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Barry Hirstius

PJ’s A-OK and Back as Saints Starting CB

For the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the National Football League, injuries always have been and will continue to be looked at by all of those whom participate in the sport of Pro Football, as "a part of the game".

More often than not, injuries occur randomly; and so there is no way to avoid them.

Unfortunately for the Saints, they certainly have come at the most inopportune of times; and it's not far-fetched to say that they have had a negative impact on the team's overall success over the past few seasons, particularly last year.

In fact, injuries hit the defensive secondary -- specifically the two starting outside boundary CB positions -- that for most of the season, it had them providing pass coverage with a veritable "hodge podge" of veteran castoffs and undrafted rookies.

It's probably THE REASON why the Saints addressed depth at that same position, by selecting Ohio State All-American CB Marshon Lattimore with their top pick in last month's 2017 NFL Draft.

Among the players caught up in the wave of injuries in 2016: now 3rd year veteran and #2 CB P.J. Williams.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Williams, who turns 24 this Thursday (June 1st), suffered a concussion in a road game in Week #2 of last season against the New York Giants so severe, that it forced him to miss the remaining 14 games of the regular season and saw him placed on injured reserve for a 2nd straight season.

Now in his 3rd year as a professional football player, Williams has played in exactly TWO games. He missed all of his rookie season in 2015 with a torn hamstring.

The injury last year occurred when Williams was struck by two knees in his head and neck area on a 1st-quarter play, one from Giants tight end Larry Donnell and another from Saints linebacker Craig Robertson.

He was KNOCKED OUT COLD on the field, and players from both teams -- realizing what had taken place --   immediately waved the medical staff onto the field. It was actually a Giants trainer who tended to Williams first.

Photo by Al Bello, Getty Images

Williams subsequently then laid on the MetLife Stadium turf for approximately 5 minutes, before trainers strapped him to a backboard with his helmet still on, and rushed him to a local hospital in nearby New Jersey.

Afterwards in the post-game press conference, Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that Williams was completely unconscious for "a good portion" of the time he was on the field after suffering the injury.

Fast forward now over some 8-plus months later, and Williams is now healthy and back in the Saints line-up.

For a lack of a better term: P.J. is A-OK and ready to resume his role as the Saints #2 starting outside boundary CB --- on the side opposite of #1 starting cornerback Delvin Breaux.

While it's true that the team drafted Lattimore and are expecting great things from the talented rookie in the future, it appears (at least for now) that the Saints intend on allowing Williams to retain his starting role on the outside boundary, and pick up where he left off prior to the injury in New York.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

As of now, it appears the #2 CB / outside boundary spot is Williams' to lose.

Lattimore practiced with the 3rd string unit at OTA's, a clear sign that the defensive coaching staff is going to make the rookie EARN the eventual starting role first. And if nothing else, having the ability to rotate Lattimore in gives the Saints the flexibility to do more things.

In fact, although Williams was lined up at the starting #2 outside boundary CB spot during OTA's last week, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Saints defensive coaching staff is opposed to using him / lining him up where ever he is needed.

In his outstanding article yesterday detailing the perceived "logjam" that the team now has at the CB position, New Orleans Advocate beat writer / analyst Nick Underhill noted that the good news for Williams is that he is one of the corners who can slide inside and cover the slot.

Underhill says that Williams worked at it last offseason and likely would have logged some snaps there had then-veteran Keenan Lewis (who was released and has yet to catch on with another NFL team) remained with New Orleans, and Breaux stayed healthy.

Underhill also adds that although most of his snaps came on the outside boundary position, Williams was back in the slot for some plays during last Thursday’s OTA practice and looked comfortable playing there.

Where ever and whatever the Saints eventually decide to do with regard to Williams, he's open to anything that the team wants to do, and any specific role that they need him to fill.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

“I know what type of league this is,” Williams said to Underhill and other reporters in the locker room after last week's practice. “You got to work hard. The best players are going to play.”

Williams, the Saints' 3rd Round selection (#78 overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft, has all the unlimited potential in the world to become a very special player for New Orleans, if he can only just manage to find a way to remain healthy for at least most of a full season.

As it is, he was considered a virtual "steal" for the Saints, who were glad to still see him sitting on the Draft Board in the 3rd Round, which no doubt was due in part to his well-publicized pair of traffic arrests by the Tallahassee Police Department for a 2014 hit-and-run (of which he was eventually cleared) and a DUI (right before the 2015 NFL Draft).

Before those personal issues, Williams was a 3-time All-ACC "lockdown" CB at Florida State, including a Defensive MVP performance in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game against Auburn -- where he recorded seven tackles and an interception while helping the Seminoles win the National Championship.

Photo courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

But Williams has shown that those days are behind him, and he appears more than ready to be a key contributor for the Saints defensive secondary moving forward, provided that he can remain on the field.

So it's probably more than safe to say, that a healthy Williams thrown back "into the mix" for the Saints defense at the CB position should go a long way in improving the team's chances for success in 2017.

Now it's simply just a matter of good fortune, and the hope that a random occurrence like the one last September in New York, doesn't happen to Williams or the Saints defensive secondary yet again this season.

At least for the time being, PJ is A-OK and back where he belongs as the Saints starting CB.

And if the Saints can somehow manage to have a little bit of luck and a whole lot of health on their side for once, perhaps it'll also lead to them getting a few more "W's" this year along the way........

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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