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What the Miami Dolphins are getting with Connor Williams, who expects to play center

·5 min read
Bob Booth/Bob Booth

During the past two months, we’ve served up pieces with tidbits on Dolphins newcomers Chase Edmonds, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Terron Armstead, Tyreek Hill and Raheem Mostert.

Here are some nuggets on new Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Connor Williams, who was a left guard for Dallas the past four seasons but said he expects to play center for the Dolphins, barring a sudden training camp change of heart by the team’s brain trust:

There’s a lot to be excited about here, but his penchant for penalties is a concern.

The good news: He allowed only 13 quarterback pressures last season, fourth fewest among NFL players who pass blocked at least 300 snaps and fewest for players who pass blocked at least 600 snaps. (Williams pass blocked 624 times.)

As perspective, the Dolphins’ left guard, Austin Jackson, allowed 29 pressures after moving from left tackle. Jackson is expected to play right tackle this season.

PFF rated Williams 11th among 83 guards as a run blocker.

By comparison, here’s where the Dolphins’ other linemen ranked as run blockers last season:

Among 83 tackles, PFF rated Liam Eichenberg 70th and Jesse Davis 83rd as run blockers. Among 83 guards, PFF rated Robert Hunt 35th and Jackson 69th as run blockers and center Michael Deiter 28th of 40. (Davis is now a Minnesota Viking; Eichenberg is now at left guard; and Deiter is the backup center.)

Though the plan is for Williams to play center, he said Dolphins coaches believe he can play anywhere on the line.

“They understand that I can probably play tackle, I can play center and so it’s really wherever I’m needed and wherever I’m placed is where I’m willing to work. I played tackle in college. I’ve had snaps at center in preseason games and so I’m most definitely open to play any position.”

The Dolphins believe he has the skill set and the aptitude to play center. They like what they have seen from him at center in the offseason program.

Williams said the move to center has gone smoothly and he’s enjoying it.

Because of a slew of holding penalties (11 of them), he was benched for a month last season but he finished the season with an 84.1 pass block grade during the final five weeks, which ranked fifth among guards, per PFF.

PFF ranked him the 31st best player in free agency and assessed him this way: “Another offensive lineman who took a couple years to get going, Williams stepped up his game with a top-20 grade in 2020, and he continued that success in 2021. He’s a better run-blocker than pass-blocker and he’s a mid-tier starting option who has scheme diversity. He’s a solid young player with more room to grow.”

PFF said his strengths are “blocking on the move and combo blocks,” and his weaknesses are “blocking players with length/power and penalties.”

And about those penalties… He had 11 holding penalties last season, after being whistled for that infraction five times in 2018, twice in 2019 and three times in 2020.

His 17 penalties overall in 2021 were most among NFL offensive linemen; that was more than the 16 combined he had in his first three NFL seasons.

After Williams committed three holding penalties against Atlanta in a game last November, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said: “Connor is a conscious gamer. He’s a competitor, and I know he doesn’t live up to his standard with regard to penalties. But, as you can see from the game recordings, he does a lot of great things for our team. However, as with many other players, there are certain things that need to be improved. He has to clean the penalty aspect of his game.”

Williams said this week that the abundance of penalties last season weren’t reflective of his career.

“Honestly it was a one-off year, and it’s not a reputation I’ve had in previous years,” he said. “I think a lot of things not going the right way and just build on the season. No excuses to be made but just fine-tuning my craft and knowing when to let go and when not to and just focusing on the very details and just playing a cleaner game.”

Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy praised him for how “focused” he was after being benched for four games, a stretch when he played 18 snaps before regaining his starting job for the final four games.

“I love the way Connor has handled everything,” McCarthy said before Williams was reinserted in the starting lineup in mid-December. “He is dialed in. He hasn’t blinked. Appreciate that from him.”

Williams had 13 penalties at the time of his mid-November benching and had four more the rest of the season.

Williams struggled in Dallas’ playoff loss to San Francisco, allowing a sack and committing a holding penalty and a false start.

Williams is well suited to the Dolphins’ new zone-blocking scheme.

PFF put it this way: “While Williams has done most of his damage in a zone-heavy scheme, he’s an effective puller and he’s capable of executing any block required in a gap-heavy system as well. In pass protection, he could use help against longer players.”

Here’s how Williams described the zone-blocking approach: “One thing is clear is that was one of the best things we did in Dallas was coming off the ball running side to side, getting the d-line moving and getting the defense on their feet and then penetrating the defense with the run game.

“Once you get the defense on their heels, then you can get them in the air, you can dish it out and after talking to coach, you can tell his excitement in bringing this new zone scheme into Miami.

“That is part of the reason I’m here is to be part of that building block of starting a great zone scheme. I think the biggest part of that is the cohesiveness of the team. Everybody is on the same page, everybody is working together and after reps after reps after reps it starts manifesting into its own.”

Whether Williams can become a clearly above-average starting center is one of a dozen or so keys to this Dolphins offense in 2022.