Kyle Williams' retirement after the 2018 season left a void in the Buffalo Bills' defense, but the team and the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle found a way to make it a little smaller.
Williams has spent this season as a consultant for the Bills, providing feedback to coach Sean McDermott, General Manager Brandon Beane, assistant coaches and players on a weekly basis. Williams' input has mainly addressed the play of the defensive line, in particular, and defensive front, in general. He remains based in his native Louisiana – with his wife, Jill, and their five children – but the Bills have outfitted him with technology allowing him to watch the same video being viewed at One Bills Drive.
Williams does as much mentoring as he can with rookie Ed Oliver, who the Bills made the ninth overall draft pick to replace Williams, but the wisdom gained during 13 NFL seasons is also available on a broader scale.
"Every two or three weeks, I usually come up and spend a week of preparation, at least early week prep with them," Williams said. "I'm on the phone a lot with the players, with Sean and Brandon and the D-line coaches (Bill Teerlinck and Aaron Whitecotton), just trying to help them prepare through the week, watching film, what I see, what I think. But, obviously, those guys are the ones that are putting the plans into effect. Those players are the ones out there executing and playing well. I'm just trying to be an extra voice or a set of eyes for them and help them the best that I can.
"Ed and I talk some and I try to help him, but it's really just as a whole. A lot of times I talk to Ed, but I'm talking a lot of times with (end) Jerry (Hughes) and Zo (linebacker Lorenzo Alexander). But mostly it's been with, whether it's Sean or Brandon or Bill or Aaron, talking to those guys about what I see and what I think, this and that. I just give them some input and they just kind of run with it. Whether they want to use it or not, it's totally up to them.
"I'm just trying to help them, I'm not trying to direct them."
In the latest edition of One-on-One Coverage, Williams, 36, talked by phone with The Buffalo News about the one-year anniversary of his retirement; what life away from the field has been like; the development of Oliver, second-year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and second-year quarterback Josh Allen; and the state of the Bills as they prepare for their second playoff appearance in three seasons.
Buffalo News: How has your first year in retirement gone?
Kyle Williams: It's been good. A lot of family time. I've been doing a lot of things that, traditionally, we hadn't been able to do. Like, right now, I'm down in south Louisiana at some in-laws. There's been some major holidays with some families that we've missed, basically for the better part of the last 20 years between college and NFL, so it's been good so far.
BN: How much of an adjustment has not playing required from you, especially this time of year?
KW: Well, it is an adjustment, but I think it's an easy adjustment, or at least it was for me. Because a lot of times that sacrifice is obviously back-burnered, whether it's Thanksgiving or Christmas or Christmas Eve, whatever it may be. When you're playing, Santa Claus doesn't need to come until late morning or afternoon or maybe even night, depending if we have a game or practice or we have to go in. We've had times where we would shift our schedule around where we got our work in on a Tuesday, if Christmas fell in the middle of the week, so we could have the day off.
The NFL is always changing, the games always go on. I figured that out long time ago. I think maybe the first injury I had, where I was out for maybe half of the season, I realized, "Hey, no matter how good you are or how special you think you may or may not be, when this music quits playing for you, it's always playing for somebody else. This league never stops, it's going to move on without you. This is going to end one day, so you'd better enjoy it and make the most of it while you can." And I think that was the one thing in my mindset that I figured out a long time ago that's made this transition easier.
Now, it moves back as the main priority for me to be able to enjoy with the kids and families that we haven't seen on those dates in a while. It's been pretty easy and it's been been fun to kind of plug back in that way. I don't want to say it's a priority shift, because I always felt like my family and taking care of them and being the best husband I could be or dad I could be were always a priority for me. But I think that, while I was chasing football, my biggest goal or biggest dream was to win and play in the playoffs and play the Super Bowl and all those things. And then, as my kids got older – my daughter's a teenager this year – I'm starting to evaluate where I am in my life.
My daughter has been alive for all but one of my football seasons; she was born right after my rookie year. I've spent a year of her life in NFL training camps, gone. That's only training camp. That doesn't include the season, that doesn't include all the offseason stuff. The most important job in my mind that I have is to be their dad and do some things for them, and I was just missing a big part of it. I've focused so hard and, I guess, so singularly on the game and my team and everything for so long, I don't want to share my focus anymore.
BN: How much do you miss playing?
KW: I don't miss playing football at all. I love to compete and I love the game and I love to play, obviously. I think it's what everybody else says: I miss being around the guys in the locker room and all that. As I told Jill, really, the only thing I miss is the locker room after you win, because I know how much you put into a week, I know how hard it is, I know how hard everybody works. And then, to get that satisfaction of, "Hey, we did it, we executed our plan, we won," that was really the only thing that I missed at all.
When you hear so much about people struggling with the transition, this and that, I think it's a couple of things. Number one, my identity wasn't football. I enjoy football, I love the game, I love the concept of team, but football is not all that I am. And then the other thing is, I'm one of – I don't know the percentages – maybe less than 1% that got to say, "Hey, you know what? I've had enough, I get to go away."
I'm ready to move on and go a different direction in my life (as opposed to) so many other guys that have the "what-ifs," the "I-could-stills." They have all these doubts and all these things in their minds. I obviously think I could still play. I just don't want to.
BN: How's your body feeling these days?
KW: It's feeling all right. I have mornings here and there that something may creep back up and I'm like, "Oh, I haven't haven't felt that in a while." But all in all, no complaints.
BN: What are you seeing from this team as it gets ready for the playoffs?
KW: I think that they've been on a pretty steady climb all year, by my estimation, just watching them and being involved a little bit. They're really kind of a carbon copy of what Sean wants his teams to be: "We're not going to look at the end game, we're not going to talk about wins and losses." It's like, "Hey, let's get better every day. Let's try to get better, let's try to get better, let's try to get better. Then, we'll look up and then we'll just kind of see where we measure up at the end of the season or the end of the playoffs, whatever it is."
So I think that this team has done a really good job of that. You see, not just the team as a whole, but other players getting better, kind of coming along, building their game. I think that's a good spot. And Sean's got to be comfortable with how the team's performing headed into the playoffs, that, "Hey, we are getting better every week. Hey, we have a game this week (Sunday against the New York Jets) that, if we want to let some guys get their legs back under them after a long, hard, grueling season, we've afforded ourselves an opportunity."
BN: What are you seeing from Ed Oliver?
KW: I thought Ed performed well in training camp and then early in the season, he was trying to find a stride. I think he may have been trying to do too much. And sometimes the beauty of defensive line play, you can play better and play faster if you simplify it and you make it pretty singular focused. I think he is maybe the best example of what I'm talking about, a guy who's just steadily worked through the year, and then the last month and a half or so of the season, once he got through the middle part of the year, you've seen him just get better and better and better. And I think that's a testament to his coaching and the way that he's worked at it.
BN: In August, Leslie Frazier made a comment that after having "his guard up for a while," Ed was becoming more open with his teammates and being more willing to listen to them and his coaches. What was your take on that?
KW: I think the main thing, when you come into the NFL – and Ed and I have talked about it a little bit – is, "Hey, these guys in this (defensive line) room, these eight or nine guys, you're going to spend more time with them – especially these six months, but probably over the course of the year – than you're going to spend with a lot of your family members and a lot of a lot of people that mean a lot to you in your life. So you've got to learn to trust these guys. You have to learn to work together with these guys. And understand that, hopefully, all of you will come together as one to say, 'Hey, you know? Your success can lead to my success. Your success can lead to another guy's success.' What I mean by that is, if you're playing well and you garner a little bit of attention, you can take some pressure off of this guy. If he's doing the same thing, he can take a little pressure off of you. And it all kind of works together.
So to come in as a 21-, 22-year-old guy and be able to see that big picture like that, it was probably a little bit naive to think that he would jump on it right away. But I think he's starting to understand, started to see it. Like, "Hey, this season is long. You have to be able to lean on these guys in a lot of different ways."
BN: What sort of strides are you seeing in his game?
KW: I think some of his footwork and his aiming points. Some of it is alignment. You get too heavy in plays where you really don't have to be aligned that tight, you get too wide on plays that you need to be a little bit tighter in alignment. But all of that comes with repetition and experience. And the more that he plays, the game's going to slow down for him. The more that he plays, he's going to understand, "Hey, I can manipulate a little bit by my alignment in this situation." But all of that comes with experience, it comes with learning, it comes with playing and, really, a little bit of trial and error.
BN: A year ago, you made a point of having Tremaine Edmunds take over a meeting, because he was earmarked as an eventual defensive leader. What was your reaction to learning that this very quiet guy by nature took it upon himself to deliver an impassioned speech to the entire team the night before the Nov. 17 win at Miami?
KW: His personality, you wouldn't translate it into being that guy. But his game, the way that he plays, the position he plays, dictates that he needs to be that guy. And that's kind of what I told him last year when I said, "Hey, you're doing the meeting." He goes, "Ah, I don't know." I said, "I'll help you, but you're going to do it." So I think he'll continue to grow in that. He's done a great job. He's played extremely well this year. He's so much fun to watch play because of his size and his range and his speed.
But he'll continue to grow in (the leadership role). He's only going to get better at it, because right now he's still young in age and years. But one thing that I kind of came to grips with in my career is you can't be everybody's friend all the time. I don't really necessarily mind being the bad guy. And I think, with his personality, he'll have to grow into that. For me, it was like, "Hey, I'm here to win. Nothing else." So I didn't mind sometimes kind of being the one that poked and pushed and prodded. And I think he's going to continue to grow into that.
BN: Should Bills fans feel good that the gap with New England seems to be closing or should they continue to resign themselves to the fact that, as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are there, it's going to remain status quo?
KW: I think they're knocking on the door. Obviously, the team's gotten better and better, added some good players, but more than anything, they've added the right kind of players – guys that can take a loss, but they don't get defeated, so to speak. And going (to New England), to really kind of get over the hump, you have to go and take games from that team. That's the one tough thing about that football team and it's always been that way through the Brady-Belichick deal, they're not going to beat themselves and they thrive on situational football and turnovers. You're going to have to take games away from them.
I would think, for me looking at it, I would be encouraged. The way the team responded in the second half, offensively struggled, picked it up, but you have to play complementary football to be a football team that's been at the top of the mountain for the last – good Lord – 20 years. So I think they're knocking on the door, they're going to continue to get better. Josh is going to continue to get better. That defense, for the most part, is pretty young. It's got some really good pieces in place. I think they're right there. But to get over that hump, they're going to have to go take a football game from that team. They don't just give them away to you.
BN: What are your impressions of what you've seen from Josh through two seasons?
KW: I think he's continuing to progress in his throws and some of his reads. Obviously, not all of them are perfect, nobody's perfect in them. But I think, what I saw in him and I think a lot of people are seeing now is his competitive fire, the way that he's going to bond his teammates because of the way he competes, how tough he is and how much he loves his team.
When you have a guy that's in the position that he's in, and he's wired that way, he competes that way, he's going to pull a whole lot of outliers with him. What I mean by outliers is guys in the corners of the locker room, guys that are in the dark, that maybe toe the line a little bit as far as complainers and not fully bought in, he's going to pull those guys out of the corner and pull them to the middle. And then that's when you get everybody rowing in the same direction and you've got a chance to be something.
BN: You did some analysis for NFL Network during last February's NFL Scouting Combine. Are you going to be doing more of that media work?
KW: I really don't have anything on the forefront. I kind of shut it down for the holidays and kids and all that kind of stuff. I get approached to do a handful of different things and then sometimes I can, sometimes I can't, sometimes I don't want to. It's just kind of how it works out, just kind of a la carte, at my whim.