Former Early County star Shawn Williams (36) played some linebacker in high school, but being asked to take on the role now at UGA is whole new ball game for the Damascus native. (University of Georgia/Special to The Herald)
ATHENS -- Mark Richt has announced Shawn Williams will be Georgia's defensive captain for Saturday's game at Mississippi.
The coach hasn't announced what position his captain will play.
Williams made a surprise move from strong safety to inside linebacker for Georgia's 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina last week.
Richt says Williams' move from safety is not permanent.
Williams, a junior, was asked to make the move on short notice as Richt's staff adjusted to losing two starting linebackers to injuries.
"I took it as like a challenge, like this is something I can do if I put my mind to it," Williams said. "That's what I went out there and did. I just went out and played hard and made plays."
Williams had three tackles, including one for a loss, for Georgia (1-2 overall, 0-1 Southeastern Conference).
Richt said Williams played well "considering it was his first shot out of the cannon in there."
"Watching the tape, the guy can run and hit, the guy is a good blitzer," Richt said. "The guy is a good cover man. He's got to learn how to take on linemen now."
Williams said he has to learn from his first encounters with offensive linemen, who usually were not part of his world in the defensive backfield.
"There were some adjustments I had to make," he said. "I wasn't used to taking on linemen or getting cut by the running backs. It was different."
Williams (6-1, 220) played a little linebacker at Early County High School. He said that didn't prepare him to take on college offensive linemen.
"In high school, you're about the same size as the linemen," he said. "That's the big difference. You don't see many linemen who are 6-6 and 330."
Every Ole Miss offensive lineman is listed as 300 pounds or heavier, including 360-pound left guard Alex Washington.
"Hopefully I can run around them and make a play," Williams said.
Richt says he likes the speed Williams brings to the linebacker position, especially when Georgia had an extra defensive back on the field on passing downs.
"He had a tremendous attitude about it," said Richt of Williams. "It allowed us to play a pretty fast defense with three safeties and three cornerbacks, really, when we were in nickel."
Richt is not revealing the Bulldogs' defensive plans for the week.
After last week's big surprise, Williams will be ready for either position. But his preference is safety, where he started the first two games.
"I would rather be a safety coming down and making plays like that than hitting linemen and then trying to make plays," he said. "I could do either one. It doesn't matter to me, as long as I'm making plays."
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham asked Williams to make the move last week, only a few days before the Coastal Carolina game.
"I was thinking 'Are you for real?"' Williams said. "I didn't know if they were just joking at first. ... I was like OK, I'll give it a shot. What the heck? Maybe I can make more plays there."
Georgia lost two starting linebackers, Alec Ogletree and Christian Robinson, to foot injuries the first two weeks.
Ogletree, who broke his foot, is expected to miss four to six weeks and definitely won't play this week. Richt stopped short of ruling out Robinson, whose injury was less serious.
Williams is not the only Georgia defensive players to show versatility. Sanders Commings moved to safety from cornerback last week. John Jenkins has played nosetackle and end. Ramik Williams has played outside linebacker and inside linebacker.
Also, cornerbacks Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin have played on offense and as return specialists.
Shawn Williams and his roommate, Michael Gilliard, were the two starting inside linebackers last week.
"Shawn is a football player," Gilliard said. "For him to make the transition from safety to linebacker shows that he is a football player. Not everyone can do that. He asked me a few questions here and there but the majority of the things he figured out on his own."
Gilliard had a career-high eight tackles, including two for losses, against Coastal Carolina.
The injuries to Ogletree and Robinson also have led to more playing time for freshman Amarlo Herrera and senior walk-on Jeremy Sulek.