Chiefs rookie is adding playing time — helped by two coaches and a locker-room staple

Jeff Lewis/AP

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Joshua Williams motioned toward his locker Wednesday, pointing at one of the tools that’s helped him most during his rookie season.

“If I showed you my notebook, every single day,” Williams said, “there’s something they tell me and something to work on.”

“They,” in this context, is defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive backs coach Dave Merritt, who have mentored Williams as he transitions from Division II Fayetteville State to the NFL.

The advice changes each week based on the last. “Make sure you understand your leverage,” they might tell him. “Be sure to know where your help is,” could be another.

“They’re always just giving you little tidbits,” Williams said, “something to work on and get better at every day.”

So far, the Chiefs’ coaches have been impressed by Williams’ ability to hold that knowledge as he enters his 11th NFL game.

Williams, who played just 17 snaps in the first five games combined, is now a mainstay on the back end, even following the return of first-round pick Trent McDuffie from injury. Williams was in for 41% of the defensive snaps against Tennessee two weeks ago, 50% versus Jacksonville, then 66% during Sunday’s 30-27 road victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I definitely feel more comfortable out there. I feel more free,” Williams said. “There’s definitely an adjustment period, but I feel like things are slowing down.”

Part of that has come from off-field work.

Williams says he gets together with coaches and teammates for additional film study. He also likes meeting with the safeties — including teammate Justin Reid — to get their input on what they see and expect from the corners.

“Things like that throughout the season just make you more comfortable,” Williams said, “and more capable to make a play when it presents itself.”

Coach Andy Reid has been most pleased with Williams’ resilience. He says one of the fourth-round pick’s greatest attributes has been the ability to make adjustments game to game, which has led to advancement as a player.

“Something happens, and he fixes that issue,” Reid said. “So he’s diligent about it, works on it in practice.”

One learning experience from Sunday came late in the fourth quarter.

On a third-and-18, Williams was beaten on a deep route by the Chargers’ Keenan Allen, who went over the top of him for a 46-yard reception.

Spagnuolo said film review showed Williams was stride for stride with Allen for most of the play with “great coverage.” The main coaching point was at the end when Williams needed to go after the ball as Allen did.

“He got caught a little bit playing the man. At that point late in the down, at the top of the route where that thing developed, he should have just become a receiver. He’ll learn that,” Spagnuolo said. “I think he’ll learn to get better at that hopefully down the road here, in the same situation, he makes that play.”

Williams said, in the future, he would work to keep the receiver on his back before going to play the ball.

“Man, I was in good position. And he had a little bit of a vet move on me,” Williams said. “I’ve just gotta go get that, make that play somehow next time.”

Reid said Williams and the team’s other three rookies in the secondary (McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, safety Bryan Cook) have an advantageous setting for learning quickly.

That’s because of Merritt’s teaching and Spagnuolo’s extensive history of coaching secondary players. Reid noted there are times in practice when Spagnuolo takes one of the rookies to the side for private instruction while Merritt continues to run drills with the rest.

“They’re getting the attention they need, as long as they retain what they’re being taught,” Reid said. “They seem to be hard-working, and most of all, I think it’s a smart group. They get it, and that’s helped them.”

That includes Williams, who says the environment with the Chiefs has helped his individual growth.

One note at a time, he looks to keep improving each day.

“That’s one thing the coaches, they’re preaching: They’re very fine with you making mistakes,” Williams said. “They just want you to learn from them.”