Cary Williams recorded four tackles in his first preseason appearance with the Eagles on Thursday. (AP)
Before Cary Williams and the Eagles’ defense can be feared, they’re going to need to find ways to shut down opposing receivers on a consistent basis.
After sitting out the Eagles’ first preseason game against the Patriots, Williams made his debut Thursday night. Overall, the Eagles’ first-team defense looked stronger than it did a week ago, when Williams was rather displeased with what he saw from the sideline.
“I think we looked good,” Williams said after Thursday’s 14-9 win over Carolina (see story). “I think it was a definite improvement. I think you guys seen it and it was guys going out there and feeling more comfortable in the system and flying around making plays.
“I think we played well today. As a unit I think we showed some good things today. We are far from where we want to be but we need to take it one day at a time and continue to get better, and tonight we got better.”
However, Williams’ arrival didn’t do much to bolster the performance of a secondary that was shredded by Tom Brady one week ago.
Williams had a target on his back from the start. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went right at Williams on the first play of the game, hitting receiver Brandon LaFell for a 16-yard gain.
Things wouldn’t get any easier. Newton completed passes for gains of 10 and 15 yards to Steve Smith with Williams in coverage, and the Eagles’ cornerback enlisted the help of the sideline both times to stop Smith’s forward progress.
Williams was credited with four total tackles on the night, but that number isn’t indicative of plays made at the line of scrimmage. Of Williams’ four tackles, three came when he pushed receivers out of bounds, and the final takedown came after an eight-yard gain by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams.
“It felt pretty good [being out there],” Williams said. “Not necessarily there where I wanna be, but it’s a start, so I just want to take it one day at a time and get through this hamstring and continue to improve.”
Williams’ most notable moment Thursday came when he and Smith got into a scuffle following the conclusion of a play on the Panthers’ opening drive, but the Birds’ cornerback didn’t make much of the pushing and shoving.
“It’s football. That’s all it was,” Williams said. “Two football players, competitors and that’s just all it was.”
Thursday’s skirmish was nothing new for Williams, who was removed from a joint practice last week by head coach Chip Kelly after getting into it with Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson.
“I’ve always liked Cary’s attitude, but the game’s got to be played within the whistle," Kelly said. “He didn’t get flagged or anything. But I’ve never had any problem with Cary’s attitude.”
Williams missed last week’s opener against the Patriots with a hamstring injury and emphasized that he’s still not 100 percent.
“It was just a game where I could try to gauge myself, try to figure out what things I can and cannot do with my hamstring,” Williams said. “I feel like my hamstring isn’t quite there, but it’s football. You don’t make excuses, you have to go out there and play.”
The next test for Williams’ hamstring and the Eagles’ defense will be a meeting next Saturday with a Jacksonville Jaguars team that ranked 29th in total offense last season.
“The season is around the corner,” Williams said. “And the third [preseason] game is usually when we have to show off what we have. We have to bring it all together and hopefully we can do that this week.”