LEXINGTON — Avery Williamson has yet to start a game at Kentucky and has only 59 career tackles in the 25 games he has played, but coach Joker Phillips has big expectations for the junior linebacker this season.
“I like the way that Avery Williamson has taken ownership of the defense and that showed up in the offseason, not just now. It showed up this summer the way he went about his business and we are starting to see it carry onto the football field also,” Phillips said.
“This year we really spent a lot more time in the film room, studying and getting everybody clear with what they have to do. We have to be leaders out there, be vocal and we have to make plays. All those people (we lost) made plays and we have to replace them,” Williamson said.
Williamson shared his thoughts on a variety of other things after a recent practice:
Question: Do you like being designated as the leader on the defense by the coaches?
Williamson: “I am liking that a lot. Loving it. It is a big role to play, but you get used to it. It’s a role I wanted. I have been wanting to be the full-time guy for two years, so now I finally get to be in for good and go out there and make plays and be the leader of the defense.”
Question: Considering the lack of experience among the starting linebackers, how do you feel things are going so far?
Williamson: “I feel like the linebacker position was really solid in our first scrimmage. We have to go work. We had some mistakes. But we are gradually getting better. The coaches are throwing a lot at us as far as the plays and stuff, so everybody’s minds are kind of a flutter with plays but once we get in season and narrow it down to a few things, we will be fine. I do feel that the players have got a lot better.”
Question: What is the depth going to be like at linebacker behind the four new starters?
Williamson: “It should be pretty good. The younger guys are really playing well. They just have to keep working. We have a couple of freshmen that could really contribute as well.”
Question: How much do you like freshmen Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas?
Williamson: “They did pretty well in the scrimmage. They are both pretty physical guys. I saw Pancho make a couple of great plays out in the scrimmage and he seems very physical. As long as we get them to know what to do and when to do it, they both have a great chance to play.”
Question: How hard is it for a freshman linebacker to play in the SEC?
Williamson: “It is difficult. You are not used to playing against college athletes and you are not used to just to making that many calls on the field. It really takes time. And you have to learn to play in front of a crowd as well. You have to really do some adjusting.”
Question: What do you think about coach Joker Phillips calling you not just a defensive leader, but a team leader?
Williamson: “That makes me feel good and shows me I am doing something right and showing everybody I can be a leader. It’s good when a lot of young guys look up to you for inspiration.”
Question: Is there pressure on the defense to be exceptionally good considering the question marks on offense again?
Williamson: “You should always really feel the pressure to be exceptionally good I feel like. To me, it’s no big deal. Last year the offense did not do as well and we had to step up a lot of times, but they are working their butts off and doing a lot more things. We have a lot of guys that can make a lot of plays. You should always feel the pressure to be great and not want to let the opposing team score.”
Question: What has impressed you to make you believe the offense will be better?
Williamson: “Just the receivers. We have good receivers that can do a lot of things in open space and the running backs are really good. We have some really good running backs that really compete every day.”
Question: Is Phillips making too much out of improved team chemistry translating to better play on the field?
Williamson: “I feel like he is right. If you don’t know the guy you are playing next to as well, you might not play as good. Like if the quarterback does not know his receivers well, I feel like he may not throw routes to them as well. Just like me on defense, I have to know the chemistry of my defensive linemen and my linebacker next to me and how he plays and if he’s going to get across that block of the center or guard. Chemistry really does count.”
Question: Why does this team seem to get along better than maybe previous years?
Williamson: “You really can’t help but be close around these guys. It is camp, but there are a lot of guys that are like family. It’s all you’ve got. I really don’t have too many other people like students (I am friends with). Coach (Rick) Minter always says we are like a band of brothers. This is who we are and who is our team, so we just embrace each other.”