BYU graduate Jamaal Williams joins the show to discuss his game with a review of his performance against Michigan State.
Within the first 30 seconds of watching Jamaal Williams’ tape, I saw an NFL running back. I’m not saying I saw everything I needed to see from Williams’ game in that brief span.
It has less to do with speed, quickness, power, or a specific technique and more to do with how he moves. What I saw was presence.
Athletes are performers and there are performers on stage or screen that have presence. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses as performers, they look so at home in their performance setting that they appear natural.
I’m not trying to sell you on the over-romanticized notion of natural talent. Whether it kicks in before or after the thousands of hours of grueling work, every good player has some of that natural stuff.
Williams moves like a runner with feel for the position and the game. Feel is a great commodity in performance.
I’ve known musicians who had the kind of sound, technique, and knowledge that would make other musicians think about selling their first born to acquire. But if I were still playing and I could pick the one skill I could have in abundance, it would be feel.
Feel will captivate an audience faster and hold their attention longer than the other skills. And if a player lacks it, it’s notable to the amateur.
I had an excellent teacher who had everything you’d want as a saxophonist with the exception of strong feel. Even after playing for decades at a high level, his solos often sounded like he was doing a math problem.
Williams has feel. Football commentators who are willing to get laughed at for invoking feel call it the IT Factor.
Five or six years ago, I defined IT as Integrated Technique—a player’s skill to combine physical, technical, and conceptual skills for maximum effect and often in situations that aren’t coached. Williams isn’t the strongest, fastest, quickest, or most agile back in this class, but the feel for the position and game is strong.
It was fortuitous that Luke Neal approached me during practice at the Senior Bowl. Neal introduced himself to me as Williams’ uncle, but from a football standpoint he’s more than family to the runner.
A former wide receiver who had a stint with the Los Angeles Rams (during the team’s first go-around in L.A.), Neal runs The Athletes’ Factory in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to training his nephew, Neal has trained the likes of Edwin Mulitalo, Dennis Northcutt, and Anquan Boldin.
To be blunt, Neal was there to shake hands an kiss babies on behalf of his nephew. It was out of the Jerry Maguire playbook. Considering that Williams is a client of the real-life Maguire (Leigh Steinberg), it all made sense.
So I arranged an opportunity for Williams and I to watch one of his games. While the Toledo or Arizona games would have been more exciting, I chose Michigan State for specific reasons:
- There are numerous pass pro looks.
- Williams encountered moderate to difficult pass pro situations for a college back.
- The BYU ground game gradually wore down the Spartans defense, but not without discernible opposition.
While this 53-minute session won’t set Draft Twitter on fire with never before heard, unearthed gems about running back play, it will subtly reinforce that players with feel all don’t explain their processes like coaches.
Even so, Williams was warm, engaging, knowledgeable, and passionate about football. With degree in hand, he’s clearly excited about becoming a professional.
With noted exceptions, I’m not one to talk much about character.But one of the things I like to do with interview subjects is to share a little bit about myself.
I do this for a few reasons. Primarily, I like to see if I can make extended interviews feel like a two-way conversation to make the interview subject a little more comfortable and open.
But I also do it to learn a little more about how they view me. Am I simply a tool for their PR campaign or do they try to interact with me as a person?
My little nugget was about my wife Alicia traveling to Paris this week for business. It was something I mentioned in passing as we were setting up the recording. At the end of the hour, Williams, much to my surprise, told me to wish my wife safe travels to Paris on his behalf.
Feel for the game.
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