Armed with his large new contract, Ravens defensive lineman Brandon Williams is hoping for a larger role in the Ravens' defense this year. Specifically, the massive, run-stuffing nose tackle is hoping to become a pass-rushing force as well.
The Ravens invested greatly in Williams this offseason, re-signing their former third-round pick to a five-year, $52.5 million deal, the largest ever for a nose tackle. And Williams, 28, said he is ready to give the Ravens a return on that investment.
"People say, 'Oh you got a contract and now you can kind of relax.'" Williams said after a recent OTA workout. "There is no relaxing. It is actually that you got the contract, so now you have to earn your keep."
For the past three seasons, the 6-foot-1, 340-pound Williams has anchored the middle of the Ravens' defense in their base defense and run situations, and then frequently yielded to a sub package in obvious passing situations. Last season, Williams finished with 51 tackles and one sack, playing about 65 percent of defensive snaps. He has totaled 4.5 sacks in four seasons, and he said he would like be on the field more often on third down, wreaking havoc in the passing game like he does in the run game.
"I need to get my sacks up. I need to get my pass rushing up," he said. "I have the run-stop. I could still work on it, obviously, but I'm more just trying to work on my pass rush, trying to get out there and do the best I can."
Whether it comes from off the edge or up the middle, the Ravens desperately need to improve a pass rush that disappeared for long stretches last season. The Ravens finished with 31 sacks, their lowest total since 2010 and the third-lowest total in franchise history.
They made the pass rush a significant offseason priority, drafting edge rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams as well as defensive lineman Chris Wormley -- his interior pass-rushing ability was cited as one of his strengths -- in the first three rounds. But they also will be leaning on returning players to step up in the pass rush, and one of those could be Williams.
"He is going to be a pocket-pusher. He can work edges," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Guys, we know he is athletic -- you have seen all the things he can do athletically. I believe he can do it."
This spring, the Ravens have shown various looks on defense, one of them being second-year lineman Michael Pierce lined up at nose tackle, and Williams shifted outside to the defensive tackle position, held last year primarily by Timmy Jernigan. They have shown one pass rush alignment with their two towering defensive ends -- Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi -- as the only two down linemen.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees and defensive line coach Joe Cullen have a lot of flexibility with this group, but Williams wants to be in the middle of the action as much as possible, and he's getting paid to be.
"We are expecting a dominant player, flat-out," Harbaugh said. "He has the capability of doing that. I see it in the weight room, I see it out here on the field, and I see it in the meeting room. I expect him to be a leader. He is a young guy, but he is the leader of that group. I expect him to be great."