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UM safety James Williams might be transitioning to outside linebacker at Senior Bowl; pass rusher Laiatu Latu stands out

MOBILE, Ala. — The transition continued on Tuesday for James Williams, the former University of Miami standout safety.

Williams, who will play for the American team against the National team in Saturday’s 1 p.m. Senior Bowl, practiced at outside linebacker the entire day at the Senior Bowl practice at the University of South Alabama.

“I’m adjusting to it,” said Williams, who, at 6 foot 4, 230 pounds had a team-best 73 tackles, two forced fumbles and fumble recovery this past season.

“I’m for sure adjusting to it. I’m new to it. Today was my first day fully in the box, so I had to really get my feet wet. Tomorrow I’m going to get better and prove myself.”

The Miami Dolphins, who are searching for a defensive coordinator, might need help at safety but it’s doubtful Williams would fit the bill for Miami at linebacker.

Playing outside linebacker is a transition that began at UM last season when Williams, the former Plantation American Heritage High standout, sometimes moved down to outside linebacker, requiring him to play in the box, the area about seven yards within the line of scrimmage.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Williams, who projects as a second- or third-round pick, rated as the No. 8 safety prospect in the draft.

UM’s Kam Kinchens, who is also at the Senior Bowl, is the No. 2 safety prospect behind Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin.

Whether Williams plays exclusively at outside linebacker the rest of this week remains to be seen, but he didn’t play any safety on Tuesday, and he said he’s excited to show coaches and scouts what he can do at his new position.

“It requires you to bring your heart, your toughness and show them you’ve got the grit, you’ve got the physicality to go in the box and show them you can play it,” he said.

Williams, who could develop into a hybrid safety/linebacker, said he thinks he knows how he projects in the NFL.

“I feel like I’d be (an athlete), a guy that moves around, plays half field, plays deep, plays in the box like I showed today, can play man-to-man on tight ends and running backs,” he said.

“I feel like I can do anything. Game plan-wise, you can put me anywhere, however you want to use me.”

Pass rushers excel

UCLA’s Laiatu Latu, regarded as one of the top pass rushers in the draft, proved every bit as the hype in Tuesday’s practice as he showed speed and quickness in getting to the quarterback.

On back-to-back plays he blew right past Oregon State right tackle Taliese Fuaga and recorded sacks in 11-on-11 drills.

Latu leads a long list of accomplished pass rushers at the Senior Bowl that includes Alabama Chris Braswell, Penn State’s Adisa Isaac, Troy’s Javon Solomon, Kansas’ Austin Booker, Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland, and Michigan’s Jaylen Harell.

The Dolphins could have a need at pass rusher.

Edge rushers Bradley Chubb (knee) and Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) are both recovering from injuries.

Latu, who started his career at Washington and retired due to a neck injury, then transferred to UCLA, got doctors’ approval to continue his career and now looks to be a surefire first-round pick.

“I was told I would never be able to play again,” he said. “I think I proved to a lot of people I can, and my abilities make me one of the top-tiered pass rushers out there.”

Senior Bowl coaching staff features ex-Dolphins coaches

Terrell Williams, the Tennessee Titans’ assistant head coach/defensive line coach, is the American team head coach. Williams was a Dolphins defensive line coach under Joe Philbin from 2015-17.

Jeff Ulbrich, the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator, is the National team head coach.

Kenny Baker, the former Dolphins’ assistant defensive line coach, will coach the defensive line for the National team. Baker has accepted a job to coach at the University of Texas.

This is the second year the Senior Bowl is using the “Coach Up” program in which the head coaches of the American and National teams are coordinators or assistant coaches who are put in elevated roles as head coaches of the Senior Bowl teams.

Each team can nominate an assistant coach to be Senior Bowl head coach. The nominees are then vetted by a committee of league executives and members of the General Managers Advisory Committee. 

This is also the first time any player who declares for the NFL draft is eligible for the Senior Bowl. Previously, players had to at least be juniors. Now, redshift sophomores are eligible.

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