True freshmen A. J. Turner and Otha Peters are in the rotation at both middle linebacker and weakside linebacker now that both Alonzo Highsmith (foot) and Tenarius Wright (shoulder) are done for the season with injuries.
Williams started last week at weakside linebacker with Highsmith moving to the middle. Peters was plugged in at middle linebacker when Highsmith went out last week against Auburn. But Williams will move to the middle this week with both Peters and Turner learning and playing both spots for Saturday's game against Kentucky at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on Fox Net.
"It's a bitter sweet position to be in," Williams said, noting that no one wants to see a teammate go down to get his shot. "But at the same time, it's a good feeling to get to play. And I want to be able to help our young guys. I'm older. I can give them wisdom, help them learn."
And that's what he said Haynes and linebackers coach Taver Johnson have challenged him to do.
"The leading part, I knew I had to do that before they asked," Williams said. "It's different. But I'm a competitor. When you are challenged, you want to step up. My competitive attitude helps me with that."
Defensive tackle Alfred Davis, the last of the healthy defensive captains, said that was easy to see coming.
"It's his position, middle linebacker," Davis said. "He didn't have any choice. He was put in that position. He's the one who has to communicate it all to the other linebackers and the secondary. That's his role. I knew he was going to be doing that."
Haynes was asked if it was a challenge to replace both Highsmith and Wright at linebacker?
"Yes, but it is part of the game," he said. "The next guy has to get in there. They have to produce. It's our job to get the next guy prepared. Being young is not an excuse. They've played enough football."
Along with Turner and Peters, the Hogs are getting Jarrett Lake ready to play at inside linebacker. He's played on the outside at the Star position, the hybrid safety/linebacker. Ross Rasner is the starter there, but with Lake working more inside there was a need for depth at Star. Kaelon Kelleybrew is in the mix there now. Haynes said Kelleybrew could play at that spot in the nickel look.
Kelleybrew is back in the mix after missing a week with a concussion. He was the starter for three weeks at the field cornerback spot before the injury at Texas A&M. Also back in the mix at cornerback is Tevin Mitchel, a starter last year as a true freshman and for the first two weeks this season before a concussion followed by gall bladder surgery.
"Tevin will play," Haynes said. "We haven't decided who will start there, but we will use (Davyon McKinney, Will Hines, Darius Winston and Mitchel."
There were questions about whether or not defensive Chris Smith would play against Kentucky. He was arrested early Wednesday morning for a warrant that stemmed from not paying a speeding ticket in Farmington, then not appearing in court. Haynes said Smith would play.
"He's playing," said Haynes, who noted the defensive end is facing internal discipline. "He met with (John L. Smith). Coach decided he would play."
John L. Smith said Wednesday night on his weekly radio show that running back Ronnie Wingo is doubtful with a shoulder injury. The Hogs probably won't have tight end Chris Gragg, still hobbled with a leg bruise.
Williams said he's glad he has experience at both middle and weakside linebacker as he's dealing with the youngsters around him.
"That gives me experience to help them," he said. "I'm glad I had it. I can help everyone with their assignments.
"Really, it's a lot of the same. There are some different keys and some coverages that are different, but it's still playing a lot of the same things and being a linebacker."
Williams had been the forgotten man in a linebacker battle that was waged in the spring and fall with both Highsmith and Wright missing lots of time with injuries. How did the Tulsa Union product stay positive as others moved in front of him for practice time, including the true freshmen.
"It wasn't hard," he said. "I was prayed up. I talked to my mother. I just wanted to stay humble and keep working."
As for the freshmen, Williams said they are good players.
"I'm very proud of them," he said. "They are ahead of where I was as a freshman. It took me awhile to learn the defense. They are learning it a lot faster than I did.
"I can tell you this about A. J. Turner, he's physical. He's learning technique, but he's already got the physical part. You can learn technique, but you can't learn physical."
How is the team able to handle all of the injuries, losses and fallen expectations?
"Adversity is part of football," he said. "Football teaches you to be tough. What I will say is that we still have talented football players. Our coaches have done a good job of bringing in talented players. People just haven't heard of them yet. I told those players to step out on the field and make plays."
Williams and Davis were both asked if they liked the aggressive nature of last week's game plan with more blitzes.
"Oh, yeah, everyone embraces that," said Williams, who got the first of eight sacks against Auburn. "I think Coach Haynes is reaching into his magic bag and pulling out a couple of tricks."
Davis said it was welcomed by the defensive front that helped in the sack parade. Davis said the line did feel like they had been turned loose.
"It was a great feeling," Davis said. "Sometimes we were hearing that the defensive line wasn't good enough. We wanted to move and try to go make plays. It was a good feeling to produce those plays.
"I thought we made plays as a defense. That was a good feeling. I hope the fans are excited that we are coming back home."
Davis said he is excited to see the young players making plays behind him.
"Those are good young players," he said. "I'm comfortable with all of them. Those linebackers are very smart kids. What we want as defensive linemen is to keep them uncovered so they can go make more plays."
Terrell Williams closes in for a play against Auburn.