Connor Williams played tackle at the University of Texas and then started 61 games at guard for the Dallas Cowboys, before becoming a center for the Dolphins this year.
But those 10 games at center for the Dolphins were enough for him to reach this grand conclusion:
“I would definitely say I fit better at center than I did at guard,” he said this week. “I think it’s a great position shift for me and my skill set.”
The Dolphins didn’t decide to move Williams from left guard - where he played four years in Dallas - to center until the weeks after they signed him to a two-year, $14 million contract in March. The topic never came up before he signed.
Williams was immediately receptive to the move, which was suggested by coach Mike McDaniel, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum.
After a few training camp growing pains (including some high snaps), Williams has become a very good NFL center; he hasn’t allowed a sack all season and has been a key part of a much improved running game. Pro Football Focus ranks him fourth among all centers.
“It’s just been so awesome to watch a guy, a veteran, take on a challenge and really do it at a level that’s really exceeding our expectations,” Smith said. “We always thought he was going to be good at it. But really in the last month, you’re seeing him be able to take the next step in his play.”
But Williams’ good work has gone beyond blocking. He’s handling a lot of the line calls, identifying the middle linebacker and blitzers and assuming a mental load that was taken off Tua Tagovailoa’s plate this season.
“The center has to know the game plan a little different than the other linemen,” Smith said. “We couldn’t be happier with what he’s done.”
Williams, Tagovailoa, and the running backs, receivers and tight ends all have responsibilities in blitz pickup, an area where the Dolphins have been very good. But Williams has been at the epicenter of that, helping Tagovailoa spot defensive nuances and exotic blitz packages.
“The quarterback and center relationship is really important,” Applebaum said. “I think those guys have a great relationship. You can watch them from afar and see that that’s a genuine friendship. They both really care about the success of the Dolphins, and they work really well together.”
Applebaum said “it’s very difficult for somebody to make a position change, especially going to center if you’ve never done it before. But as an organization, we saw a skillset both physically and mentally that we thought he could really excel at the position, and all credit goes to him for putting the work in to continue to do so. I think it’s gone really well.”
Williams said he believes he’s better suited to center than guard because of “body mechanics. Coming down to how you bend to your play style to different nuances of the game. I just find a better home at center.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Running back Raheem Mostert missed practice for the second day in a row with a knee injury, leaving his status in question for Sunday’s home game against Houston (1 p.m., CBS). If Mostert cannot play, Myles Gaskin or Salvon Ahmed could get carries behind Jeff Wilson Jr.
Mostert has been in the locker room this week, walking without any visible impairment, but is not permitted to speak while he’s injured, per team policy. The Dolphins did not report any injury to Mostert during the team’s game before the bye week, against Cleveland.
Mostert is the Dolphins’ leading rusher, with 543 yards on 4.6 per carry. He has started 8 of the Dolphins’ 10 games.
▪ Left tackle Terron Armstead missed Thursday’s practice with a toe injury after being limited on Wednesday. He mostly hasn’t practiced for the past two months while playing through the toe injury.
Punter Thomas Morstead missed practice for the second day in a row with an illness.
▪ Three Dolphins on Thursday were limited practice participants for the second day in a row: linebacker Jerome Baker (hip), quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (knee) and tight end Tanner Conner (knee and back).