Late father’s words now carry greater weight for Cardinals’ Williams

Dan Williams celebrates his sack of Dallas quarterback Brandon Weeden with teammates Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Dan Williams’ father died in a car accident a little more than a year ago while on his way to New Orleans to watch his son play.

"It hit him really hard," said Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Williams’ best friend on the team. "It would hit anybody really hard."

But like most news stories, it passed and was largely swept under the rug when a new season dawned. Not for Williams.

"It probably affected me more this year because normally, my dad and I used to have a talk before the start of the season," the Cardinals nose tackle said Wednesday. "The game against San Diego was a lot more emotional for me than last year’s games, and I still get these times where I think, ‘Dang, it’s weird that my pops didn’t call me this week.’ "

Thomas Williams would have been proud of his son on Sunday in Dallas. Williams led the team with seven tackles (three solos), a sack, two tackles for a loss and a QB hit. More importantly, Williams was the main cog in holding the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, under 100 yards (79) for the first time this season. 

It was a performance that had coach Bruce Arians gushing.

"He had a fantastic game, maybe his best game as a Cardinal since I’ve been here, for sure, and we needed it," Arians said. "He’s turned into more than just a nose guard now. He’s lost that weight and is playing defensive end."

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Williams (listed at 6-3, 314 pounds) said before Sunday’s game that he thought the Cowboys might be keying on him as they tried to get their No. 1-ranked run game going to make life easier on backup quarterback Brandon Weeden.

"That was our No. 1 goal, to shut down the No. 1 rushing offense in the league, and he took it personally, believe me," Campbell said. "We talked about it all week and he kept saying ‘They’re supposed to be the best. We’ll see …’ "

Williams downplayed the notion that this was his best game as a pro, calling it all in a day’s work.

"I would say statistics wise, I’d agree, but I was just doing what I’ve been doing; trying to get up field and cause havoc," he said. "It so happens that this time I was able to actually get the tackles and get credit for them.

"They were trying to zone block and get guys out of gaps. I just shot my gap, put my hands on the guard and shed the blocks — the things that a defensive lineman is supposed to do — and then wrap up when I got to the running back because DeMarco Murray can break a lot of tackles." 

My dad always told me tomorrow is never promised, and the sad thing about it is it probably made more sense to me once he did pass. He always told me, ‘Live every day as if it is your last,’ but it never made much sense to me. It was just my dad talking.

Dan Williams

Williams struggled with weight issues his first few seasons after the Cardinals selected him in the first round (26th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Tennessee, ballooning up to the 350 or 360 range. But better eating habits (he’s on a diet right now) and better knowledge of how to take care of his body have helped him blossom into the defensive anchor the Cardinals envisioned for their 3-4 scheme.

"The thing I like is he’s gained an understanding of formations and where the ball could go and personnel," Campbell said. "That’s something that took me about five or six years to learn, too. 

"Now (defensive coordinator Todd) Bowles can move him away from the nose; move him to the three-technique and that’s good for him because he gets to show his athleticism." 

Williams rattles off a list of Cardinals veterans who have helped him over the years, including Bryan Robinson, Vonnie Holliday, Nick Eason, Tommy Kelly, John Abraham and Campbell.

"Everyone has got to where they are by different paths, so I like to pick the brains of the older guys and try to choose what works best for me," he said.

But losing his father was the life event that snapped Williams to full attention when approaching his career.

"My dad always told me tomorrow is never promised, and the sad thing about it is it probably made more sense to me once he did pass," he said. "He always told me, ‘Live every day as if it is your last,’ but it never made much sense to me. It was just my dad talking."

Williams will never have another preseason prep talk with his dad to set goals and reaffirm the family’s values. But he maintains an unseen connection with a man he says "left a good stamp on everyone he met."

"I always say a prayer before each game starts and point to the sky during the national anthem," he said. "My pops was an old veteran so he took pride in the national anthem. He didn’t put his hand on his heart, he’d have it on his head to do the salute. So before every game, I point to the sky to salute him."

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