METRO VANCOUVER — Defensive end Julius Williams had a little bird whispering in his ear as the Georgia native talked by phone with his new CFL employer Friday.
Actually, the bird was a human magpie, in the form of Korey Banks, the B.C. Lions’ talk-a-lot defensive back.
“Funny thing is, man, Korey Banks was at my house this morning (Friday) while I was in negotiations (with Lions GM Wally Buono),” Williams said, after the free agent’s signing was announced by the Lions. “We worked out together in Atlanta. He’s one of my good friends. He answered all the questions I needed to ask about the organization. He wasn’t pushy. He basically was telling me that I was coming to a good organization.”
Williams, 26, missed a large chunk of last year’s training camp with Eskimos with a hip flexor injury and had knee issues by the end of it. His injury-plagued history in two seasons with Edmonton (he began his first CFL season in 2011 on the injured list with a dislocated elbow) is one reason the Eskimos allowed him to enter free agency Friday.
New GM Ed Hervey made it clear at a Thursday news conference in the Edmonton that he wasn’t interested in having Williams return. Hervey confirmed it minutes into the start of free agency Friday morning when the Eskimos signed free agent Odell Willis from the Saskatchewan Roughriders to complement Marcus Howard, the other starting DE for the Eskimos.
Still, when Williams is healthy, he has all the equipment to be an impact player. He is 6-2, 260 pounds, and super athletic, recording a 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and bench pressing 225 pounds 36 times during his Pro Day at Connecticut, before he signed with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Those around the Eskimos who know of his capabilities consider Williams to be a great pickup by the Lions, a depth player capable of being a starter.
Foremost among his backers is B.C.’s defensive coordinator Rich Stubler, who held a similar position in 2011 with Edmonton during Williams’ rookie CFL season.
“He’s got a great motor, he’s got tremendous power and he’s got good speed,” Stubler said. “We identified him well before (free agency began). He was one of the guys we really liked. We came to the conclusion he would be a good fit.”
Williams concurred with Stubler’s assessment.
“Coach Stubler, he saw what I could do when I first got to Edmonton, before all the injuries and stuff started,” Williams explained. “He knows what I’m capable of. He knows the kind of player I can be … if I stay healthy. That’s the biggest challenge for me … just going in there and staying healthy. If I can stay healthy, I think I can be one of the top defensive ends in the league and tops in sacks each year.”
Williams’ acquisition doesn’t affect the status of Keron Williams or Khreem Smith, last year’s starting defensive ends for the Lions, according to Stubler and Buono.
The GM suggested that Keron Williams could be moved inside to play defensive tackle, if need be, a position he has mastered in the CFL before.
“We’d like to have six good defensive linemen,” Buono said. “The healthier and fresher we can keep these guys, the better it is.”
“We have a bunch of defensive linemen who are all capable of being starters,” Stubler added. “Keron could play inside some. Or Julius could play inside some. Khreem is still in the picture, too. He’s been a big contributor for us.”
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B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay just gets his pass away in front of Edmonton Eskimos defensive lineman Julius Williams in CFL action at BC Place Stadium on Sept. 30, 2011 in Vancouver. Williams signed a free-agent deal with the Lions on Friday.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG