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Sept. 17, 2009

It only lasted for a few seconds, but Greg Williams felt like a running back again during Pitt’s 54-27 win against Buffalo on Saturday.

It happened in the third quarter when Pitt, up by two scores at the time, was looking for some more separation between itself and the Bulls. Williams, a star tailback in high school, scooped up a fumble knocked loose by Mick Williams and took it 50 yards for a touchdown.

“I picked it up and just took off, Williams said. “It’s been a while since I touched the ball. It felt good just to get a fumble.”

It showed that Williams is used to having the ball in his hands. He scored 32 touchdowns as a tailback at Barron Collier High in Florida during his last final two years and finished fourth in school history with 3,077 rushing yards.

But those days in the backfield are in the past. After arriving on campus in 2007, Williams took a redshirt and changed to linebacker, eventually starting 12-of-13 games in the Sam linebacker slot last year. He finished the season with 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions, one of which he returned 20 yards for a touchdown in a win at Connecticut. His versatility gives the Panthers an edge at the linebacker spot, as his speed and knowledge of offensive tendencies make him a constant threat in Pitt’s 4-3 defense.

That kind of position switch isn’t easy, even if Williams made it look like it was.

“Moving from running back to linebacker, I had to learn the whole defense,” Williams said. “I had a hard time during some games, but I could use my speed and my athleticism. That made it a lot easier to make plays. It masked a few things.”

Heading into this season, Williams looked at his job on the football field a bit differently. With a year of starting experience behind him, he knew his strengths, his weaknesses and the types of things he needed to do to improve.

“I had to work on my feet and covering receivers the most,” Williams said. “That was my biggest problem last year.”

That work has extended to each day of practice during the season. After Pitt’s opening-day win against Youngstown State, Williams cracked down on a few things that he thought he needed to improve on. He finished the game with five tackles and the fumble recovery for a touchdown.

“The whole week during practice I just stayed focused, watched lot of film and came to the game ready to play,” he said.

Williams has some experience against the Midshipmen to look back on while prepping for Saturday night’s matchup with Navy at Heinz Field. He deflected a pass and had four tackles in a 42-21 win against the Midshipmen last year, and with Navy’s triple-option running attack, there are plenty of tackles to go around this year. But that doesn’t mean he’s not practicing hard this week.

“The challenges are reading the quarterback and the pitch guy,” he said. “Last year we did a pretty good job playing the pitch...And I just think, ‘My team needs me and I need to go all out and do the best I can to make the tackle.’”

Saturday night’s game is set for 6 p.m.

Linebacker Williams Increasing Role on Field

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