There was pressure on Jonah Williams last season, when he was a true freshman starting at offensive tackle in the SEC.
There was pressure on him before that, when he was a cornerstone of Folsom High School’s program as it ran up a 30-game win streak in 2014 and 2015.
“I’ve always liked being part of a winning program,” Williams said. “Feeling that pressure, that’s what drives me.”
He’ll get even more pressure this season as he makes the move from right tackle to left. It’s now Williams’ job to protect the blind side of quarterback Jalen Hurts from some of the nation’s most destructive defensive players.
But he already has experience at that. Playing right tackle often lined him up against some daunting pass rushers in the SEC. In the rare event that there wasn’t a tough matchup on Saturday, Williams’ midweek opponents didn’t give him any rest.
“That’s a baptism of fire,” he said of practice last year. “Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Jon (Jonathan Allen), all those guys made me a lot better as a player.”
Jonah Williams has also had some time to work into his role at left tackle. He spent all spring there as Alabama began to build out its offensive line for this season. He and left guard Ross Pierschbacher started alongside each other in the first two games of the 2016 season, and they spent all spring working together on the left side of the line.
“Communication-wise, I don’t have to say much,” Pierschbacher said. “He kind of knows; he’s a very smart guy. It makes it easier for me. I think we’re similar in how we think, so as far as passing off things and making calls, it’s just easier.”
Despite how it may have appeared, Williams wasn’t always penciled in to play the left tackle position. He didn’t hear about it from coaches until just before spring practice, long after Cam Robinson had declared for the NFL draft.
He had worked for the opportunity to play there, but wasn’t certain it would come to him. Williams spent part of the offseason watching some NFL left tackles to help prepare him for the job. The Cowboys’ Tyron Smith and Browns’ Joe Thomas were two of his favorites.
“They’re obviously great athletes but they have great technique and there’s a lot to learn from watching them,” Williams said.
Williams will tell you his position isn’t set in stone yet. Alabama is still sorting through its options on the right side of the offensive line. The right guard competition is crowded, and Williams’ successor at right tackle isn’t decided either. Offensive line coach Brent Key still has to find which combination will give the offense the biggest push.
“I think (Nick) Saban’s MO, which kind of drew me to Alabama, is that the five best are going to play,” Williams said. “The best five are going to play. I don’t think anyone knows how it’s going to sort out at this point.”
The pressure is still on for Williams. It’s not going to stop even when he feels like the job is secured.
“Everyone’s job is important, but you do feel a little bit of pressure holding the blind-side role,” Williams said. “It’s not that different. It doesn’t change the mentality I take.”