CHARLOTTE -- I’ve wanted to write something about right tackle Daryl Williams for a few weeks, but to be honest, he doesn’t say a whole lot.
“He's not quiet. He's outgoing, he talks. Kind of like me,” said Andrew Norwell, Carolina's famously reticent left guard. “Talk when you need to.”
So has Williams been painted all wrong? It sure seems like he doesn’t talk much.
“To you,” right guard Trai Turner quipped, looking at a semicircle of reporters.
But this week I decided it was time to try to get Williams to open up a bit, and as luck would have it, I caught him at a good time. It was right after he finished talking about “The Punisher” with practice squad offensive lineman Blaine Clausell.
There was a slight problem, though.
“You don't know what that is?” Williams asked me.
“The Punisher is kind of a superhero, but he's not,” Williams continued, describing the Marvel Comics character-turned-Netflix series. “He's basically a guy that was in the military, the military betrayed him and killed his family. So he gets revenge by becoming The Punisher. Instead of arresting people, he kills them.”
So not a family-friendly show.
Now, it’d be too easy – and too cheesy – to transition from that to Williams’ play this season by calling him a punisher. So let’s have head coach Ron Rivera describe it in football terms.
“He's very stout. He's terrific as a run blocker, and he's protecting very well. His footwork, his technique has been outstanding,” Rivera said. “It's taken a couple of years, but I think (running game coordinator John Matsko) and (offensive line coach Ray Brown) have done a nice job of developing his technique and his style.”
Added Turner: “What I like about Daryl right now – his head's down. It's kind of tunnel vision. He's focused and he's locked in on what he has to do each and every week. A guy that's developing and continuing to show why he's at the position that he is and why he's, in my opinion, one of the best right tackles in this league. If you go back and look at the film, he's done a phenomenal job throughout this whole season.”
Like this piece of tape from the Monday Night Football win over the Dolphins, when Williams’ block freed quarterback Cam Newton for a 69-yard run:
Blocks like that are why Williams is currently rated by Pro Football Focus as the NFL's fourth-best active offensive tackle. But run blocking has been Williams’ specialty ever since his college days at Oklahoma.
“He gets his big paws on guys, locks on, drives his feet and drives them off the ball,” Norwell said when asked what makes Williams an effective run blocker.
Pass protection is why Williams fell to the Panthers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. That’s also a reason why the Panthers used a second-round pick on tackle Taylor Moton this spring and went into the season with a plan to have the rookie rotate with Williams. But he then essentially forced coaches to toss that plan out the window.
“Daryl has played that well,” Rivera said. “A lot of times a guy starts getting into a rhythm, you don't want to pull a guy just for the sake of pulling him. I think what's happened is he's developed very nicely.”
If you haven’t noticed, I’ll point out I haven’t used a quote from Williams since “The Punisher” stuff. Not surprisingly, he clammed up when football came up. But he did admit Moton has provided some extra motivation.
“After (last) season I wanted to come in and show these guys that I can start,” said Williams, who started 10 of the Panthers’ final 13 games at right tackle in 2016. “So it was kind of self-motivation more than being pushed. But Taylor's a hell of a player, so that had something to do with it, too.”
And considering the position Williams plays, perhaps the clearest sign he’s having a solid season is no one’s talking about him.
“As a lineman, you get noticed for messing up,” Williams said. “I'll take it. I know I'm playing good, so I've just got to keep it up.”
It was then when the conversation turned back to Marvel characters and another Netflix series, "Daredevil."
“He's a superhero who's blind, but he has crazy senses,” Williams said. “He can hear from far away, he can smell, all his senses are enhanced. He's basically like a ninja.”
Which made me wonder which super power a comic-loving guy like Williams would want.
“I always think about that,” he said. “Invulnerability or teleport. Or to be invisible. Maybe super strength. Or flying. But that's all you can do is fly.”
That’s all you can do? That’d be pretty cool, no?
“But then you can still get whupped.”