MOBILE, Ala. — South Team practice, coached by the Cincinnati Bengals, had just wrapped up, and the excitable middle-aged man in nondescript black-and-gray workout clothes joined the DB huddle that formed as the players were ready to disperse after the Thursday session.
He had coached up the team’s defensive backs for the past two hours. So did any of the players know who the man was?
One of the South defensive backs started a chant.
“Stamp some on me, stamp some on three … one, two, three, STAMP!” they all yelled.
Aeneas Williams put his hand into the huddle along with the players. He needed an explanation of what the “stamp” chant meant.
“What was that you said, ‘stamp something?’” Williams asked Oklahoma State cornerback A.J. Green.
Green explained to the man: “When you make a play, put your stamp — like your trademark — on it.”
Then Green walked away, back to his bag to change out of his football gear, done with practice for the week. The talented corner had no clue he was talking to — or that he was being coached by – a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back, one of the best ever to do what Green is trying to do.
Williams was invited to help coach the team, along with his former St. Louis Rams teammate Torry Holt, through the NFL’s Legends Community, and he jumped at the chance. Williams previously coached some of the Senior Bowl players at Nike’s The Opening camp, and he was in the same draft class as Bengals DB coach Steve Jackson, who was picked 12 slots after Williams in 1991.
“At this age, where these guys are getting ready for that leap, that first step in the NFL journey, it’s a very exciting time for them, and it’s exciting for me to be with them,” Williams told Yahoo Sports.
Williams turns 52 next week. He has the energy of a man who could still put on the pads and knock out a few quality reps.
“It’s a lifestyle,” Williams quipped. “I’d like to think I could. Being around these guys, it’s brings out the younger man in me.”
How Aeneas Williams taught the Senior Bowl DBs
Williams has an interesting teaching style. He said his biggest thing was reminding the players during full-team sessions that they needed to keep three things in mind on each rep:
What’s the call?
What do I need to do now that I know the call?
What’s the situation — down, distance, yard line, time on the clock?
“Awareness,” Williams said, pausing for effect. “That’s the key right there.”
To hammer the point home, Williams gave the group a history lesson before practice.
“Football was invented in the Ivy League schools,” he said. “It was always a thinking man’s game. It’s not just a brute sport.
“The teams that win are the ones that have football intelligence. At this level, every team has talent and skill. The guys who succeed use their heads and use them on every single play.”
Williams also employed another fascinating teaching tactic this week: He doesn’t reveal who he is unless he’s asked.
Even the oldest Senior Bowl players are no more than 24, which means they were about 8 when Williams hung up his cleats. The eight-time Pro Bowler played 207 career games and is 20th on the all-time interceptions list. Despite Williams being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame a mere six years ago, when most of these players were in high school, he’s pretty much anonymous among the players trying to do what he did at the highest level for 14 seasons.
One of the players asked Williams, “Did you play running back?” Williams laughed. He told the player he played corner. That was it.
“I don’t tell them anything about me,” Williams said. “I want this week to be about them. When I was their age, I was unknown then too. I was just a kid from Southern [University] trying to make it.
“And if they find out [who Williams was] later, hopefully it dawns on them … you can be great and people might not know who you are. If it teaches them just a little respect or humility, well, then maybe we did something good this week here.”
Which Senior Bowl DBs caught Aeneas Williams’ eye?
Williams was asked who looked good to him this week among the defensive backs. A few names stood out.
“No. 17, Darnay [Holmes of UCLA],” Williams said. “He has it all. He has the ‘it factor.’ He wants to learn and get better. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t something.”
Minutes later, Holmes — one of the few in the group who figured out who Williams was — was soaking up a few more pointers from the Hall of Famer. Stance. Eyes. Weight balance. Hands. Asking about every little thing Holmes could think of.
Williams also mentioned Tulsa CB Reggie Robinson II and Green as two others who impressed him.
“Both have good size,” Williams said, “but it’s their willingness to learn, to ask more questions than some of the other kids, those are the things I notice.”
Green was asked what he thought when he heard that a Hall of Famer named him as one of his three favorite DBs this week. He stared blankly.
“Wait … who was that?”
As soon as he heard it was Williams, he immediately left the interview to go over to shake his hand and thank him. He returned quickly with an ear-to-ear smile.
“Man, it means a lot to hear that,” Green said, shaking his head. “He came out here to help us this week, and I am very grateful for that. Any little thing he can help with, I want it.”
He paused and took one more glance at Williams.
“I mean, for a Hall of Famer to say that about me, it’s an honor,” he said. “I am shocked right now.”
Word traveled fast. Soon Pitt’s Dane Jackson and Alabama’s Jared Mayden were over by Williams, shaking his hand.
“I wish I knew sooner who he was,” Green said. “That’s crazy.”
Williams’ lesson on respect and humility had already paid dividends.
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