Aaron Williams' "welcome to the NFL moment" came in the first preseason game of the summer in Chicago.
"I was going against a screen to the tight end," Williams recalled. "It was me and him mano-a-mano. He was 6-6, 265 pounds. You're a rookie, and you know the vets are looking, so you can't miss that tackle. I tried with all my heart to go with my full body. I hit him and I got him down. But I was shaken up. I couldn't get up for awhile."
Williams showed a physical style early and often enough throughout his rookie season to make him a favorite for a starting position next season. Size and athleticism are the reasons the Bills took him with their second pick in the 2011 NFL draft. At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, Williams is the biggest cornerback on the Bills' roster, and he's not afraid to throw his body around.
Injuries prevented Williams from making a major impact on the Bills, the kind first-round pick Marcell Dareus made. Williams missed six games early in the year due to a collarbone injury then missed a December game with a strained calf. However, in nine games he managed to play about 42 percent of the total defensive snaps for the year. He made 32 tackles, had one interception and defensed five passes.
"Aaron played fairly consistently for a rookie when he finally got his chance," coach Chan Gailey said. "He battled injuries all year long, and that's always tough on a guy. That's the one thing that we've got to hopefully do is train him in the offseason and get him where he can make a whole season without the injuries. I thought he showed potential to be a very good corner in this league for a long time. He matches up well size-wise."
As with the entire team, Williams' season ended on a down note. He had some assignment troubles in the loss at New England. On one touchdown, he didn't get a jam on tight end Aaron Hernandez, and that put safety George Wilson in a tough spot with two receivers breaking into his half of the field. On another, Williams didn't react quite quickly enough in combination with safety Bryan Scott on a TD throw to Rob Gronkowski.
"I've got a long way to go," a miffed Williams said in the locker room afterward.
But Williams had played three pretty good games late in the season before the finale. In the home loss to Miami, he was strong in run support with six tackles and a forced fumble. He raked the ball out of Reggie Bush's hands for a turnover that led to a Bills TD.
He showed some good reading of coverage on a key pass breakup against Tennessee. Williams nearly intercepted a 16-yard slant pass at the goal line. He was in quarters coverage, in which the back end of the defense is divided among four defensive backs.
"My responsibility was to stay between the No. 1 receiver and the No. 2 receiver [on the right side]," Williams said. "Both of them did verticals and I stay in between them to be in position to go either way. It was wide open. I turned and hurried. I caught the ball the wrong way and it just went through my arms."
In the home win over Denver, Tim Tebow threw in Williams' direction half a dozen times. Williams gave up a 29-yard pass interference penalty on a sideline play. He had tight coverage but did not look back for the ball. But Williams didn't yield anything else. He bounced back later in the game to pick off another deep sideline pass. He looked back for the ball at just the right time on that one.
"It was on Christmas Eve, and I had my family come down," Williams said. "I knew they'd go after me but they went after me quite a bit. And I was actually happy they did that because each ball I got my way I got closer and closer to a pick. One play was completed. It was a great experience, especially against a guy who's the talk of the NFL [Tebow]."