FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Fletcher Cox is about as flat-line as any Eagle in recent memory. He rarely lavishes praise on anybody or anything, and after even the biggest wins or the most dominating performances, he doesn’t get too excited.
Even keel is putting it mildly.
So when Cox starts talking up a teammate, your ears perk up.
And when it's a rookie, it really gets your attention.
Because if Fletch says he can play, he can play.
And Fletch says Milton Williams can play.
“Of course he’s still got a lot of learning to do, but he’s a little bit ahead of the curve as far as just playing fast,” Cox said of Williams. “That’s his biggest thing, know what to do and play fast. I’m pretty excited about him and gaining that confidence in him that he’ll go out there and do his job.”
Williams is the 22-year-old, 6-foot-3, 290-pound rookie two-way defensive lineman the Eagles drafted out of Louisiana Tech.
This is one of the NFL’s best defensive lines, and it’s not easy to break into this rotation. But Williams has done it at two positions.
Williams spent most of the summer at defensive end, but with Javon Hargrave sidelined for a few days with a minor ankle injury, Williams moved inside for the preseason game against the Patriots and also at practice on Sunday.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon values versatility tremendously, but a rookie who’s talented enough – and mentally sharp enough - to handle defensive tackle and defensive end is a rarity.
“I think it could be real challenging,” Cox said. “You’ve got to hone in on your job and basically focus on what to do once you get out there. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself. We’re in the NFL and you’ve got to be able to do your job (so) the guy next to you has confidence in you and have fun with it. I think he’s looked good.”
Where will Williams ultimately fit in?
Maybe just inside. Maybe just outside. Maybe both.
But by working at both spots, he gives Gannon a lot of flexibility, and he’s helped make the strongest position group on the team even better.
“I’m pretty comfortable playing both,” Williams said recently. “They trust me to be able to know both spots, and I’m doing my best to get as much confidence as I can and let them know that whenever they need to move me around they can do that.”
The Eagles probably need Williams more inside, since Cox and Hargrave are the only interior linemen who are roster locks right now.
They already have Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan outside. But the coaches really like Williams as an edge rusher, the position he played until his final year of college.
What’s most important is that Williams is mentally sharp enough to pick up both spots and perform at a high level. He’s got the strength and power to play inside and the athleticism to play outside.
“He’s just a physical player and he’s got a bunch of raw talent and that’s what you want to see, especially in a young d-lineman, a guy who can play two positions,” Cox said after joint practice with the Jets Tuesday.
“He’s been having a good camp, learning the plays and not afraid to ask questions and being very, very coachable. I’ve got a lot of respect for that young man.”
Coming from Cox, that speaks volumes.
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