played a bit of a different defense when I was at Kansas City, the terminology we used overlaps a lot. So that helps when you’re coming into a new defense and you kind of just understand what they mean by their words.
“Every defense, it could be the same type of play, the same type of movement, but if you have three different defensive coordinators, they probably use three different terms. So it really made the understanding of some of the terminology when I came here (easier). And the technique that (Daly) taught us in Kansas City, a lot of it carries over to what we do here, also, which is also a big help.”
Williams entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa in 2015. He’s now in his sixth pro season, having spent the first three in Arizona and the last two in K.C.
The 2018 season was a career year for Williams — 47 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks in 16 games, including four starts — but injuries limited him to five appearances in 2019. He dressed but did not play in Super Bowl LIV.
A lingering injury to veteran D-tackle Beau Allen has created additional opportunities for players like Williams, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray and Nick Thurman this summer. But with Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler Deatrich Wise and Cowart all safe bets to make the roster, it could take an Allen release for Williams to stick around.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Williams said. “(I’m in) Year 6, seen a couple defenses. I kind of have a little bit of knowledge to dig from and relate stuff to, so it’s helped a lot. But yeah, it’s kind of like, back’s against the wall. You’re out here trying to fight for a spot, and it feels like everybody knows everything you’re trying to figure out.”