Allen Park — Jamaal Williams might be the easiest player to spot during a Detroit Lions practice.
It’s not because he’s stacking big run on top of big run. With players yet to don the pad this season, and tackling subsequently not part of the routine, it’s too early to be assessing the performance of running backs. No, you can’t miss Williams because he’s always smiling, laughing and dancing, with his long dreadlocks bouncing to whatever song the Lions are pumping through their sound system.
The Lions signed Williams this offseason because they believe he can bolster their backfield. The 26-year-old has averaged more than 700 yards from scrimmage and 4.5 touchdowns during his four-year career, all with the Green Bay Packers. But Williams’ infectious energy is a welcome part of the package the Lions are getting in the deal.
“You need that type of guy in your room,” teammate D’Andre Swift said. “First day, everybody is high energy, but Day 10, Day 11, it might not be so high energy. And Jamaal can be the same way every day. He comes in there, he’ll put a smile on your face, no matter what. You need that type of guy in your room.”
To see him day after day, you might think Williams rolls out of bed with the same energy he brings to the practice field, but that’s not the case. He admits he’s not a morning person, but the moment he steps on the field, the dial somehow always finds itself turned to 11.
“It takes a minute to get all this going for practice,” Williams said. “But once I’m out here, I love football. Once I’m out here, I have fun and I know I’ve got to bring the energy for my team. If I feel like anybody is low, not feeling it today, that’s when I bring the energy and get them ready for practice.”
And while Williams might need a ramp-up period to get going at the start of his day, he doesn’t shut down as quickly. His upbeat, often silly demeanor smoothly transitions into the rest of his football day, whether it’s his media obligations or team meetings.
Before stepping to the podium for his own interview session on Friday, safety Tracy Walker stopped to take in Williams, who had reporters going head-to-head in Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who would get to answer the next question.
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Williams’ answers also often leave the beaten path of sports clichés, including comparing himself to a ninja when asked why he enjoyed the role of being an underdog.
Walker can only smile.
“Oh man, this is him all the time,” Walker said. “He just never shuts up. You gotta love it, though. He’s just himself. That’s the best thing about it.”
On the field, Williams has been bouncing between the first- and second-team offenses, sharing the load with Swift. The way the Lions see things, the tandem will operate similarly to what the Saints have done with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram/Latavius Murray in recent years.
“That’s my vision of this one-two punch,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “To have what we had after we left with Murray, as well. Murray was that guy for us and that’s how I see Jamaal Williams for us, for Detroit. He’s high energy, he’s a bit of a hammer and I think he’s a guy your team can feed off of a little bit. I said that when we signed him. That was always what Mark was for us and Latavius Murray when Mark left us. That’s what Jamaal is.”
In addition to the Kamara comparison, Williams said Swift reminds him of another Pro Bowler, Packers back Aaron Jones.
“Just fast, explosive, just good at getting that burst going,” Williams said. “It doesn’t take him long to (get going). Really, he’s just a good player. He’s got his good, low center of gravity, good vision and just an athlete.”
The ground game has been a sore spot for the Lions the two decades since Barry Sanders abruptly retired in 1999.
In the past 10 years, Detroit has not finished in the top half of the league in rushing, while finishing in the bottom-five five times during that stretch. Reggie Bush was the last Lions back to top 1,000 yards in a season, barely eclipsing the mark with 1,006 yards in 2013.
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